BY DONNA FREYDKIN
Don Johnson goes from vice to not very nice in his latest job.
On ABC's Blood & Oil, premiering Sunday, he's an oil mogul, hungry for profits, land and respect, not necessarily in that order.
So why did the star of Miami Vice and Nash Bridges opt to return to network TV? "It's a very rich area. I've never gotten an opportunity to play a diabolical power-broker guy. This boom that's going on is the real deal. I thought, I gotta tell this story. And I got a hot wife and a hot cast," he says.
As for his character, "I've known a lot of people like this, who hear a bell. It's their destiny."
The father of six — including actress daughter Dakota Johnson — plays a brutally tough paterfamilias in the series, one who cuts off his own hapless, crooked son. In real life, Johnson has a policy: as long as his kids are in school, he pays. If they go out on their own, they cover their own expenses. So when Dakota opted to become an actress, she did so without any help from dad. And she's earned major industry respect, plus a reputation for being just plain nice.
"She's done a good job with herself. I'll take the credit of making her life so complicated and so unsettled that she had to find a center," says Johnson, who was twice married to Dakota's mom, Melanie Griffith, and with whom he's still friends.
Johnson, in person, doesn't suffer fools. "I am a nut about punctuality. I used to tell all the kids this: 'If you're late, it means you're saying to the other person that my time is more important than your time. That would be a gross overstatement of your importance.' People who know me know that I am chronically on time. There's mutual respect there," says the actor, 65.
The same work ethic applies to Blood & Oil, which he also produces.
"I'm a nut about the music, about the effects, about everything. You have to learn how to let go. There's only so much time and so much budget. The season would be over and I'd still be on episode two," he says.
As for his younger children, with wife Kelley Phleger — "What kids?" jokes Johnson. "I go to Santa Barbara when I get two or three days together. You get in the mode and you go back to your life and you go, 'I like this life, this is cool, oh, gotta go back to the mill.'"