It's his voice. With the possible exception of some classic cartoon characters, there aren't many performers who can claim the kind of voice that multiple generations can recognize within a sentence or two.
W. C. Fields had such a voice, as did George Burns. Bob Dylan's singing voice has that same unique quality and Fran Drescher's nasal tones are, uh, unmistakable. The inimitable Mae West—in whose Myra Breckinridge a young actor by the name of Tom Selleck once earned screen credit as "Stud"—had that kind of voice too.
Of course, so does Tom Selleck. Whether he's playing Hawaiian private investigator Thomas Sullivan Magnum IV in "Magnum, P.I."—the role that made Selleck a household name, the owner of the most famous mustache on film since Burt Reynolds and the pin-up poster boy for women all over the globe—or characters as diverse as a bachelor architect diapering an infant (Three Men and a Baby), an American athlete playing baseball in Japan (Mr. Baseball), a gay newsman (In & Out), a roguish ex-husband ("Boston Legal") or a hired cowboy let loose in Australia (Quigley Down Under), the actor's voice is instantly recognizable. You can change the story's locale, the character's career and even the facial hair, but you're going to know it's Tom Selleck's voice no matter what.
On the first day of this interview and still in Los Angeles, that recognizable voice is a little strained; Selleck had been filming earlier in the day on the set of "Las Vegas," the four-year-old NBC drama that he joined this past season in which he plays mysterious and wealthy A. J. Cooper, a Wyoming cattle rancher who buys the fictional Montecito Resort & Casino out of bankruptcy. He's managed to slot in an hour and a half in a hotel suite for the interview but has another meeting at the studio, this time with a network executive, immediately following.
With any luck, the weary Selleck will make it home to his ranch 90 minutes north of Los Angeles by nightfall and just in time to say hello to his wife and his daughter and go to sleep in order to start all over again in the morning.
And, he adds, he's got to start packing. A week or so earlier Selleck had received notice that he'd scored an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie for his role playing troubled police chief Jesse Stone in Jesse Stone: Sea Change. The CBS television movie, the fourth in a series based on the best-selling books by Robert B. Parker, features Selleck not only as the lead actor but as the co-executive producer. Between his nomination and the actual Emmy Awards show in mid-September, he needs to wrap his work on "Las Vegas" and leave for Halifax, Nova Scotia, to begin the fifth movie in the franchise, Jesse Stone: Thin Ice.
Acting is a competitive sport in Hollywood and if Selleck's schedule is brutal at the moment, it is a scheduling game that hundreds— maybe thousands—of actors would love to be playing.
At 62 and nearly two decades after the insane success of "Magnum, P.I.," Selleck is clearly still in the game, still selling tickets and still filling the stands.
Even better, he's still hitting them into the bleachers.
Growing up in Southern California's San Fernando Valley, a Little League—playing Tom Selleck dreamed of a career in Major League Baseball, but it was to be a different ball—basketball—that led the 6 foot 4 inch "Valley Boy" into acting, albeit inadvertently.
Selleck studied business in college, first at a junior college and later while playing basketball at Southern Cal. His grades, Selleck admits a bit sheepishly, were dismal and his basketball not a whole lot better. Still, friends talked him into a theater arts class by telling him that it was an easy way to score an "A" and an instructor encouraged the strikingly tall, handsome student to try out for a commercial or two. Selleck did and, like a lot of USC and UCLA students at the time, landed a role on "The Dating Game." Twice.
The results, Selleck laughs, weren't much better than his college grades; he didn't get the girl either time. "Oh man, 'The Dating Game,'" Selleck says, groaning. "I was a total non-pro and I was a shy kid. I did two of them...they had me back on for some reason even though I gave lame answers and lost. The one thing I remember, because I was terrified, is that they had this revolving stage. You come out and it goes," Selleck whistles the show's theme tune, "and there you are sitting in your chairs. They said, 'Don't forget to smile when you come out.' Well, I just remember it freaked me out so that my heart was thumping, the revolving [stage] comes around and I remembered to smile. I forced a smile and my heart was beating so fast that my lip goes..." and Selleck, laughing, starts twitching his lip madly.
As an adult Selleck mimics the almost painful-to-watch shyness of a college kid, unsure of women and ill at ease in front of a camera, it's hard to reconcile the assertive, notoriously "calls it like he sees it" man of today—and certainly the heartthrob-y bachelor of Thomas Sullivan Magnum—with the image he's re-creating.
