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A Star Returns

After years of battling rumors and bad scripts, Tom Selleck, the former Star of Magnum, P.I., is poised for a comeback.
Mervyn Rothstein
From the Print Edition:
Tom Selleck, Winter 95/96

(continued from page 2)

"I just said to myself that the movie stuff was not worth it," he says. "My daughter was three, and it wasn't that I had been a bad father, but at that point in my life I could afford to be home a lot more than I was when my son was that age. In those years, if I got offered a job and it was in any way beneficial to the career I was trying to build, I just went. I had to. Now I could afford to say no." (He has often acknowledged publicly that "Magnum" has made him a millionaire many times over.)

But the year "turned into a lot longer"--three years, to be precise. "During that time," he says, "I had signed a four-picture deal with the Disney studio. I've never talked about this publicly, because I have a relationship with that company, and when you have squabbles they should be settled within the family. But there's a new regime there, and that makes me feel it's reasonably fair now to talk about that stuff.

"After I signed the deal," he says, "things changed at Disney. Jeffrey Katzenberg [chairman of the studio from 1984 to 1994], wrote a famous memo about high costs and high-priced talent. I was pretty high-priced talent. They had to offer me pictures in good faith within a given period of time, pictures they were prepared to make. I looked on this as my annuity. I had worked a long time and I had finally gotten fortunate. I'd been offered multiple-picture deals at many studios, but I felt comfortable with Disney because I knew I was right for about 60 to 70 percent of their product.

"If you look at the movie business," Selleck continues, "you see that basically for every success you're allowed three flops. And I was convinced that at least one of these four films was going to be a success." But times have changed. "I'm not sure that I have that big a grace period now," he says. "I think people are getting smaller and smaller grace periods. But I looked on this deal as security. It was a great deal. But I haven't done a picture for Disney. And now it [has become] a two-picture deal" due to contract stipulations.

The problem, Selleck says, was in the quality of the movies he was presented. "I said no to what they offered me. Almost all of it you won't know about because they never made the pictures. I was wrestling with a lot of demons at that point. I was angry. What they offered had to be a picture they were prepared to make, and what they offered they never made. That's not right. The scripts just weren't good enough. The movies they offered me were $4.1 million deals. There were people in the business who told me I should just call their bluff, that they're going to have to pay me whether or not they make the movie. But I wasn't really interested in getting paychecks for nothing.

"The movie business is increasingly driven by a movie's release date," Selleck adds. "If a studio wants a movie out by Christmas, it has to start at a certain time. And if the script isn't ready, they say they'll fix it. Sometimes that works, but too often it doesn't. I have always been concerned about getting a script right before you start."

Despite the Katzenberg memo on high-priced talent, he says, he doesn't really know why things turned out the way they did at Disney. "I fight very hard against conspiracy theories," he says. "These things happen. There were good movies being made at Disney, but not as many as before. What was coming through their development people was really not good at all, and [Disney] ultimately admitted that there had been something wrong with their development of live-action features, as opposed to their animated films."

While all this was going on, Selleck was receiving other film proposals--but with the kind of roles he had already played; he didn't like being typecast. "I was reading a lot of material, but I just didn't like what I was being offered," he says. "The movie industry is so research-driven, and you get put in a box very quickly. When you do something that succeeds, you get a lot of offers of clones. I don't mind doing movies that are in the same ballpark, but when it's almost like a computer kicked out the right elements, I'm not interested. So one year turned into three."

He stops for a moment. He is apparently feeling a bit uncomfortable about what he is saying. "It's not really my style to talk about this," he says. "But now that I'm coming back, I really felt I had better try to control the perceptions about my coming back with a movie for television. The easy angle is that I couldn't get arrested in Hollywood, and those perceptions can affect your 'hireability.' I can take whatever people say personally; I'm not going to get that hurt by it. But I don't want people to think that I wasn't getting employed and that I'm crawling back to television."

During that time, he kept reading in the gossip columns that he had disappeared professionally, that his career was in limbo, that he no longer had what it took. It wasn't easy. "I could tell you it's business and you don't take it personally," he says, "but that's not true. On my good days it's business, but on most days there's a personal element. I'm not selling vacuum cleaners--I'm selling me. When I talk to young actors, I just say: 'You better be prepared to persevere and have a pretty thick skin, because the rejection is personal.' "


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