The publication of Heat 2 this week marks writer-director Michael Mann’s debut as a novelist, expands the mythology of perhaps his most beloved film, and becomes the first major release of the publishing imprint he set at William Morrow six years ago.
From the TV series Miami Vice and Crime Story to his feature debut Thief, to the Tom Cruise-Jamie Foxx thriller Collateral and the 1995 Al Pacino-Robert De Niro drama classic Heat, Mann’s crime procedurals are informed by an intimate knowledge of cops and robbers that breathes life and multi-dimensional characters with empathy to go with the violence in lawbreaking.
More from Deadline
That is the same thing that Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo did with The Godfather films, David Chase for his The Sopranos series, and Martin Scorsese for Goodfellas and Casino, the other crime high-water marks of the last half century. What is interesting here is the difference in how Mann got there as opposed to those other filmmakers. Coppola and Chase have both told me that while the prospect had its attractions, they avoided getting to know or even directly interact with criminals. Scorsese relied on journalist-screenwriter Nick Pileggi, who once told me that Goodfellas was made possible by his good fortune to be included in Henry Hill confessions given with federal law enforcement officers standing over him, promising prison if he lied.
Mann’s crime canon has instead relied on direct interaction that began when he first met Charles Adamson, the Chicago cop who in 1963 hunted down and killed the real Neil McCauley, after once inviting him out for coffee. Coppola and Chase told me flat out they didn’t want to be indebted to criminals. Mann’s way brought its own challenges, and he quickly learned how to be mindful of the manipulative nature of current and former lawbreakers when he made his first film, the Emmy-winning telepic The Jericho Mile, which shot in Folsom Prison.
Courtesy Michael Mann
“There is a truth I can get by asking direct questions, but I’m not naïve,” he said. “At this point, I’m fairly street smart and world wise and I’m not naïve to the fact nobody could manipulate you faster than the guy doing a couple life sentences in Folsom. These guys could read you in, like, two minutes flat.”
They will lie when it suits them, he said, even someone in the inner circle like the late John Santucci. He is the round-faced guy who played a dirty cop in Thief, and later co-starred in Crime Story.
Santucci lent his burglary tools and his technical expertise for the heist scenes of Thief. But that didn’t mean Mann completely trusted him.
“I busted John half of the time of antics he would pull when he was a technical advisor on Thief,” Mann told me. “Jerry Bruckheimer and I are sitting in a production office, and Jerry answers a phone call and says, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about. Let me give you to Michael.’ I got on the phone…we’re like four weeks away from shooting, and [this guy said], ‘You know, I’m really upset. Where are you guys?’ I said, ‘What do you mean, where are we?’ ‘You’re supposed to be here today,’ he said. ‘We got coffee. We got donuts and everything. You were supposed to be here and shoot. I said, ‘Well, who are you? What are you talking about?’ And he said, I’m so and so, and the guy told me that you were going to be here today to shoot.”
When Mann was told about the “location scout” who had made the arrangements, “I said, ‘Was he about 5’10” and kind of curly hair?’ And he said, ‘Yeah.’ I said ‘Where are you?’ He said, ‘Five South Wabash.’ [That] is the wholesale diamond building. John Santucci had location manager business cards printed up, and he went into wholesale diamond distributors’ offices at Five South Wabash and said, oh, we might shoot here…show me the alarm system. He was casing potential scores. You constantly had to be on guard with John all the time.” Even with the prospect he could go straight as an actor, Santucci kept his options open. “It didn’t inhibit him one iota,” said Mann, laughing at the memory.
That brings him to Heat 2, a novel that arrives at a prolific moment in his long career. Mann directed the pilot of the HBO series Tokyo Vice, and he has just begun production in Italy on Ferrari, the fact-based drama decades in the making. It is about a racing season in 1957 when Enzo Ferrari tried to save his company from ruin by winning the Mille Miglia, a treacherous open-road endurance race whose winner could claim dominance in the high-end sportscar field. The driver-turned-auto designer and magnate Ferrari is separately juggling two women in his life, with the shadow of his dead son hanging over all of them.