Actually, Selleck says, his shyness around women extended far beyond college, no matter what persona he may have taken on just a few years later in shows like "Lancer," "The Young and the Restless" or "Marcus Welby, M.D." Or, in the case of "Magnum, P.I.," nearly 14 years later.
Hell, he admits, he still finds the fairer sex a little perplexing.
"In college I was always 'uh, I really like that girl' and then I'd ask a friend to fix us up. I was pretty shy [and] I was a little slow. Until when? Until always, I think, or until I grew up a little. It takes men a long time to grow up," Selleck smiles, "or at least it did this guy."
Apparently at least one woman was able to overlook Selleck's shyness; he married model Jacqueline Ray in 1971 and, together, they raised Ray's toddler-aged son, Kevin. Selleck spent the '70s getting small roles on television dramas and modestly larger roles in films, some fairly awful (Daughters of Satan, Terminal Island) and some a little better, such as Midway.
But most of all, it seems, Selleck made television pilots. During his first decade or so acting, Selleck made seven pilots—only one of which ever sold—and spent 11 years doing bit parts and struggling. It wasn't until he had a small, recurring role in "The Rockford Files" that things started to click.
In fact, he points out, he wasn't cast in the Hawaii-based "Magnum, P.I." until age 35 and the irony isn't lost on him as to how easy some people thought his success must have been based on his looks. "I became an overnight success," deadpans Selleck, "at age 35."
Although he felt more than a little jinxed when it came to pilots, he at least loved the locale of Hawaii and, having separated from his wife, was open to the idea of a little time away from Hollywood.
"I love Hawaii. When I was in the [California] National Guard and in the infantry, I went there one summer for summer camp. That was a great gig. You know, we had two weeks where we were training in the hills that was pretty miserable, but I remember visiting [a friend] at the Outrigger Canoe Club and playing a little beach volleyball with him and I thought, 'God I'm in the wrong business! If I could be making a living at something else, I'd live here. Nah, that'll never happen' and I end up going there! And it was that life at the Outrigger Canoe Club and the fact that most of my friends were outside the business [that] was really good for me. They didn't cut me any slack and they kidded me a lot. I wasn't the best volleyball player at the club. I was good but not anywhere near the best. They are really, really good players, so most volleyball games were a loss. A," Selleck says with a grin, "humiliating loss."
For a brief period it looked as if "Magnum, P.I." and Selleck's shot at staying in Hawaii might also be a loss—a debate about filming caused multiple delays—and then, simultaneously, another opportunity came and went too: a role, the lead role, in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
According to Selleck, he's awful when auditioning for an acting role—nerves, mostly—but, perhaps because he felt that the "Magnum, P.I." pilot was really going to fly, he must have relaxed enough to read well; Steven Spielberg and George Lucas offered him the role of Indiana Jones.
One of the rumors that's too often repeated, says Selleck, and the one that in some respects annoys him the most, is that he turned down the role of Indiana Jones. It's simply not true, the actor says.
No actor in his right mind would turn down that role, Selleck insists, unless maybe he'd already made a television show pilot in good faith and, although still technically in limbo, had a resulting case of a disease not often seen or diagnosed in Hollywood: ethics.
"Before I ever did the test, I said to them, 'I have this pilot,' and they [Spielberg and Lucas] said," Selleck mimics a gasp, "'You're telling us that? No one does that! No one tells us when they have a pilot!'"
It was the right thing to do, Selleck said, and the honest thing, but their response was more than he could have hoped for. "I was philosophic going in and [told them] that 'I don't know, the show hasn't sold yet, but I think it's going to,' and they said, 'We'll test you anyway. We're not real worried about it.'"
"Well, they weren't real worried about talking CBS into letting me do the movie [and] basically said they had cards to play with the network," continues Selleck, and, after reading a portion of the Raiders of the Lost Ark script, he knew he wanted the role. Badly. CBS, however, had other ideas and nixed the thought of Selleck taking on both roles. Reluctantly, Selleck agreed and told Spielberg the news.
Then, says Selleck, it all went sour. In the weeks after Selleck said he couldn't take on a commitment for Raiders, "Magnum, P.I." got sidelined yet again while CBS and Universal Studios, which had shot "Hawaii Five-0" in Hawaii for 12 years, argued about where the new Hawaii-themed show was going to film, in L.A. or in Hawaii. While the debate raged between the production companies, "Magnum, P.I." was taken out of the scheduled lineup, leaving Selleck with nada.
