Don Johnson on High Heat & Why Filming Action Is It’s Own Skill Set

Jan 5, 2023

Don Johnson is a name that is synonymous with suave and debonair characters who possess a flair for action, and he delivers both of these qualities and a splash of comedy in the upcoming action-comedy High Heat. Like another 2022 release, Zach Golden’s High Heat takes place over the course of a single night at a restaurant, and there’s no shortage of murder and mayhem in this one too. Ana (Olga Kurylenko) is a meticulous chef with a hidden past, whose restaurant opening is turned upside down by the bad financial decisions of her husband Ray (Johnson). The heat only gets higher when the local mafia shows up to burn down her restaurant and Ana is forced to tap into her past to defend her kitchen.

Ahead of the film’s release on December 16, Collider sat down to chat with Johnson about High Heat, as well as his expansive and impressive career. During the interview, Johnson spoke about the Brian De Palma film he passed on during his time as Sonny Crockett on Miami Vice, which movie had his favorite ensemble cast to work with, working with Rian Johnson on Knives Out, what fans can expect in Book Club: The Next Chapter, and why Jane Fonda is simply the best.

COLLIDER: High Heat was such a blast. It was such a joy to watch. I’m curious what drew you to this particular script?

DON JOHNSON: The fact is, is that I had a hole in my schedule and this film came along. They swore to me they could get me out in three days. I liked the premise and I said, “Oh, okay. Well, I might be able to do something with this, and if they can actually get me out in three days, then that’s a bonus.”

Anyway, it’s amazing when you get this kind of an opportunity. First of all, I’m just grateful to still be on the menu, and then when they can accommodate to my work schedule and stuff like that, and get all of my stuff into a block of time where I can focus, and concentrate on that, it’s just awesome then, and they were lovely. These people are so lovely. I had a great time making the movie.

Image via Saban Films

One of the things I liked about the film was [that] the ending feels like there’s still more story to tell. This doesn’t have to be the end for Ana and Ray. Do you think there’s room for this film to be like a franchise, to have a sequel or another film visiting and exploring more? I mean, she has a crazy backstory.

JOHNSON: You know, listen, I’ve been around a long time. I’ve seen a lot of shit happen. Yeah, anything is possible. It’s really going to come down to whether or not the characters, and her character particularly, resonates with the film-going audience. [Olga Kurylenko’s] an amazing actress in that she’s got some presence, and she has some good skills, very good skills. It’s very difficult to do action and be an actor as well.

I made a film not too long ago with an actor, who is this wonderful actor, but he just had no feel for action. It was incredible, and it’s kind of like walking and chewing gum at the same time. You have to sort of be in that mode because action is a different skill set than how we’re trained as actors, and you’re either athletic, and you have a sense and a feel for it, or you don’t. I didn’t think that was true until I was working with this actor. I’d worked with so many different actors who I could see right away, during series production and stuff like that, I could see right away that they weren’t necessarily what we call handy, so I would limit what they actually had to do, and I would carry the rest of the action because it’s like walking and chewing gum for me.

There’s a lot of action in this film. Which scenes were the more complex ones to film?

JOHNSON: It went by so fast, Maggie. I think probably the shootout in the actual restaurant was probably tedious and time-consuming, and I’m real excited to see that because I thought it had a chance to be pretty good.

It’s really fun. It’s a very, very fun sequence. I’m curious, for you as an actor, are you the kind of person when you approach a character that you do a lot of character work beforehand, or are you able to sit in the hair and makeup chair and then hear action, and you’re that character?

JOHNSON: Because I’ve been doing it so long, there’s a lot that I can fill in the blanks, and also I’ve got a very rich emotional well, if you will. So, for me, accessing my feelings is something that is exciting, scary, and it’s always adventurous. The answer to your question is I prep. That’s the answer to your question.

Preparation takes all the work out of everything. In preparation, for actors, whether they know it or not, a healing takes place within you when you do proper prep, and when you’re in touch with your feelings and able to identify feelings that you have that are similar to the character’s feelings and that you can draw upon. I owe pretty much my mental acuity and health on my profession, and also my downfall.

Image via CBS

I had a fun question, too. There’s such a high death count in this film. Ana and Ray take out so many people. If one of the characters that you played in the past, particularly, Sonny or Nash, were investigating this, who do you think would be able to solve the case the quickest?

JOHNSON: Probably Nash, because with Nash, I employed a different kind of character with him. I employed a guy who was an intellectual, a cop intellectual, if you will, and they exist. They’re around. A lot of cops are incredibly intellectual and do the work from a healthy place.

Sonny Crockett was more emotional. He was a gut-instinct kind of guy. He might figure it out, but it could be after he’d killed five or six people.

I have to say, when I think of you as an actor, I think of Miami Vice and Nash Bridges, because those are the shows I grew up with and I still reference them very often.

JOHNSON: Oh, good.

