Magnum Opus

In "Las Vegas" and the Jesse Stone series, Tom Selleck reminds us why he is one of America's best-loved actors.

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That doesn't mean, adds Selleck, that having reached the legal age of an adult and about to enter college, Hannah can travel on her own when competing. "You know, Hannah's 18 now, but we're not about to send her across the country to some horse show without at least one of her parents."
Yes, but can she date? Selleck pauses for a moment, smiles and then concedes, "Well, I didn't think she was going to date until she was 40 but, yeah, she does date. She's a trustworthy kid."
When asked if he's found a secret to maintaining a family and a 20-year marriage while constantly moving between projects and time zones, Selleck pauses and, for a brief moment, reverts into that shy college kid trying to understand and talk about girls.
"I think [Jillie and I are] willing to take what comes [and] I think we're pretty accepting. We obviously love each other. And, um, I don't know...I don't know what the secret is! She's funny. She's full of energy. She's got a lot more energy than I have. She's just optimistic and [sees] everything as positive.
"And," adds Selleck, beginning to warm to the subject, "I'm a worrier. I'm probably more internal than she is. She's very external. I don't believe, really, in astrology, but aren't Aquarians supposed to be analyzers, for whatever it's worth? Yeah? Well, if I understand male-female stuff, which is really hard to figure out, you know, I'd rather think something through and then have something to say. Jillie," Selleck laughs, "would rather talk it through to figure out what she wants."
When asked if he ever finds time for fun, for relaxation or for vacation, Selleck says yes, but that that often translates into his wanting to spend time at home and with his family. Through his son, Kevin, Selleck has five grandchildren who, he says proudly, call him Hoppey. My granddad was a Hoppey and I wanted to be a Hoppey too."
Frankly, says Selleck, "my favorite vacation is staying home. I have fun, and fun for me is being with my family, but I also need time to myself. I work on my ranch. I hate the gym [and] I don't like working out. I've always played sports, but ever since I moved back from Hawaii and stopped playing beach volleyball and stuff, I haven't replaced it with another sport, so I work on my ranch."
When asked to define what constitutes "work" on the ranch, Selleck snorts. "Brush clearing, fire prevention. Repairing the well, fixing the irrigation, fixing fence. There's something new every day so I work on the ranch, and I'm cheaper," the actor shrugs, "than the guys I can hire to do manual labor."
A dislike for the gym isn't something you'd immediately think of when looking at the tall, still fairly trim Tom Selleck and, judging by the reaction of one of the many women who've gathered at a scene being shot on a Halifax street for Jesse Stone: Thin Ice, his fans would happily chase—or be chased by—him anytime he wants an alternative to a treadmill.
"Oh my God, I can't believe it's him, that he's here," gushes one woman who can't seem to press the shutter button fast enough on her camera phone. "I've loved him all my life, ever since he played Magnum. Isn't he yummy?"
Well, uh, yes, Selleck's a very attractive man and if, at 62, he looks an easy five to 10 years younger, all the better. Interestingly, the character of Jesse Stone that author Robert B. Parker created and turned into the antihero of a best-selling series of books—a former Los Angeles detective who, upon learning of his wife's affair, hits the bottle and, after losing his job, hits the road headed east and ultimately becomes chief of police of the (fictional) small town of Paradise, Massachusetts—was actually 35 years old on the page.
With understated performance, Selleck offers up a Jesse who's quietly strong on the outside but haunted within, and does so with a rather obvious difference in the character-versus-actor age. So how does the character's author, in spite of the first four films' critical acclaim, record viewing numbers and an Emmy nomination, feel about a creative prerogative that's aged Jesse by a couple of decades?
According to Parker, he's thrilled. "Tom had read Stone Cold and called me saying that he was enamored with the story and the character of Jesse. Of course," adds Parker, "I said I'd never, ever consider selling the rights to Hollywood [laughs wildly], but for Tom I'd make an exception. Now, physically, he's an improvement to the Jesse I imagined. If you've spent time with Tom, you know that he's not a bad-looking guy—walking around with Tom in public has you feeling like a gnome after a while—and I had no qualms about it.
"Now in all honesty, this is a business and I probably would have sold [Stone Cold] to Mickey Rooney if he was still working and if he'd offered the right money and made the right deal, but [laughs again] I wouldn't have had the same feeling of confidence and pleasure that I have with Tom. I cried when I saw his Stone Cold, because Tom nailed it. He totally nailed it.
"Tom's good, Tom has gravitas and you rarely find that anymore," Parker continues. "There's weight to his performance. I remember watching him in Ike: Countdown to D-Day and people said, 'Tom Selleck as Ike?!' Well, he nailed that too."
Michael Brandman, Selleck's co-executive producer on the Jesse Stone franchise, concurs. "Tom, as a working partner and as an actor, has some of the best instincts of anyone I've ever worked with in my entire career. He's smart...very, very smart. Most actors think they have all the smarts and all the gifts, but Tom really does. He takes the time to know the story's character—and the character's story—and he also knows production and post-production, which means that he's already got a pretty good idea of what's going to work and what isn't when it comes time to work the film.