To make money, Selleck said yes to a television movie, Concrete Cowboys, opposite Jerry Reed, during which time CBS put "Magnum, P.I." back on the schedule for production, this time recast with someone else as Magnum.
It was, says Selleck now, insane. "They'd recast my role [on "Magnum, P.I."] and it was going on the air, so now I wasn't doing Raiders and there wasn't any "Magnum, P.I." either!"
Finally, says Selleck, CBS and Universal settled their differences, decided to film in Hawaii, and Selleck was back in again. For just a few weeks. "I went to Hawaii to start. I had a living allowance of $2,500 a month, had found a little house, a one-bedroom house but with a great view and I put down rent, last month's rent, security deposit and everything, all of which I didn't have except for that allowance. And then, before we started [filming], the actors went on strike."
Fortunately, his new landlady hadn't quite finished the remodeling and Selleck convinced her that he was handy enough to finish the work in return for rent consideration. Ironically, though, while Selleck was doing carpentry work on his rental, the cast and crew of Raiders of the Lost Ark came to Hawaii to film some of their final scenes.
"There they are, finishing Raiders of the Lost Ark in Hawaii, where I'm sitting around working as a handyman for $7 an hour with no "Magnum, P.I.," groans Selleck.
"I still have—I haven't framed it or anything—but I still have a letter from Steven [Spielberg] saying what a rotten deal I'd gotten and that I had a part out there [somewhere] and somewhere along the line we are going to work together."
"I haven't," Selleck says, grinning, "played that card yet."
In the long run, of course, it was all good; Selleck finally began filming "Magnum, P.I." and the show ultimately garnered the actor five Emmy nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series—he won in 1984—and seven Golden Globe nominations for Best Performance by an Actor in a TV Series, one of which he took home in 1985.
It was a role that became, undisputedly, Selleck's. Magnum, as originally envisioned by the creators, was a dashing, virile, James Bond—like character; Selleck made him goofier, sillier, a little flawed but still noble. The kind of guy who, with a simple whine of "gee, guys," could convince his best friends to pull a con, give him access to exclusive clubs or fly him for free on their helicopters just because he was so damn...likable.
And if, at first glance, the character of Magnum—a buff, carefree, single guy living in Hawaii who gets to wear a uniform of tropical shirts over khaki shorts and can, in his off-hours, play beach volleyball, kayak the surf or indulge in a Mai Tai at sunset while viewing bikini-clad babes on the sand—could be confused with Tom Selleck, the actor, the truth is that on the surface they looked pretty much the same.
It's just that Tom Selleck wasn't feeling all that carefree. With all of the hoped-for success of Magnum, he says, things were great. But, sometimes, not so great, too, especially in the on-again, off-again beginning of the series.
"I was starting over," says Selleck, slowly. "I was newly divorced or almost divorced, I can't remember. I was single. It was a pretty lonely, weird time and I'd also been around enough to look at a lot of other careers."
Selleck knew, he said, that his life was about to change and not always in the ways he'd want. He's the first to admit that he's a pretty cautious man, a wary man who guards his privacy, and with success, he says, comes a kind of loss.
"Up until then, you know, I got recognized occasionally from a commercial I did or something, [but] even that was changing because I [had done] a couple of bigger parts...I'd been on "Rockford Files" and I'd done "The Sacketts." But you know your life's going to change whether or not the show's a hit. You know you're going to be much more of a public person. That's something I've never thought of as a good thing about success."
For a guy who, unless it's a really short interview, a scheduled press junket or a sound bite supporting a specific project, doesn't court or routinely give sit-down interviews, the loss of privacy that the success of "Magnum, P.I." brought was a bigger issue than most people would guess.
"It's threatening. I mean, I could walk around Hawaii before the show took off and, apart from some occasional recognition, I had a pretty good life for that time. It was at least two or three months, I think. The actors strike was 10 weeks and I went over ahead of time because I had nowhere else to go. You know, my life had changed. Everything had changed. And the great sadness is that you work [so] hard when you're married or have a relationship and then you get the success you worked so hard for and there's nobody you can really share it with. So it was a kind of weird, melancholy time and I also knew my life was going to change. I'd been around enough to know that [and] I sensed the loss of privacy was probably not welcome."
The success of "Magnum, P.I." lasted from 1980 until 1988, with Selleck serving as an occasional producer or executive producer on episodes. During that time, Selleck was also able to make the occasional big-screen film or television movie, including the western The Shadow Riders, the adventure film High Road to China, the slightly sci-fi Runaway and the surprise hit comedy Three Men and a Baby.
