She Played Gina on "Miami Vice." See Saundra Santiago Now at 65.
The multi-talented actor has found continued success on stage and screen.
From 1984 to 1989, Saundra Santiago brought the heat as the deadly Detective Gina Calabrese on the iconic 1980s crime series, Miami Vice. In the decades that followed, the actor has stayed busy with stage roles and parts in some of television's biggest dramas. Read on to find out where Santiago has been in the decades since her days with the Metro-Dade Police Department.
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She's still a "working actor."
Santiago has continued to act in the decades since the end of Miami Vice, appearing in a number of TV movies including the 1996 sequel To Sir With Love II with Sidney Poitier, and making guest appearances on series including Law & Order, True Detective, Cashmere Mafia, and Blue Bloods. She has appeared onstage both on and off-Broadway over the decades. She was a regular on the soaps Guiding Light and One Life to Live and has appeared on the dramas Gang Related, Damages, and The Sopranos. Having acted in a number of indie films and played the mother of Rosario Dawson's character in Spike Lee's The 25th Hour, she will return to film in 2023 as the sister of Armand Assante's character in Don Q.
From 2011 to 2013, she chronicled her life as a self-described "working actor" on HuffPost, describing the ups and downs of stage work, auditioning, filming, and—in a poignant 2012 entry—frustration with the limited roles Hollywood has for Latinas.
"I just wish Hollywood would consider Latinas being cast in more roles than just maids and nannies," she wrote. "Not that there is anything wrong with playing a good maid or nanny role…but we are so much more diversified! Latinas come in many shapes, colors, sizes and occupations."
She played twins on The Sopranos.
During the casting for The Sopranos, Santiago was initially asked to read for the role of Carmela, wife of mob boss Tony Soprano, a role she said on the Talking Sopranos podcast she "instinctually knew" she wasn't right for. After Carmela (which went to Edie Falco), she read and tested for the role of Tony's psychiatrist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi, the part she said she really wanted, sensing the show was going to be a hit—only to find out the role had been offered to Lorraine Bracco.
Later on, she got a call that writer and producer David Chase had created the role of the wife of family physician Dr. Bruce Cusamano (the late Robert LuPone), Jeannie Cusamano. Santiago played Jeannie for five episodes, from 1999 to 2007, along with the character's twin sister, lawyer Joan. (It wasn't the actor's first time playing two members of the same family either; in the third season of Miami Vice, she played both Gina Calabrese and her mother Elena Obergon in the episode "Heroes of the Revolution.")
Santiago recalled her time on the show fondly, describing The Sopranos as "the best set she ever worked on" with "the best storytelling ever."
She met her husband on Broadway.
In 1994, Santiago was cast as Angela Vicario in the Broadway production of Chronicle of a Death Foretold and met professional percussionist Roger Squitero, who was also performing in the production. The couple married in 1999 and now live with their Havanese dog Lola, dividing time between New York City's West Village and a house in upstate New York.
She remembers Don Johnson less than fondly.
Despite the on-again, off-again romance and later friendship of their characters, the relationship between Santiago and Miami Vice costar Don Johnson appears to have been less warm. When pressed by host and Sopranos star Steve Schirripa about her experiences working with Johnson during her appearance on the podcast Talking Sopranos, Santiago admitted that while the actor could be "extremely charming, especially to those who can help him" he was "very difficult."
"To be honest, I have stories, but they're very private," she said. "One day I will write a little book, and I will talk about it."
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She was involved in a soap opera recasting controversy.
Having played Carmen Santos on Guiding Light from 1999 to 2002, Santiago returned to soaps when she stepped in to take over the role of One Life to Live's Carlotta Vega in 2009. According to TV Guide's Michael Logan as quoted in Soap Opera Network, the replacement took place after Patricia Mauceri, who had played the role since 1995, "refused to perform a story twist in which her character mistakenly thinks her son Cristian (David Fumero) is gay and reacts in a positive and supportive manner."
Santiago recounted getting the request at 9 p.m to be on set at 6 a.m. the next day for the emergency recasting, but stayed mum on other details.
"I've been avoiding talking about it because I thought anything I say will offend somebody," she said. "It's such a touchy subject."
Later, Mauceri claimed she did not object to a gay storyline but felt that the way her character handled it was at odds with her deeply religious characterization.
She appeared on stage across from Melanie Griffith's other ex-husband—and recorded her own album.
Although she displayed her vocal talents on Miami Vice, singing "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "Stormy Weather" as Gina's nightclub singer mother, Santiago didn't immediately follow costars Philip Michael Thomas and Johnson in capitalizing on the show's popularity to release an album of her own. She has continued to sing throughout her career, however, appearing on Broadway in the aforementioned Chronicle of a Death Foretold and as Stephanie Necrophorus in the 2003 production of the musical Nine, opposite Antonio Banderas (who was then married to Don Johnson's ex-wife, Melanie Griffith). And she finally released that post-Miami Vice album: 2004's Live.