Philip Michael Thomas' new vice: 'Luna'

June 11, 1992|By Hal Boedeker | Hal Boedeker,Knight-Ridder Newspapers

Philip Michael Thomas compares his latest TV project to "Dr. HD," "Romeo and Juliet," "Wuthering Heights."

Christopher Columbus' journey to the New World.

The Bible.

The man who was Ricardo Tubbs on "Miami Vice" is excited, all right.

"It's succulent," Mr. Thomas says of "Luna," a syndicated soap opera. "You can taste the words that are written. It flows like milk and honey from your being, it's written so well."

Hold the milk, hold the honey.

The words won't start flowing until July, when star/associate producer Mr. Thomas and his partners begin taping "Luna" in Jamaica and South Florida.

The goal: Turn the telenovela, the Spanish-language soap opera, into a crossover favorite in English. The strategy: Send it into prime-time access to compete against the likes of "Entertainment Tonight" and "Wheel of Fortune."

The producers plan to tape 100 hours, from July through next January, and make 40 hours available by fall. So far, no other actors' casting has been announced; the series hasn't been sold anywhere. But the producers hope to employ 600 to 700 on the project, and they remain confident that a plush telenovela can succeed despite prime-time soaps' waning popularity in America.

"They're very successful everywhere in the world except the U.S.," says producer Alma Guerra of Santaclara Television Corp. in Miami. "What we're doing is improving it in all areas and giving it the American look, the technology and the sophistication that a 'Dallas' or a 'Dynasty' had."

The big draw is, of course, Mr. Thomas. "Vice" reruns, which the actor estimates play in 130 countries, have made him a bankable TV name worldwide.

In person, he looks like a Brooks Brothers model, dressed in a gray business suit, white shirt and tie. No hint of Tubbs remains. He is part boyish cheerleader, part inscrutable New Age philosopher as he sits on the stage of his MiamiWay Theatre in North Miami. Unfailingly pleasant, he exuberantly caresses the air as he speaks.

And, whoa, can he speak! The words tumble out animatedly, quickly, strangely. As former co-star Don Johnson once said of Mr. Thomas, "He's out there, man. He's dealing on a whole different level."

He still is. Consider his thoughts about his 43rd birthday gift the day before: a yacht ride on the Intracoastal Waterway with "Luna" colleagues.

"You can think of Noah's Ark," he says, quite seriously. "Many are called, but few are chosen. We had been chosen to be a part of something that is ushering something to another space. It was the most beautiful four or five hours I had spent in 43 years."

A simple question about life after "Vice" brings a dissertation: "It's not after -- it just continues. I learned a long time ago what B.A. means -- it's being 'Born Again.' What master means: It means 'Multi-dimensionally Ascending Spiritually Through Eternal Revelation.' And a Ph.D. is 'Praise Him Daily.' It doesn't stop. It continues."

As for "Luna," Mr. Thomas' enthusiasm knows no rhetorical bounds. "I am seduced by the profundity of the piece," he says. "It's like Kahlil Gibran," and he starts quoting the author of "The Prophet" hurriedly.

"It would be unwise to discuss the profundity of the way it weaves itself together as a tapestry," he says of "Luna." Later, he hints that drugs, spiritual matters, a plane crash, miscegenation and "War of the Roses"-style comedy figure in the sprawling plot.

Mr. Thomas will play Phillip Monaco, pilot, adventurer and University of Miami graduate, a character far more complex than Tubbs. "You never saw where Tubbs lived," Mr. Thomas says. "Phillip is multidimensional."

Phillip, sort of a Prodigal Son, will find a new commitment to life, "similar to Christopher Columbus finding the New World," Mr. Thomas said. "It's heavy, but so tasteful."

Phillip's father, Cesar Monaco, is a J.R. Ewing-style figure whose mistress is not unlike Alexis Colby. All is not paradise on the fictional Coral Island: Father and son will war over the lovely, mysterious Luna.

Originally, Mr. Thomas was asked only to write the music. Later, the script "captivated" him. "This is like 'Wuthering Heights,' 'Dr. HD,' " Mr. Thomas says. "It's a story of love so necessary now that I have to be a part of it."

Now he is star, composer and associate producer; the last role entitles him to help pick talent. "I really need Luna," he says. "She's my soulmate. She should be my twin flame. I'm serious. . ."

Mr. Thomas' partners are producer Ms. Guerra and executive producer Eduardo Rozas, who has created and marketed more than a thousand hours of soaps internationally. The show was to be taped in Spanish, but the producers "encountered serious difficulties with the lead actors in the Spanish version," Ms. Guerra said, so they decided to go with English -- and Mr. Thomas.

The director will be Rocco Oppedisano. According to promotional material:

"Being of Italian descent, Mr. Oppedisano has spent his entire life living the story of love."

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