When you look at your resume, you see all of these very iconic characters. What is it like for you as an actor to have those iconic characters on your resume and for that to be what people recognize you for?

JOHNSON: For me, I mean, I just have this blessed career, and that people, my fans and the audience out there, tend to follow me into whatever adventure I’m going on. The biggest challenge was to break the stereotype of Sonny Crockett.

To that end, during that time – I’ll tell you a story that I don’t think I’ve ever revealed to anyone – I was offered a movie that went on to become a very big movie. The character was a slick-dressing – it was a period piece – but he was a slick-dressing guy, and it was all about the bad guys and the FBI, and all that stuff, and at the time I said, “Okay, I’ve got to not do this if I want to have a career outside of the slicky boy hero type. I’ve got to not take this part,” even though I know it’s going to be pretty good, and I loved the director. He was a friend of mine. It was a Brian De Palma film, I’ll give you that much.

I turned it down, and I’ve struggled with that over the years, but I also think that it was the difference between me being identified forever as Sonny Crockett, even though it was a different film. It’s just kind of when you do something that’s similar, then you further get yourself put into a box of, “Oh, well this is who he is,” and it’s a challenging thing. So, I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve been able to play a variety of different characters, and the audience will follow me and go with me everywhere, and honestly, I think it comes down to the training and the preparation.

Image via NBC

Definitely true. You’ve been in so many incredible films. When I was talking to my friends about getting to do this interview, they were like, “Oh my gosh. He was in Tin Cup and Knives Out and Machete,” all of these fantastic films that also have these fantastic, very funny ensembles. Even Book Club. Which one was the most fun, that you had the most fun on set? The most humor, the most fun of being on set.

JOHNSON: Oh my God. I had a great time on Django Unchained.

Oh, that’s a good one.

JOHNSON: I had a great time on that. Quentin [Tarantino] is a friend, and we just had a blast. As you can see, he let me go wild, and he actually wrote that part for me. I don’t think I’ve said this before, [but] I was meant to play a different part in that movie and circumstances turned out to be as they are. That role existed, but it didn’t exist as Big Daddy, and Quentin expanded it and made this character that was something that I could kind of sink my teeth into, so that was a lot of fun.

But man, I’ve been on some great, fun movies. Knives Out was a blast, other than the fact that I was fighting a cold the entire time. I was just feeling crummy the entire time. We shot it in Boston. It was freezing ass in Boston, and we shot in that big house, which is an actual practical location, and to run the cables to the lights and everything, you have to leave the doors open a crack and the windows open a crack. It was freezing. We all had these massive trailers that we could go to that was no more than 250 yards away, but nobody would leave the house because it was too damn cold to leave the house.

Oh no!

JOHNSON: So in a room about the size of where you are, your office right there, Christopher Plummer, Daniel Craig, me and Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, all of us huddled down there around a space heater and told war stories for three months. That was a blast.

Image via The Weinstein Company

Oh gosh. That was such a fun movie, too. Knives Out is just peak whodunnit.

JOHNSON: It was great. It was a lot of fun, and it was wonderful being able to throw down with those actors in that kind of piece because we were creating a tone, one that was set by the material. Rian Johnson is a genius.

I love him so much. He’s a gem.

JOHNSON: Yeah. He and Ron Bergman are just … It’s as good as it gets. So that was another one. Nice fun one.

Before I run out of time with you, I did want to ask about the Book Club sequel. We haven’t got a lot of information about it yet, but what can you tease about that? What can you say about where Arthur and Vivian are when we reunite with them?

JOHNSON: Well, I can’t tell you much because they’re relying on me to keep my mouth shut. Those girls are tougher than they look. They might kick my ass, but you’re going to have fun. As Andy Garcia said to me, he said when we were having the welcome reception at one of these great hotels in Rome, and Andy walked up to me… Andy auditioned with me for Miami Vice, by the way.

Oh, wow.

JOHNSON: Yeah. I mean, it was one and two about whether or not he was going to play Tubbs or Philip Michael Thomas, and I didn’t have much pull or much say in it at the time, but it all works out the way it’s supposed to. Anyway, I walked into this reception and Andy looked at me, and he said, “Still on the menu.”

Image Via Lionsgate

Oh, I love that.

JOHNSON: Yeah. So I’m just fortunate to get to work. Well, I am devoted to Jane Fonda. Had timing and zigs and zags worked out in a different way, we could have been divorced twice by now.

Oh, I adore her. She’s such a fabulous actress and person.

JOHNSON: And a great human being. I mean, just a quality and spectacular human being. Super bright, sharp as a tack, forgets nothing. Forgets nothing. Knows your lines, her lines, and everybody else’s lines in the movie.

That’s a good person to have around.

JOHNSON: Yeah. Just to check in, say, “Hey, how’d I do?”

Well, thank you so much for this. I very much appreciate it and enjoyed it.

JOHNSON: Thank you, Maggie. I’m so glad that I got to spend a little time with you.

Check out the trailer for High Heat below:

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