For anyone who had questioned Selleck's ability to transition his pretty-boy face and his viewer loyalty from "Magnum, P.I." to the big screen, one had only to look at the box office success of High Road to China and Three Men and a Baby to know that Selleck had the chops and the fan base to carry off a big-budget film.
In 1987, Three Men and a Baby became the first motion picture ever to lead the box office for the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year weekends, and it ultimately became the No. 1 picture in the world. It also won the Favorite Comedy Motion Picture category at the People's Choice Awards in 1988 and spawned the sequel Three Men and a Little Lady, once again with Selleck opposite costars Ted Danson and Steve Guttenberg, in 1990.
But the even bigger global exposure that came with feature films also brought an additional loss of privacy and, with Selleck having married English actress Jillie Mack in 1987 and their having a daughter, Hannah, a year later, the concept of privacy and security was becoming a bigger and bigger issue. Especially after one particular incident in France.
Nearly two weeks have gone by since the initial interview in Los Angeles and Selleck is now in Halifax, Nova Scotia, thoroughly wrapped up in the filming and production of Jesse Stone: Thin Ice.
It's late August and, like the rest of the eastern seaboard, Halifax's weather is fluctuating wildly between thunderstorms and bright, crisp summer days and between stifling humidity and the occasional breezy morning. The film crew, led by Selleck, co-executive producer Michael Brandman and director Robert Harmon, are working day and night so they can stay on schedule and "can" the film in the production's allotted time frame and in Selleck's scheduled break from the set of "Las Vegas."
This is the fifth Jesse Stone movie that Selleck's filmed in Halifax in as many years and it's obvious that he's become pretty comfortable being in the seaside town just as the town's come to accept him and the inevitable hubbub that occurs when a film crew descends.
If there's one thing missing, Selleck and some of his guy friends grumble, it's a place to smoke a cigar.
"I don't crave cigars...in fact, it's very uncomfortable smoking a cigar in an uncomfortable situation where you might think you're bothering someone. Now, Jillie doesn't mind. I mean, I don't smoke in the house very much, but she doesn't really care if I do. We've got high ceilings, an old Spanish house.
"Now Halifax," Selleck sighs, "is turning the way of the authoritarian mandate controlling smoking, which I don't really approve of, and it's getting very hard to find a place to smoke in. There used to be restaurants and smoking clubs. You know, it's moved beyond helping the public health and it's moved towards, you know, 'We're going to protect you from yourself.'"
Still, Selleck says, he's found outdoor areas where he can enjoy a cigar just to unwind a bit. "If I'm in a work situation I'll smoke cigars just because you have to wait around a lot. There's time if you've got a 45-minute set-up in between takes and you know your words and you know your character. The worst thing in the world to do is sit around doing your words and thinking about your character and getting nervous! At home if I'm in the normal mode I'll probably smoke three, four cigars a month. Here I'm smoking one a day, probably."
As for what he's smoking, Selleck doesn't hesitate. "I smoke Arturo Fuente cigars, the Don Carlos Robusto and the Short Story. And if that's all I had I'd be happy the rest of my life. [The Don Carlos is] always a good smoke. It's really a good cigar and I know the family. They're a terrific family. And even when they're hard to get, they kind of help me find some. So I'd say 90 percent of the cigars I smoke are those, the Don Carlos Robusto. And if I want a good short smoke, it's a Short Story. I've never had a bad smoke with a Don Carlos. I did a take yesterday and I stuck [one] on the foot part of my chair. I went in and did two or three takes, did the scene, came out, and it was still lit."
Selleck used to be a big Cohiba fan, but says he's slightly less enthusiastic these days. "Look, I'm over the Havana thing. I've smoked some really good Havanas. I think they cost a lot, though. The cost of cigars influences me [some], but the Cohiba Robusto, especially when they first came out, I think they were better than they are now. That doesn't mean they aren't good now, [but] what I found basically with Cubans, which is frustrating, is you get an exceptional cigar but...quality control—wise for those prices, you're going to find some lousy smokes. If it's not taste, it's the way the cigar is made. It's got a tunnel or it's going to go out or it's going to drop. In a box you're going to have a certain amount of those, and you shouldn't. So that's always frustrating. But, you know, maybe they've corrected that now. There was a period, I heard, where the Havanas, they were rushing them to market, not aging them properly, stuff like that."
When it's pointed out that in Halifax he can pretty much buy whatever cigar he wants, Selleck doesn't miss the inference. "I'm not just running out and buying Cubans and trying to—for those Customs officials reading—I'm not trying to smuggle Cubans back into the United States. I'm pretty much a free-market guy," Selleck quips, "so it's not really patriotic."