But it’s the novel that brings him back to the “Heat Universe” that began forming in his mind back in the 1980s when he was making the flashy NBC cop procedurals Miami Vice and Crime Story. Mann says he wants to turn Heat 2 into a major feature, and he will write yet another novel in the world, the central thrust being the criminal exploits of Chris Shiherlis, played in Heat by Val Kilmer. Mann will argue he was just as meticulous in embedding with tobacco whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand and 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman for his 1999 film The Insider, learning the lore of Muhammad Ali from the man himself for Ali, or digging up oral histories from the grandchildren of people who lived during the frontier period depicted in his 1992 film The Last of the Mohicans. But there is little chance stories from those films would be as fun as the ones Mann tells here as he learned crime craft.
Courtesy Michael Mann
I met Mann one morning in Modena, Italy, where Enzo Ferrari was born and built his empire and where Mann is shooting much of Ferrari. Mann was back to inspect progress on the composite race cars built for the race scenes, accessorized by mounts to hold the cameras that will inject a different reality to the frantic and freewheeling races that were as popular in Europe as soccer. These replicas will stand beside the vintage actual Ferrari and Maserati cars used in the 1957 race Mann is depicting. Mann said those cars go for between $20 million-$80 million and were loaned by a small group that includes Nick Mason, the Pink Floyd drummer and avid vintage car collector. Adam Driver plays Ferrari, Penelope Cruz his estranged wife and Shailene Woodley his mistress in a drama that has sex appeal to go with the tragedy. The young drivers were movie-star handsome daredevils who attracted the most beautiful women in the world, even though careening around twisty streets at 180 MPH wiped out many of them in horrifying accidents because the cars afforded them little crash protection.
“The story comes from human behavior that’s unique and very, very different, but it’s also the contradiction in our lives,” Mann tells me. “It had so much of the real condition of our human lives, and really passionately wanting something you know it’s damaging and you want it anyway. That could be anything from libido to the ecstasy of mastering one of these cars, and what does that mean, mastering cars? It’s not driving a car masterfully. It means that you’re a human being and you can create a machine that will exceed what I as a human being or other human beings have been able to do up to that point. There’s a tremendous romance to that, but that impulse to exceed limits, whether it’s NASA, painting, making movies, that’s such a human strong impulse and it gets you in a lot of trouble. There’s a scene where a young driver for Ferrari gets killed, and there’s a funeral cortege, and the women in black and they’re really good looking. That happened all the time. Not to get too flirty with it, but there’s a connection between death and sex and the way these things really look. I think there’s a real subliminal sense of when you’re around death, you’re by a ghost of procreation. It’s almost like we’re programmed for this.”
Mann and I spent a morning together inspecting these cars, then had lunch to discuss the book. Several locals approached to warn from experience about what the “heavy” Northern Italian cuisine can do to a waistline, before asking Mann to oblige for selfies. We broke before a planned second meeting at a restaurant Mann promised was the best in Italy. That got scrapped when his office called to say Mann had just drawn a positive Covid test. A previous bout a week prior kept him from attending a Heat reunion event in Tribeca, and he hadn’t quite gotten the virus out of his system and suffered what’s called the Paxlovid Rebound. There are studio execs who can attest to the futility of getting between Mann and his cinematic vision, so what chance did a virus have against Mann, so close to the start line on a racing movie he’s wanted to make for decades? Mann was back in prep the second the test stick read negative.
By the time we spoke again, James Caan had just passed away. Best remembered as Sonny Corleone, Caan would often say that the role of high-end burglar who tries to break free of the mob in Thief was his favorite. Just recently, novelist Dennis Lehane hailed Caan’s awkward courtship of Tuesday Weld in Thief as an inspiration that sent Lehane towards a great writing career. Much of the threads for Mann’s lifelong fascination with criminals, and all the seeds of Heat were hatched on that movie. It seems as good a place as any to pick up our interview and further explore this thing he has for bad guys he presents as too complicated to simply wear black hats.
DEADLINE: Thief was your first feature with a fully fleshed, complicated anti-hero. Why was James Caan the right guy?
United Artists/courtesy Everett Collection
MICHAEL MANN: The whole impetus to do the film when I was writing it, was the novelistic notion of a main character as somebody from outside the system. That was the actual attraction. Somebody who’d been in prison for twenty years. Didn’t know how to ask a girl on a date. And then, collide him with conventional society. That collision was fascinating, because he’s bringing his own self-taught ideas about the way the world should work, about the physics of life in collision with the worst wildlife as we know it on the streets of Chicago. That was the whole idea of the film. I wanted a professional thief who was as dimensional as you and I and everybody else is, because that’s the way people are. Everybody’s got a mother and a brother and a father and worries and anxieties. Add the complexity of living as a professional thief. That brought me to people like John Santucci, whom the film is based on, in part. Jimmy had this unique sense of energy and primal force coming out from his core, and it was in everything he did, even if you were having a drink with him at a bar and he’s cracking you up with jokes. He just had his primal force that compelled him to do what he did in life. To me, he was absolutely perfect casting for Frank.
