Tom Selleck Talks 'Jesse Stone,' 'Blue Bloods' and a 'Magnum' Movie
by Kim Potts, posted Jul 27th 2010 6:00PM
Just as it did when (yes, we know, the fictional) Jack Bauer was hot on the trail of terrorist baddies, New York City will again feel a little bit safer this fall when 'Magnum P.I.' legend Tom Selleck begins another regular primetime gig as New York City police chief Frank Reagan, in CBS' cop family drama 'Blue Bloods.'
The Emmy and Golden Globe winner also recently starred in 'Jesse Stone: No Remorse,' the sixth entry in CBS' series of movie adaptations of the late Robert B. Parker's novels about alcoholic LAPD homicide detective-turned-Massachusetts police chief Stone.
With 'No Remorse' released on DVD today, Selleck took time to chat with TV Squad about his affection for the Stone character, filming his new TV series in NYC, whether or not Thomas Magnum will ever reunite with pals Higgins, T.C. and Rick, and whether or not he will ever consider a run for political office.
I had watched 'No Remorse' when it aired in May, and I just watched the DVD again this week, and I have to say, I'm hooked on the whole series now.
Thank you! [Laughing] A lot of people are, I'm happy to say. The DVDs we re-edit for more of a feature film look, and I think that's important ... it doesn't go dark for a commercial break or anything. And people seem to be really hooked on the character, and obviously, it's a character-driven piece. It's a thrill for me, because I love playing him.
The 'Stone' movies are beautifully shot, too. They don't look like the average TV movie.
Well, that was always the goal. When I sold this idea to CBS, I said, 'Look, I don't have any problem with your TV movies. I just don't want to make them. I have my own thoughts, and if you'll give me enough creative control, I can deliver something a little different.' So we tell stories like you would in a theater, not in a home, and we try and make them look very much like a feature film, so they're shot extremely well, and they're very pretty. I think all those things make an audience -- when they're watching it on TV, for instance -- I think that it stops them, and they go, 'Gee, I haven't seen this before.' And that's really good, because there were certain elements of the television movie that were getting pretty predictable.
One of the other things that make the movies so endearing, and in this one in particular, is the humor. The running joke about Jesse's cell phone number was great.
Well, he's a bit of a Luddite, and I think he's resisted all this stuff, but there are people out there who do that. I think everybody, except really young kids, I guess, who grew up with them, when cell phones first really became popular, and I go from my own experience, I said, 'Well, I'm going to get one, but I'm not going to give the number to anybody. I'll just use it to make calls when I'm late and stuff,' because otherwise it'd be a big invasion of privacy. And gradually, you end up giving the number to everybody, and your life changes. So I think people get a big kick out of that. Robert Parker, who just passed away, a good friend, always called it Jesse's sense of irony. He didn't really call it a sense of humor, but without his sense of irony or sense of humor, if you will, I don't think the character's nearly as watchable. He's not really a moper. He's a thinker. And he fights feeling sorry for himself, which is why people root for him. Because if it was a show full of self-pity, [without] humor -- and often Jesse's humor is at the expense of himself -- I don't think he'd be as watchable.
That must make playing the character extra-challenging ... it would be tough to get people to watch six movies about a guy who sits around thinking all the time.
[Laughing] It started early. Our director -- we've had the same director for all six, Robert Harmon -- he really gave me the confidence. I thought, 'Jeez, Jesse can't just come home, sit, think and drink.' And there's another character in the room anytime he's home, which is -- and audiences are dedicated to him -- and that's Reggie, his dog. I call Reggie his conscience and roommate, not (just) a golden retriever. And Harmon felt that the introspective nature of the character made that stuff really work. I think it makes the audience follow the show through Jesse's eyes. We very seldom in the 'Jesse Stone' movies ever get ahead of Jesse. We don't cut away to a villain that Jesse doesn't know about, you know? So the mystery, and they are mysteries, unfold through Jesse's eyes, and I think that's why those moments play so well. And people just love Reggie. I mean, he's a regular character. He would greatly missed if he wasn't in the show.