More than 30 hours after this last conversation, it's hard to tell whether Selleck is simply feeling a little more relaxed and a little less guarded than usual or just that he's weary from a 14-hour day of shooting. Either way, it is after 10 o'clock at night, he's seated in front of an Italian seafood dish with a very nice glass of Riserva Ducale Chianti in his hand and, for whatever reason, Selleck suddenly feels as if he owes more than a general complaint about the privacy and safety issues that he's talked about and that come with being a public figure; he owes an example.
An example, he says, that he's never talked about publicly before.
Selleck begins by telling the story of how, during the height of his success playing Magnum, he did High Road to China, a feature that enjoyed commercial success in America and, as a result, garnered a personal appearance request for him and costar Bess Armstrong to come to Paris to coincide with the movie's French premiere.
One of the events was held in a large public park where Selleck was to receive the Medal of Paris from the mayor on a grandstand at one end of the park before continuing on with another event on the opposite side of the venue.
Officials walked Selleck and the very petite Armstrong off the grandstand and the crowd of 20,000 screaming attendees descended on the actors, crushing them into the crowd. Selleck, who beforehand had made a point of inquiring about security details, realized that not only was the security detail—made up of 75 horse-mounted Parisian gendarmes—not going to break up the crowd, a crowd that had already stampeded a dog to death in the rush forward, but that the producer of the event, affiliated with the film company, had orchestrated the melee.
Even as he tells the story of an event that happened more than 20 years ago, you can see that Selleck is still as angry about the experience today as he was then.
"In the madness a dog was killed—trampled to death—and it really disturbed me. I wasn't," he laughs a little sarcastically, "scarred from it, but it informed me so much about where this business could go. Keep in mind that I'd been in Hawaii, I'd been 'removed' for a while. I'd go to L.A., do a rush of stuff, but it was controlled stuff. I was so disturbed by that [Paris] deal that I remember saying to my agent, 'If this is what it's like, I've got to find another line of work. It's mad.' It was just so disturbing and so undignified that I think it affected my choices and how much I did value my privacy and how much I avoided stuff after that. And maybe it made me more guarded. I've never told anyone that story before," he says, pausing, "but I had to find a way to do this business and stay a little saner."
Today, part of that sanity comes from having as normal a family life as he, his wife and his daughter can maintain on their ranch. Set among rolling hills covered in oak, this is no rich man's hobby farm; the ranch is home to an eclectic mix of family pets and livestock, including a stable of horses. Selleck, a big fan of Western movies, admits that he doesn't ride as much as he'd like considering that he's juggling projects at two major networks. Still, when he can find the time or is lucky enough to land a film that calls for a cowboy to ride the open range before disappearing into a sunset, he prefers to ride Western.
His daughter, Hannah, on the other hand, is a whole different story; Hannah's horses are trained show jumpers, she rides competitively in events all over the country and hopes, ultimately, to compete in the Olympics. Even as Selleck grumbles good-naturedly about her choice of passion ("she couldn't have found a less expensive sport to compete in?"), it's obvious that he and his wife are as committed to her happiness and goals as she is.
"I'm very proud of her. You know, she didn't pick it when she was four years old because it was expensive," Selleck says with a sigh. "And she's stayed with it. She's stayed with it through...well, she broke both bones in her lower leg, she's broken her wrists, she's broken her collarbone and every time got back on a horse. So it's taught her a lot of stuff that most kids, particularly athletic kids, don't get. You learn through your failures. She doesn't win every horse show. She doesn't win most of her horse shows. It's a lot like baseball: if you get a hit three times out of 10 times, you're a superstar.
"I think lessons in sports come more often than not not from winning but from failure," Selleck muses. "But she's found a sport that is also a sport for [laughs] affluent people. My wife and I have talked a lot about this. We grew up with pretty simple lower-middle-class values, both of us, her in England. Kids don't just get those values by osmosis and [Hannah's] grown up in a different environment where I've had money and we've had a nice house. The day we came home from the hospital, the day she was born, that's the day we moved onto our 63-acre ranch, and that's where she grew up. So she's picked a sport where I have to sometimes say 'we can't afford that' and it's a blessing. You know," Selleck sighs again, "there are a lot of multibillionaires in the sport [of competitive jumping] that drive the price of these horses up into higher and higher levels. So we've taken her about as high as we can take it."
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.