DEADLINE: When they made Thief, Santucci had his history pulling heists, and Chuck Adamson and Dennis Farina were still Chicago cops. They all played alongside each other in that film. What’s it like when you throw them in together?
MANN: Well, they reacted…first of all, they all grew up in the same Chicago neighborhood, and they all knew the same people. Dennis was a cop. He had a brother who was a doctor. He had another brother who was in prison. So, it’s just life from a certain generation of an immigrant population in inner city Chicago. There’s nothing strange about the value systems, but John Santucci was a high-line professional thief. He was also sometimes an informant, and informants always lie some of the time. And he had relations with certain guys he had to fence through. We could write a book about this.
DEADLINE: Dennis Farina had a small role in Thief, as a gunman for a mobster. What made him retire and become such a good actor?
MANN: Dennis in Thief, that just started a lifelong relationship for me, and [it was where] I told Charlie to become a writer and he created Crime Story, and Dennis decided that he had a career as an actor off of something with Jimmy Caan that happened one day.
DEADLINE: What happened?
MANN: Oh, Jimmy got aggravated at somebody and threw him out of the trailer, like literally threw him out of his trailer, through the screen door, and the guy rolled across the grass. I’m standing there with Dennis, and Dennis says, ‘I could have a career doing this. All I got to do is be known as Dennis the dream to work with. Anybody’s going to hire me.’ He was being facetious, but off that, off the movie, he started going to Goodman Theatre for training as an actor, and then he started working with Steppenwolf and Billy Petersen.
I have volumes and volumes of transcriptions as well as original recordings of everything we did on Thief, everything we did on Heat, everybody we met like John Santucci, whom Thief was based on in part and who played this very hilarious continuing character on Crime Story. We did a mock interrogation where Adamson is interrogating Santucci for Al Pacino and Bob De Niro, and everybody was all around. It’s funny and scary and violent, and it’ was like the first time we shot the pilot on Crime Story, when Dennis was interrogating an informant. Now, informants lie all the time and it depends whether they’re going to lie to you this time or not. So, you have to keep them off balance, on the edge. That’s why Hanna had this routine of being unpredictable and saying unpredictable things [in Heat]. So, we’re shooting this scene in the [Crime Story] pilot with Dennis, and he’s starting to interrogate John. And Dennis gets into this scene as an actor, and John gets into the scene as an actor. And when John gets in his face, Dennis picks up a two-by-four and whacks him with it.
MANN: Yes. Abel Ferrara was directing it. He [was stunned]. The crew…everybody stops. And Dennis looks around. ‘What’s the big deal? I just gave him a whack.’ I mean, Dennis was a tough guy. At one point, there was an actor who was very, very irritating, annoying to everybody. We didn’t do those six- or eight-episode seasons they have now, we were doing 22 hours a season, and by the time you get to episode 18, 19, 20, everybody’s fried. So there was one actor who kept giving Dennis a hard time, and I get one of these calls. I’m in L.A. I said, ‘Dennis, what happened?’ He said, ‘I just gave him a smack. I can’t stand his shit anymore.’ Dennis’ hands were like this big, you know?
DEADLINE: Abel Ferrara, director of The Bad Lieutenant, wouldn’t seem the type to shock easy.
MANN: When I started writing, I wanted to get next to the people I was going to write about. I didn’t want to make it up or pull it off on a blank piece of paper or sitting in a room in Los Angeles. Whether it’s the bartender, construction worker, short-order cook, a thief, I wanted to get next to the real person. To me, it’s inspirational. And reflections of…well, refractions of reality will show up. We were shooting the Crime Story pilot, and Abel Ferrara is directing and we’re on Oak Street in Chicago. Somebody came up to Dennis and whispered in his ear. Dennis said, somebody wants to say hello to you. Do you mind? I said, no, anybody could say hello to me. I went and talked to this guy, and he shook my hand. He had a gigantic hand, and he leaned down and whispered in my ear, ‘you’re not going to have any more trouble from the little guy, and walked away.’