"He makes you want to do the best you possibly can and he encourages you by example. If he ever chose to run for politics, well, he has the charisma, the knowledge—and I'm talking global knowledge—and the wit to make things happen. We joke about our votes canceling each other's out, [and] his take on global affairs and politics are a lot different than mine," Brandman says, smiling, "but over the years as we've discussed things and debated them, Tom's caused me to look at things differently—not necessarily to vote differently!—but to see things from another perspective. He's broadened my own awareness of things, broadened my perspective, and that's a good thing."
Selleck groans out loud when Brandman's comment "if he ever chose to run for politics..." is passed by him for a response and it's obvious that it's opened up a can of worms that he's simultaneously eager and loath to talk about. Selleck's political leanings have been commented on by the media—both accurately and not, says Selleck—constantly over the last decade or so and, frankly, he's a little tired of the whole thing.
"I'm not politically active; I'm politically minded," Selleck's insisted in recent years, and if a review of the actor's political donations over the last decade or so turns up a number of campaign donations to Republican candidates, so, he points out, do donations to Democratic candidates. He's not ashamed of his conservative leanings in an industry that's heavily liberal, he says, but he's also tired—really, really tired—of being characterized as something he's not, and that includes being, exclusively, behind Republican support issues or thinking himself of running for office.
"I'm a Libertarian at heart, although it's not practical, [and] I'm a Conservative—little 'L,' little 'C'—and I've been a registered Independent for well over a decade," says Selleck. "I don't fit into the box that [people] want to put me in."
Does Selleck like to talk about and debate politics? Absolutely. Just not in public and not as an actor who's routinely misrepresented, he says, within the mainstream media. In fact, don't even get him started on an op-ed piece penned by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd in 1997 that had Selleck being encouraged to run for a Republican Senate seat by fellow actors Bruce Willis and [now California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The story was false, says Selleck, the article full of blatant errors and, worst of all, he says, then-Times executive editor Howell Raines, after receiving an indignant letter from the actor "proceeded to edit my letter [and] then print it in the paper."
Still, there's no question that Selleck is up on most political issues. For the next 30 minutes or so, Selleck rambles, intelligently, about politics—campaign reform, troop withdrawal, the importance of debate among the candidates, health care and the lead-up to the presidential primaries—but, as for running himself, he says, there are simply no plans.
"Look, I've had a couple times people make a phone [call] saying... 'we want you to run for governor,' And I said, 'Why? Do you know how I'd govern or do you just think I'm famous enough to get elected? I'm not interested. I'm an actor.' It's vaguely flattering, but that being said—I mean, it's come up endlessly, in every [film press] junket I've ever been on. You know, I finally had to say, 'Look, I don't want to talk about politics. I'm not running for office. I'm flattered you think I'm worthy, I guess that's implied in your question, but I'm an actor. That doesn't mean I'm not interested in politics, the subject, or that I don't vote, but...I'm an actor!'"
If there's one political—or politically correct/incorrect—subject that Selleck doesn't mind discussing openly, it's that of ever-increasing bans on personal behavior, including smoking.
"It's not good to smoke a lot. It's not. But when people move from convincing to mandates, it's just not my deal. And I don't think that is what a free society is about. Government has a function in education but not [in] propagandizing, and that is not a simple world. That world is messier. That world allows for human failure and that world allows for messy solutions, which we ought to get really comfortable with if we want to stay free. It's real simple to practically abolish speeding if you apply the death penalty to it.
"Look," Selleck continues, "we don't stay free with what we're doing now. There's just no end to it [and] it's a question of what responsibilities we give up. My concept of this society, which I tell kids as often as possible, is what they should be most grateful for in a free society is the right to fail. Which sounds kind of weird. But if you don't have the right to fail and you're protected from failure, you can't truly succeed. You're then stuck in this great gray middle where you're giving up responsibilities for the perceived benefits that come from a government, [and] that's a very slippery slope. Do you remember when the seat belt law came into being, and how every politician in the country would say: 'It's a law but it's really [just] a guideline and an officer would never pull somebody over for not wearing a seatbelt?'
"Then you start, if you live long enough, to see the slippery slope and an erosion. That doesn't mean people shouldn't wear seat belts. It doesn't mean cars shouldn't come with seat belts, [but] you end up with this 'nanny state' and people don't see the correlation between that and all aspects of life. You can almost find a 'good reason' to prescribe anything.
"I think free society is supposed to be messier than that. Solutions to social problems have to be. I'm not on a crusade, it's just the way I think, and, I don't know, I think we need, in the words of the most politically incorrect [laughs] character I can think of, Jack Nicholson [in A Few Good Men], 'You need me on that wall.'"
Betsy Model is a frequent contributor to Cigar Aficionado.
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