Now that you're doing the series, 'Blue Bloods,' for CBS, will you be doing more 'Jesse Stone' movies?
Yes, and it's important to tell people that, because the one thing I said to CBS was, 'I'm not going to do this series at the expense of Jesse Stone.' So there's more Jesses to come. In fact, we've already shot the next one. It's called 'Innocents Lost,' and it's another original story [not based on a Parker novel]. So that's 'Jesse Stone' number seven, and it's about a little girl. That's where the title comes from. And that one is in the can, ready to air, and we're writing number eight, which we don't have a title for yet. So yes, there's going to be more 'Jesse Stones.'
Are you enjoying the writing aspect of it? I mean, you're producing, you're starring, you're writing them?
Yeah, well, I had a hand in rewriting extensively 'Thin Ice,' and as an executive producer, I've rewritten most of the 'Jesses.' The drafts from our first draft to subsequent shooting drafts, my partner on them, Michael Brandman, had a big hand in rewrites, too. Starting with 'No Remorse,' we started from a blank page. What I'm finding is, a lot of the writers we can afford to hire have written too many TV movies, and they kind of write what the network would like. And I keep saying, 'Look, we have the approvals here. Write for us, and write for the character ... make ours a little different.' And we just got to the point where we couldn't get writers to take their network cap off. So we started doing it ourselves.
How did you first get involved with the Parker books? Were you a fan as a reader?
I was a fan of Robert Parker's. And I almost did – in the '80s, I was offered one of Robert Parker's books as a feature film, called 'Early Autumn,' one of the 'Spenser' novels. And basically, it was written by an Academy Award-nominated writer, Jay Presson Allen, and I was committed to it, but like so many things, I was shooting 'Magnum, P.I.' and only had three months off, and we couldn't schedule a director and get the movie done in that time, and I missed the opportunity. And my friend, the late Bob Urich, used to kid me a lot about that, because of course he ended up doing the series of Spenser, 'Spenser: For Hire.'
So I missed that feature, and when my production partner, Michael Brandman, said I should read this Bob Parker book, 'Stone Cold,' I read it, and ... he writes such great characters and he writes such great dialogue. He's one of the few writers of books that his dialogue, you can kind of pull right out of books and put on the screen, and it's cinematic. So I said, 'I've got to play this guy.' It was kind of a second chance for me, to collaborate with Robert Parker, and that was a big deal.
And you became friends with Parker along the way? He was very happy with your portrayal of the Jesse Stone character, too, wasn't he?
Yes, I did. Yeah, we've had many lunches, and we really miss him, Michael and I. But he was ... he hasn't always liked adaptations of his work, and he's no pushover. So when we got praise from him, it wasn't to serve the sales of his books. He was the real deal, and he meant what he said. So it meant a whole lot that he liked the 'Jesse Stone' movies.
You mentioned 'Blue Bloods,' which I just watched and liked. It's nice that it's a family drama, as well as a cop show ... something different from all the procedurals.
Oh, good! It is very different. Ironically, I'm playing another police chief. But these guys are very, very different. What I like about the show, and what attracts me generally as an actor, is character-driven stuff, and it's not that I don't like procedurals ... but television is full of procedural cop shows. It's important that an audience knows we are not a procedural cop show. There is a case, and they're good cases, but there is also these three generations of Irish cops, and it is as much about the family as it is about the police work. It's very adult – it was written by a couple of writers from 'The Sopranos' -- it is still about family. I just don't want people to think they're going to see 'Little House on the Prairie,' though, because it's not that.
It's also nice to see New York City playing such a big role in the show. The opening was actually really moving, to see the NYPD police academy graduation ceremony at Madison Square Garden ... it's always cool to see appreciation for New York policeman.