Well, first of all, we didn’t have any trouble from the little guy, but I knew who he was talking about. He was talking about Tony Spilotro, because the series we were making, 22 episodes a year, was about the pursuit of Tony Spilotro. Then, two or three days later, they found Spilotro and his brother dead in a cornfield (immortalized in a scene in Scorsese’s Casino). The guy who came up to me Joey…they call him Lombardo. Well, I didn’t know at the time that it was happening.
DEADLINE: That is unsettling…
MANN: But there’s…I don’t know, an insulation that is possible if you do a lot of responsible research to insert yourself into situations safely and responsibly. You know, the people I was making Crime Story with Charlie, Farina, and everybody else, there was a certain immunity. And I certainly wasn’t about to get indebted to anybody, trapped or entrapped or any of those games.
DEADLINE: You kept some distance.
MANN: You keep distance, and you protect yourself from the naïve seduction. Somebody will try to seduce you, do you a favor. And before you know it, you find yourself indebted. I at least know enough not to let that happen. I don’t know how we got off on the Dennis and Santucci stuff, but…
DEADLINE: I imagine having Farina as a buffer was helpful and you helped him toward an acting career where he could play as well as a cop as a thug in films like Midnight Run and Get Shorty. What’s the funniest thing Dennis ever did?
MANN: I don’t think I can talk about that…it’s more who Dennis was. He was so unique. He was extremely attractive to women. Later on in his career, he had some work done on his face because it looked like someone had shot, you know, bird pellets in his face. It was very pitted. But these women are constantly hitting on him, and he’s really attractive to them, and I said to my wife, what is going on? Why are so many young actresses, some who became very famous movie stars from the early days of Crime Story, ’87, ’88, and they’re like really attracted to Dennis. And by the way, Dennis wouldn’t have anything to do with them, but I said to my wife, I said, what is this about…? My wife said, ‘It’s because he’s a gentleman and he makes women feel that they’re respected and protected. That’s why.’ She said it to me like, what are you, thick? I mean, isn’t it obvious? No, it’s not. Guys don’t look at other guys this way. We have no idea what makes a man attractive to a woman, you know?
DEADLINE: I guess not.
MANN: He was a big, powerful guy, but he was respectful, and women felt protected, and so, many beautiful young women were attracted to Dennis, and we’d go out at 3 in the morning, hit the bar at the Tropicana or something. Everybody’s having drinks, you know, not him.
DEADLINE: Why did he not indulge? Was he married?
MANN: He was married but he was very Catholic, so he was not divorced but separated. He had other romances on the side, and he had a 6-foot-tall show girl who was about 40, something like that, and he had a relationship with her for a while. We were very close, and I said, Dennis, what’s with you? I mean, so and so and so and so [hits on you], and you never go out on a date or anything with them. It came down to the practicality and pragmatism in him that said, that will get you in trouble. The part of Dennis that made that decision is part and parcel of the same part of Dennis that had shiny nail polish, had a little handkerchief in his pocket, listened to Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and just lived in that certain place. Even after he started making a significant amount of money, he didn’t move out of his apartment in Chicago, the one he lived in when he was a cop, because he didn’t want to hurt the feelings of the landlord he’d known for 25 years. He was…kind of uniquely from that period, Chicago Sicilian Italian American.
DEADLINE: You depict some villains that are not at all redeemable. Waingro in Heat. And now Heat 2 has Otis Wardell, who starts as the leader of a violent home invasion crew and in the second half of the novel, is a sex trafficker. He is sadistic, cruel and lethal. And while Hanna hunts him for the break-in of the affluent home of a wealthy car dealer that left the husband dead, the wife traumatized and the young daughter comatose and clinging to life (Hanna often visits her late at night), Wardell becomes the catalyst for an origin story in Heat 2 that joins the past with the future for McCauley and his crew, well before the foiled Los Angeles bank robbery, and Hanna as he was transitioning from Vietnam vet to a dogged Chicago detective. In Heat, De Niro and Jon Voight’s characters read background information on Hanna, and note he took down a brutally sadistic crew in Chicago. Is this all connected and based on someone real?
MANN: Hanna’s jacket basically says he took down Frankie Yonder in Chicago. Frankie Yonder was a famous home invader. There were a couple of these crews. It’s a really strange, crazy, crazy coincidence. There was another crew hitting houses on the northwest side of Chicago, and the old CIU, Bill Hanhardt’s criminal intelligence unit, which was the major crimes strike force, and working for him was Dennis Farina and Adamson. They were partners.
