Tom Selleck On "Thin Ice"

Tom Selleck stars as a small town police chief in "Jesse Stone: Thin Ice."
CBS
As Magnum P.I., Tom Selleck ruled the TV roost for years. Tonight on CBS he's back, in "Jesse Stone: Thin Ice," the fifth in a series of made-for-TV movies. Talent and staying power are two keys to his lasting success, as Rita Braver shows us in this Sunday Profile:

Meet Tom Selleck … multi-faceted Hollywood big wheel.

We know him from his work in front of the camera, and in countless television shows and films. But in tonight's "Thin Ice," Selleck not only stars as small town police chief Jesse Stone … he's also an executive producer and co-writer.

"Is it harder to do everything?" Braver asked.

"Well, there's a lot of levels to it," he said. "It is hard. If my fellow actors think I'm just some big-time producer who is gonna take all this film we shoot and then edit it so as to make myself look good, rather than tell the story of the piece we're doing, you lose the trust that actors need with each other."

Selleck's good-guy persona in films like 1990's "Quigley Down Under," comes through in real life, too. He still takes care of the horse he rode in the film.

"I used him in two more movies, and now Spikey's kind of retired."

Spikey's retirement home is Selleck's 63-acre ranch in Ventura County, California, Selleck's home for the past 20 years. It was once owned by Dean Martin.

"Alan Ladd, I know, spent a lot of time out here," Selleck said while offering a tour. "Roy Rogers had a ranch down the road. It's pretty neat."

He grew up in the San Fernando Valley, the son of a real estate salesman. While at the University of Southern California, he decided to try acting, but at first it was tough going …

"I spent a lot of time being brilliant in the car, in my used Volkswagen on the way home from readings," he said, "and invariably, I would then realize I was really good in the car and not good at all at the audition! I'd kind of beat myself up [which he physically demonstrates] and you get some very strange looks!"

"Did people ever say, 'Oh, he's too good-looking to be believable in that part?" Braver asked.

"Oh, I got that all the time, all the time."

He did years of modeling, bit parts in films like "Myra Breckenridge" (he played The Stud), and also guest spots on TV shows like "The Rockford Files."

He had lead roles in six pilots that were never picked up.

"I sold clothes," he said, "and collected unemployment and got by."

"And then finally you're cast in 'Magnum P.I.," Braver said.

"Yeah, go figure!"

He was 35 and desperate, but he didn't like the part, which Selleck described as "Kind of perfect. And I said, I won't do it. At the time they said, 'Who the hell do you think you are?'"

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Selleck succeeded in getting the producers to change the character, creating a flawed and loveable private eye.

"He didn't even have a business card," Selleck laughed. "And he owed everybody money, and he failed with women all the time."

Selleck also fought for Magnum to be a Viet Nam veteran … complete with flashbacks.

"'Magnum' was put in the Smithsonian Institution as the first show that recognized Viet Nam veterans in a positive light, and we're very proud of that."

Yes, Magnum's trademark Hawaiian shirt is now a museum piece.

The show lasted 8 seasons, and earned Selleck a Best Lead Actor Emmy. But there is a footnote: To do the magnum, Selleck had to give up the lead in "Raiders of the Lost Ark"!

The series hadn't been picked up yet, so Selleck continued to go on interviews for more work. He says he was the last person to be screen tested for the part of Indiana Jones, "and I got the part."

But just as that happened, CBS picked up "Magnum." Selleck honored his commitment and has never looked back:

"Harrison Ford brought whatever unique thing he is and has to that role, and it's his role," Selleck said. "It's just kind of an interesting anecdote now. I've hardly had a cross to bear. I mean, I've been very fortunate. I'm still working."

Selleck's film career took off in movies like "Three Men and a Baby."

But in the early '90s, Selleck - who is married to British actress Jilly Mack with whom he has one daughter - made headlines when he demanded (and got) apologies from a tabloid publication that alleged he was gay.

"It has nothing to do with being gay," he said of the legal fight. "It has to do with … you made a choice in your life and you're married, and it would turn your life into a fraud."

But in 1997 he went on to play an openly gay character in "In and Out."

"Well, sure," he said. "That's a wonderful movie. I love that movie."

His kiss with Kevin Kline became a sensation:

"It was kind of a slap-in-the-face kiss. It was kind of 'wake up, you're gay, you know?' We spent the day on that scene and we had traffic control. It was at an intersection, and people were driving by and we had a traffic cop going 'Whoa … what kind of movie is this?'"

Selleck prides himself on taking risks in his work. In 1996 he accepted a small part playing Courtney Cox's much older boyfriend on "Friends":

"I remember people in my professional life, advisors saying 'Don't do that. They're gonna say you're crawling back to TV and you're looking for a job. You can't guest on a show!'"

He was so popular, it became a recurring role … and earned him an Emmy nomination.

In private life, Selleck is an avid outdoorsman, but his relationship with the National Rifle Association has been controversial. An NRA ad he did promoting safe-sports shooting for young people released in 1999, around the time of the Columbine massacre, led Rosie O'Donnell to confront him when he was promoting a film on her show.

O'Donnell: Why the NRA wouldn't say as a matter of compromise, "We agree, assault weapons are not good?"

Selleck: I'm not, I can't speak for the NRA.

O'Donnell: But you're their spokesperson, Tom, so you have to be responsible for what they say.

Selleck: I'm not a spokesperson, I'm not a spokesperson.

O'Donnell: But if you put your name out and say, 'I, Tom Selleck …'

Selleck: Don't put words in my mouth. I'm not a spokesperson.

Later in the show, O'Donnell apologized to Selleck "on a personal" level.
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At age 64, Selleck now tries to keep his personal and political views out of the limelight, concentrating on roles like police chief Jesse Stone, based on a character created by crime writer Robert Parker.

Tonight marks the fifth film in a series that has earned Selleck another Emmy nomination, and he says portraying this loner with a drinking problem is one of the highlights of his career:

"He's funny," Selleck said. "He does not feel sorry for himself, which is I think his saving grace, and the audience then kind of roots for him."

The audience seems to root for Tom Selleck, too …

"Most actors are enormously talented and don't get as lucky as a few of us. You better not ever forget that."

Tom Selleck certainly hasn't forgotten.