I think 9/11 did an awful lot of that, and that remains. And I think that goodwill and interest and admiration ... it's nothing we want to exploit, but it is something that I don't think people see enough of, and you put that uniform on, and it means something to people now. And it's the graduation that I found quite moving, too, and that's hard to do at the beginning of a show, to touch some emotional chord with people, because they don't know the characters yet.
Will the series continue to film in New York City? I remember there was some talk about moving production to Toronto or somewhere else in Canada.
'Blue Bloods' is filming in New York City. We feel, we the cast, and the executive producers,
all feel that New York City is a main character. It's a character in the piece, and you can fake New York, but it's just not the same. So, yeah, we'll be shooting on the streets of New York.
Were you looking for another series, or did this one come to you and you liked it so much that you signed on?
I would have been content to up the 'Jesse Stone' quota to two a year, probably. I wasn't seriously looking. But I've always been kinda looking for an ensemble piece. In other words, where I wasn't the only lead, because series work ... in 'Magnum,' I worked every day for nine months, and about 80-hour work weeks, and that's a real grind. 'Magnum' never got canceled, but I left because my contract was up, and I was tired. Not of it, but from it. So that part of the series experience I didn't want. But the continuing character, over time, is the most interesting thing you can do, which I'm able to do with Jesse Stone, and I'll be able to do with 'Blue Bloods,' but I don't work every day. There's four leads (on 'Blue Bloods'), all of whom can hold the stage by themselves. All really good actors. And if I was going to do a series, that's what I was looking for.
Are you looking forward to living in New York? You're very L.A.-based, very California-based, so are you looking forward to living in New York?
Well, I'm going to commute. About half the time I'll be in New York, and half the time in L.A. I still have my ranch (in California), and I love it. And my daughter's grown up out here and is going to school. So I'm not going to abandon all that. But I'll be a commuter. I'm looking forward to it. I wouldn't do it, except I think it's just a huge plus for the show.
You mentioned 'Magnum, P.I.' ... there have been rumors of a big-screen 'Magnum' movie for years. Do you know if it's going to happen? And will you, or would you, be involved if it does?
Oh, I have no idea. I don't know what the plan is. I how that somebody had the rights, but I don't know whether they'd want me in it, to be honest. Although they've taken some polls, and it appears the audience wants me in it.
So, you know, that's kind of up in the air. The thing that's really closer to a reality right now is a sequel to 'Three Men and a Baby.' I know there's a script floating around Disney – 'Three Men and a Bride' -- and they're making up their mind about it. And that sounds really interesting to me. I hope it's a good script, because 'Three Men and a Baby' changed my life, as did 'Magnum,' and if there's a good story there, I know Ted [Danson], Steve [Guttenberg] and I would be interested.
Would you consider doing a 'Magnum, P.I.' reunion movie with the original cast?
[Laughing] No. I would love to work with the original cast, but I don't -- these television reunion movies, generally the audience tunes in to see how everybody's aged. I just find them stupid. Of course I don't find working with Larry Manetti and John Hillerman and Roger Mosley stupid. I've love to get together, but somebody's got to come up with a good story, and it isn't one about us slapping each other on the back saying 'It's good to see you.'
One more thing. People have often mentioned you as someone they would love to have run for political office, and you've always kind of nixed the idea. Do you still feel that way?
Yes! (Laughing) I mean, I've got a mortgage, and I'm an actor, and I'm fortunate. Long careers are rare, and I'm being offered some of the best parts that I've ever been offered. And I just don't see any reason to go away from that. And, you know, I'm also a public figure ... I know what that's like. I don't particularly like that aspect of it. And we don't treat our politicians very well. I mean, why turn it up a couple more notches? So that they want to know what underwear you're wearing. They want to literally go up your gastrointestinal tract, (know) everything about you. I don't think we should do that to our public figures. So, no, not now. I mean, I'd never say never, but it's not something I'm pursuing, nor ever have. I'm flattered. I've been asked, but I've always said no.