They staked it out, they cut into the crew. This crew was scoring just the way I had this crew doing. Making impressions of home keys and then they would maybe knock on a door and pretend to be florists, push their way in, and then they’d put cigarettes out on the kids and everything else. The [cops figured it out and] were waiting for them in this house, on Francisco and Catalpa in Chicago. Just when the door opened, and these guys come in with flowers and try to take over the place, Hanhardt says, ‘April Fools, motherfuckers,’ and there was no ‘you’re under arrest.’ They just opened up on them, and killed as many of them as they could. There was one guy running down Catalpa eastbound, and I heard the gunshots. I was living in this neighborhood. I heard gunshots and ran down California to see what was going on. I think I was home from college or something. It had to be near ’62, ’63, and as I’m just rounding the corner from California and I turn left on Catalpa and I see some big guy behind a tree like this, with a shotgun, and this other guy comes running down the sidewalk. He comes out and bam, he just shoots him. [The shooter was] one of Hanhardt’s crew. I mean, there was no…they took no prisoners.
DEADLINE: You saw that?
MANN: I saw that. This is 1963 or something. Cut to 1974 or thereabouts, I meet Charlie Adamson for the first time. And Charlie plays himself in a way in Thief.
DEADLINE: Farina was partners with Charlie Adamson, the detective who shot and killed the real Neil McCauley after inviting him out for coffee, which planted the seed for Heat. They were from Chicago like you, and Santucci. Why wasn’t Heat set in Chicago?
MANN: Because I’d done Thief there.
DEADLINE: You didn’t want to be to Chicago crime stories what John Hughes was to teen comedies?
MANN: No. I’d exhausted the visual databank from way before I ever knew I wanted to make movies. Just driving through those steel cage bridges across the Chicago River and its tributaries in the middle of the night, the black iron. The industrial heart within the city, and driving out, you know, just keep going aimlessly until you’re out heading towards Kankakee, you know, where everything is flat, and you turn the lights off. I mean, personal experience. I mean, you know, so that whole databank of, you know, things that turned me on, that…we used to call it Red Alley. That opening shot in Thief is this alley that fascinated me because of the way it looked when it was raining and…even when I 14, 15 years old, I was just impressed with these visuals. I had no thought of being a director. But I exhausted it, and I mean, Chicago’s also kind of a boring place, you know? I couldn’t wait to get out of there when I was 18. I gave Hanna some of those impulses in the prequel where the streets started making him nuts because everything’s so predictable and flat. So, I’m going anywhere that’s got hills.
I just became fascinated with L.A. and realized I didn’t know anything. I’d been living in L.A. since ’71. It’s now ’94 when I started out. So, it was like 23 years, and I realized I didn’t know anything about L.A., you know, like that. Everybody I know in L.A. doesn’t know anything about L.A. It’s not just me.
DEADLINE: What don’t they know?
Frank Connor/Courtesy Michael Mann
MANN: They don’t know about the Samoan community, in San Pedro. They don’t know about the Caribbean little section of South Central. They don’t know that there’s this whole range of bars that are Mexican bars but only people from Sinaloa go there, and everybody wears the same kind of cowboy hat and has the same kind of keychain, drives white pickups with Brahma bulls on the door. It’s so rich and so diversified, you know, and so, that’s why, you know, and it’s something that no one’s really commented on in Heat, but if you look at Heat from 1995, if you go into neighborhoods that are Latino, they’re sort of Latino. If you go into neighborhoods that are Black, they’re Black. You’re not in this cultural self-imposed ghetto of driving through the Los Angeles, you know, of myth, okay? If you live on the Westside, or Malibu, you know, drive down Sunset, here’s the Strip, here’s the this, here’s the that, same restaurants and everything else. That’s not L.A. at all…
DEADLINE: These places create a more visually interesting canvas for your work?
MANN: No, it’s the people who are fascinating, and then the subculture and the diversity. I love diversity. I love the diverse culture. I’ve always had extremely diverse film crews. I’m bored about being around people who look just like me.
Creating the ‘Heat 2’ Novel
When filmmakers have more story to tell, sequels are the place they do it, not novels. Quentin Tarantino continued his Once Upon a Time in Hollywood with an irresistible novelization meant to be a companion to his film, but I cannot think of a writer-director who would revisit a work in a novel. Especially one where most of the main characters died. Heat ended with the film’s most compelling character, Robert De Niro’s thief McCauley, dying while holding hands with Al Pacino’s Hanna, who bested him in a final gun battle following the botched bank heist. Of McCauley’s crew, Michael Cerrito (Tom Sizemore) and Trejo (Danny Trejo) were also gone and Chris Shiherlis (Kilmer) was barely breathing.
