Tom Selleck is an enduring star beyond any 'Doubt'

By Olivia Barker, USA TODAY
May 18, 2012

NEW YORK – After eight movies, including this Sunday's Benefit of the Doubt (CBS, 9 p.m. ET/PT), there's no doubt that Jesse Stone "has legs" like Magnum, says the man behind both characters, Tom Selleck.

It's just that Jesse's are jean-encased — unlike Magnum's short-shorts-exposed gams. (That dubious fashion statement is the only part of the seminal '80s series that's dated, Selleck jokes.)

And if Magnum flew around in a Ferrari, Jesse — the Scotch-swilling, sarcasm-spewing, brow-furrowing sometimes-police chief of picturesque but puny Paradise, Mass. — lumbers along.

"Our shows have pace, but it's a different pace," says Selleck, 67, who calls Doubt the best Jesse movie yet. "It's very deliberate."

After the new Paradise chief dies in a mysterious car explosion, Jesse gets his old job — and PPD hat — back and sets out to solve the crime.

But the plot is sort of beside the point. "The actual mystery of the show is Jesse," says Selleck, an executive producer with a big hand in the shaping the scripts. "Because the story is told through Jesse's eyes, the audience has to walk in his shoes."

Selleck has been walking in Jesse's sturdy lace-ups since 2005, and over time, the two have meshed. There's the appreciation for dogs and Scotch. There's the Luddite leanings: Jesse relies on an ancient-looking answering machine; Selleck says he's "so computer-illiterate I sometimes say 'information superhighway.' "

They even dress the same: dark collared shirt, corduroy blazer (though Selleck's is from Armani — probably not a place most people on a cop's salary would shop) and those jeans.

Nearly as much as Magnum, Jesse is a part of Selleck's career legacy now, "I'm very, very happy to say."

Not that he resents his indelible association with aloha shirts and Detroit Tigers caps. Indeed, he seems tickled to hear that across the way in Brooklyn, hipsters have lovingly appropriated Magnum's iconic aviators-and-mustache look.

But "I also didn't trade off" of Magnum mania.

"I tried to stretch as much as I thought I should. And I don't think you should do something just to prove you can be different. But I think you should keep trying different parts that scare you."

Selleck has broken a number of Hollywood rules, including his staying star power. Encroaching on Magnum and Jesse is NYPD Commissioner Frank Reagan, Selleck's rave-worthy role on Blue Bloods. The CBS cop show will return for a third season in the fall.

He attributes his longevity to "a lot of luck," the ability to age gracefully — "you can't be who you were 20 years ago" — and "hopefully you have talent."

And then there's his nearly 25-year Hollywood marriage to actress Jillie Mack. Although he says they don't ponder that feat much, the secret is "making the right choice, and I certainly did with Jillie," whom he describes "as very independent. She has her life, I've got my life. We see each other all the time, except when I'm working."

Jesse typically shoots over three weeks in Halifax, Nova Scotia. There's no word yet on a ninth chapter.

"I'm always prepared to hear this will be the last one," Selleck says. Still, "I refuse to wrap up and resolve everything and do some feel-good show. If it had to end here, it's not a bad way to go."

That said, Jesse — like Magnum, in a way — is "never finished."