Mann and co-author Meg Gardiner found a way to revive them through a long prologue about the formative years of McCauley’s heist crew, and a life that including his first love., a woman who grew up in the drug cartels and helped McCauley find a way to rip off the proceeds of drug dealers. Hanna was back in Chicago from a brutal tour in Vietnam, finding his way as an ambitious detective, honing his manhunting skills with Wardell’s home invasion gang. The novel intercuts with a post-Heat tale focusing on Shiherlis. Without McCauley as his mentor, he has had to grow up quickly, including the shedding of his degenerate gambling habit. Knowing he is still hunted by Hanna because he killed his close friend in the bank shootout, Shiherlis finds himself in Mexicali, struggling with the urge to avenge McCauley by killing Hanna, and grabbing estranged wife Charlene (Ashley Judd) and their son. But Shiherlis is distracted by a new crime career with a Taiwanese crime syndicate engaged in illicit hi-tech technology. He grows close to the leader’s daughter, whose bright ideas are discounted in a male-dominated criminal culture. Just as Mann’s interest in crime stories connects to his Crime Story and Thief years, circumstances conspire to bring the Heat characters together in another bloody climax.
Frank Connor/Courtesy Michael Mann
Heat was always the novel HarperCollins wanted when it signed the three-book, multimillion-dollar pact for William Morrow, said Shane Salerno, the screenwriter/publishing agent whose Story Factory set up the deal. “This was a highly recognizable, widely known globally branded title. Michael had a concern about doing something that would stand side by side with Heat, a revered film. Then he went back into all the files. The movie at three hours only told part of the story he had in his notes and files. This turned into a 500-plus page book. He is down the road on a second book that might be within the Heat universe, and Michael has an entirely sketched out world of where that story would go.” A continuation of Thief is another title Mann has discussed.
Salerno introduced Mann to Gardiner after the director read her bestselling thriller Unsub, and they quickly bonded. The crime novelist said she considered the idea of reheating Heat to be daunting, but it soon became clear Mann had a lot more story to tell, with an organic way to include the residue of the characters of the original. “It’s his story, he’s the one who asked me to work with him,” she said. “The novel is ours, but I had no ego in this is Michael’s story, with people he’s had for decades. We can discuss it, but that said, he’s the director. He had biographies for the major characters that he had prepared for the actors during Heat. When he sent me all of those, it was opening a treasure chest. None was longer than 10 pages, but they were extremely vivid and not like reading a rap sheet. It was their personality, and vignettes of their lives.”
What stood out to her?
Frank Connor/Courtesy Michael Mann
“Vincent Hanna grew up in Illinois and was so desperate to get out of his hometown, as a young man he would drive out into the prairie, in the cornfields, in the middle of the night in a two-lane blacktop,” she said. “He would floor it, turn out the headlights and see how long he could stay on the road. Michael has hinted that might have been drawn from real life. McCauley’s childhood was painful. His mother abandoned the family and his father couldn’t handle two small boys. Neil and his brother ended up in foster care, and you felt what it was like being a foster kid, the only one wearing third-hand clothes from goodwill instead of jeans and Keds.”
Mann plugged Gardiner into the sources that have informed his crime tales. “Michael’s passion for authenticity, the legend is accurate,” she said. “We had a long conference call with…let’s call him a retired bank robber. Who was extremely helpful and forthcoming and educated this crime novelist who has never done anything more in a bank than deposit a check. Now, if you need to know anything about tunnel jobs, hit me up. I asked him, where did the rush come from? He said it was when they were laying on a score and they spot a weak point in their target’s defenses, a hole they can exploit. That was thrilling. If you want to have a career in that business, these are things you better think about.
Since Heat 2 branches into sex trafficking in Los Angeles, Mann took Gardiner on tours with cops. “Michael and I rode out with two LAPD sergeants, through some of the rougher parts of Los Angeles,” she said. “At one point, we paused too long at a corner and a prostitute threw a shoe at the truck because we were holding up business.”
Mann said he was grateful to have company because the propulsion of a page-turning novel and screenplay are so different.
Frank Connor/Courtesy Michael Mann
“I never throw anything out and there was data that I had…research from the ’90s and even earlier,” Mann said. “We worked in a way similar to the way I worked with Eric Roth when he and I wrote a couple of screenplays together,” said Mann, who teamed with Roth on The Insider and Ali and enjoyed the exchange of ideas and a different perspective. Though he was new to the novel, Gardiner said Mann supplied an encyclopedic visualization of every Heat character past and present. “The most important stuff was the four or five pages of foundational statements for Bob about why Neil McCauley was the way he was,” Mann said. “And then Bob and I, spending some time at Folsom together, before we shot. We did something similar with Al, and that was all the internal dialogue about building a character, who your guy is, why is he the way he is? Why is he dressed the way he dresses? How does he walk? How does he see? How does he talk? Does he walk in a room and just look at who he’s talking to? Does he walk in a room and doesn’t look who he’s talking to because he wants to check out where the exits are in case I got to leave here in a hurry? We see differently depending on who we are. What do you want? What’s your exit? What’s your philosophy about life? What is…? All of that. She willingly dropped into the deep end of the pool. If you’d said to me, you’re going to have a really great time working together, I’d say, oh, okay. The odds of that…but no, I really did.”
What’s the challenge of writing a novel, especially when you have to drop it to do the Tokyo Vice pilot?
“Well, the novel took a hit, had to wait, and we were late with it because all of sudden I’m doing the pilot, and then Covid’s interrupting the pilot, we edit and then go back to shooting it,” Mann said. “But there was some time in September, October where I found myself…we were in Paris, my wife and I were there for an event. And I just got into a groove, and I didn’t leave the hotel. I was just in that suite like 17, 18 hours a day just hitting it, here was that intense immersion. Now, what was different about that experience, about writing a novel different from anything I’ve done with film, writing a screenplay, was when I…this is my own experience, and I have no idea if it works this way for anybody else or anybody who writes books, but when I got really in, you know, there was no doubting it. You’re in. And if something interrupted you and you were out, you were really out, so you didn’t want out to happen. You really wanted to stay in the zone. You wanted to zone in and stay there, and invention would occur within that stream of concentration when you were writing. Eventually what happened, ideas would show up. All of a sudden, there was something to remember from somebody I talked to and that would enter into it, and then there’s a freedom in novel writing that you actually do not have when you’re making a movie and you’re writing a screenplay. That is, if it’s authentic, you can digress it to a tangent and you can take a tangent and thought and a memory or an impulse to go someplace, and then come back. There’s a freedom to that.”
Mann had told me about the time it took to lick issues in Ferrari, which he first developed with Sydney Pollack, and struggles with Heat where solutions only presented themselves in their own time, sometimes in 10 years. That has happened numerous times to him, and I ask is he has gotten used to waiting and struggling until that solution presents itself to him.
“No. I’m not patient,” he said. “You know, the solutions to Heat…that was a real moment. I want to say the script was 145 pages long. It was really good up to about 130. It had no ending, and the ending is the first thing. It’s the most important thing. When [the audience] leaves, that’s it. It all resolves at the ending. That’s what you remember the most. That’s what you saw the last. That will define everything. So, for me I have to have a new, all different way to resolve it. It’s all totally inadequate, all bullshit, all that other stuff, and I don’t remember what it was, but I know, I remember it was a severe exercise of sheer will, like go run your head into the wall. I just got so angry at myself, you know? You’ve got to concentrate on this! You’ve got to get this! I don’t care what…and then what occurred to me was that the guy who’s closest to [McCauley]…the only other guy on my whole planet is the guy who’s with him, holding his hand as he’s leaving existence, and that that guy’s also the person that just shot him. That counterpoint…everything that’s come before is present in that moment. The coffee shop, all of it, is present in that moment. Neil’s expectations and then his anticipation, his great expectation for what he wants to do. Hanna only does this thing and [McCauley] feels more successful living his life according to his model than Hanna, whose life’s a mess. I’m in a third marriage on a downhill slope, you know? His life’s a disaster, but he’s driven by this…he’s got a moral compass. He’s also driven by this passion to search and to discover. But they understand each other. And what’s different about them? What makes them different? They’re fully conscious of who they are. There’s no games. There’s no delusions. There’s no struggling to understand myself. They totally understand themselves, and they’re conscious and they’re thinking about their existence, on their short, brief existence on this little speck of dust out in the big nowhere, to coin a phrase from Collateral.”
More Mann ‘Heat’ Memories
Mann and I did a deep five into Heat mythology for the film’s 20th anniversary event at the 2015 Toronto Film Festival. He broke down in detail things like the famed coffee shop scene filmed at the now-closed Kate Mantilini restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard. He had a couple more tales to share, beyond finally cracking Heat’s ending. Like how a disciplined criminal like McCauley could abandon his home-free escape with girlfriend Eady (Amy Brenneman) to kill his nemesis Waingro (Kevin Gage).
DEADLINE: Just as memorable as the coffee shop scene between Pacino and De Niro is the moment where De Niro’s driving away with the money and the girl, and you watch a complex set of emotions cross his face before he turns the car around even though he knows he is swallowing Hanna’s bait. Why?
MANN: What’s going through his head is that he’s abandoned his rigid plan for how to be. No attachments, risk versus reward, minimalize risk, and then get out, get to Fiji. He has an ideation of Fiji, not literally Fiji. Get to the state of mind that is Fiji and then you’re going to live your real life. That’s what he’s been telling himself. It’s a convict’s dream. I’m going to get out of prison, and this is what’s going to happen. He had a rigid thing that he followed, and it was very linear. It was all about cause and effect. Yeah. She doesn’t want to go with him. He abandons everything and opens his heart up and just tells her spontaneously, my life…everything I was going to do, my life means zero if you’re not with me. He wins her over by being spontaneous. So, now he’s in the car and it’s like he’s abandoned his navigational gear. There’s no rudder steering the boat anymore. Now, he’s vulnerable and open to waves of impulse. He’s vulnerable to being impulsive, and then Nate (Jon Voight) says to him, you wanted to know so I’m telling you. I know you’re not going to go do anything about it, but here’s where Waingro is. Now that he’s got no rudder, and is feeling these waves of impulse, he’s overtaken by this impulse of vengeance. That scene, we shot that three times. We shot it once, Bob and I looked at each other, we don’t have it. We knew we didn’t have it. Went back a second time, we got really close, and then we looked at each other again. This is on another night. We still don’t have it. That’s right. We don’t…because I’d be talking to him, him talking to me. We went back a third night, and he nails it. What’s different? It’s how he’s feeling inside, and because Bob is a great artist, how he’s feeling inside, it’s there on his face and we see it. We knew we had it, that moment, going through the tunnel of light as the revelations happen. It’s impulsive behavior, and now other characters…this is what I kind of found very fascinating about it. This is a complete invention. I decided that however a character thinks life works, that’s how his fate’s going to be determined. So, you got Chris Shiherlis who’s formless, kind of postmodernist, had no architectural ideal about how I should live my life. He escapes. He makes all kinds of things that would be lethal errors for McCauley. Not for Chris. He escapes. He shouldn’t, you know, Charlene shouldn’t go with him. She’s compromising her life. She’s compromising her kid’s life, and she’s right to turn him in. You know, it was in her interest of Dominick to turn him in, and she sees him and he smiles, and she gives him that, you know, blackjack dealer’s wave, and he escapes. Because he’s postmodern, doesn’t have any idea how this world works. So, that’s one of the fascinating things about the novel, by the way, is I wanted to evolve Chris, who becomes his own man. [In the novel], he becomes a different person with Anna, and it’s not so much because of her as it is what he’s doing and what he’s inventing. He’s inventing that next trend, the next stage of transnational organized crime. An evolutionary stage of how to do what he’d been doing, way more sophisticated than anything his mentor ever did. But then of course his impulse is to go to Los Angeles and take care of [the cop who killed] his brother from another mother and square the ledger.
Courtesy of Michael Mann
DEADLINE: It is something to think of our first encounter, when you turned away from the James Dean movie to instead do Heat with Pacino and De Niro, because your leading man just looked too young and you grew weary of waiting his him to age and didn’t want to do the film without him.
MANN: That was so weird about James Dean. It was a brilliant screenplay. And then it’s who the hell could play James Dean? And I found a chap who could play James Dean, but he was too young. It was Leo. We did a screen test that’s quite amazing. I think he must’ve been 19 at the time. And from one angle, he totally had it with him. I mean, it’s brilliance. He would turn his face in one direction and we see a vision of James Dean, and then he’d turn his face another direction and it’s no, that’s a young kid. I found the absolutely perfect act of the play, in about three years from that.
DEADLINE: I recall Leonardo DiCaprio still had that boyish look, and it sounds like you couldn’t do it with him, or without him…
MANN: He respectfully undid the James Dean bio for me.
Best of Deadline