|A publicity shot from "Three Men and a Baby"|
PALM DESERT, Calif. -- As, Tom Selleck walked toward the next group of reporters waiting to interview him, he got sidetracked. There were these babies, you see -- the twins who co-starred with Selleck in "Three Men and a Baby" – and the 6-foot-4-inch actor was absolutely bonkers f0r the tykes.
"Hi. How ya doin’, huh?" Selleck said in an embarrassingly high-pitched voice as he tiptoed up to the babies, who were resting in their parents' arms. "Hi. Remember me?" he asked, tickling them under their little chins and cooing at them. They smiled back and laughed. Yes, they remembered.
Maybe it was the mustache. Or the dimples big enough to park a Buick in. Whatever, the babies seemed to like Tom Selleck -- and he clearly wasn't showing this affection to win friends or influence the media.
"I like babies," he said shortly after taking his seat. But the newlywed was equivocal on the topic of whether he and his wife, actress Jillie Mack, would be having children soon: "Sooner or later I'd like to have some kids, but we have no plans."
This has been an interesting year for Selleck fans, and for Selleck. It was the year he decided to end his long run in the TV series "Magnum, P.I." -- then changed his mind and opted for another season. He was recently married again, to the aforementioned Mack, whom he met while filming "Lassiter" in Great Britain.
And now there's "Three Men and a Baby," at long last the film that may change perceptions about Selleck's star power on the big screen. (It was the top money-earner in the country last weekend, hauling in $13.9 million.) His past attempts -- "High Road to China," "Runaway" and "Lassiter" -- were sluggish at the box office and generally trashed by critics.
"You know, sometimes you get in a position in the business -- and work's been pretty good for me -- where the business seems to deal with perceptions as opposed to realities," Selleck said, dusting an imaginary piece of lint off the sleeve of a green shirt embroidered with brown horse heads and saddles.
"And it would be nice if I could create the perception in the industry that I'd like to work as an actor in all kinds of roles, and in smaller roles and anything that comes along. Because I don't like to miss out on things."
Ah, yes, the infamous roles that got away. Let's see, he was offered the lead in “Raiders of the Lost Ark," but his "Magnum" commitment interfered. He reportedly declined the James Garner 'role in "Victor/Victoria," which did very good business. Then there was a smaller part in "Silverado" that he had to refuse -- "Magnum" again -- but he won't tell which role it was. And there was the time director Taylor Hackford asked him to accept the role that ultimately went to Jeff Bridges in "Against All Odds," but Selleck had already signed to do "Lassiter."
Interesting as it is, it's all water under the bridge, as they say. And Selleck knows it does no good to whine about the past, so he has focused on the present, hoping the people who do the hiring will recognize he's a team player -- an actor, not just a star, a big name on which to hang a movie.
"I've always looked· for a good ensemble piece," he said earnestly. "It's much more to my background and training and something I've always leaned toward. You know, I like all the pictures I've done, but I wasn't looking for star vehicles. I had a three-month window when I was off 'Magnum' and I picked the best script that came along, regardless of what type it was.
"I like ensemble pieces; I like supporting roles. I like one scene, if it's written good."
In keeping with this professed intent to change industry perceptions, Selleck, who was raised in Southern California and played varsity basketball at the University of Southern California, is preparing to take what some think is a rather substantial risk: He wants to do a revival of "Mr. Roberts" on the New York stage.
"We've talked about it; it's set down, (but) the timing is not definite. … I look at 'Mr. Roberts' as a strong ensemble piece, which is my favorite kind of work. And there's four, at least, great roles in that. And if they can bring together the kind of cast that I think a revival of a show that good should have, I mean, I'd do it in a second.
"I'm scared to death about it, but I need to be scared. You need to challenge yourself as an actor. You don't want to get comfortable, you don't want to get smug. And I think a lot of people -- if I go to New York -- will be waiting for me to fail. So it's enough to scare me," he said chuckling.
This is not to say he plans to give away his money, move to New York and live the life of a struggling artiste. No, movies are still where it's at for Selleck.
"Well, oddly enough, from all the indicators you get from the people who give you jobs, my movie career's been going great," Selleck said with a slight shrug of his shoulders. "Each year I've gotten better and better offers – the years I didn't do films it was by choice -- for more money, which are the gauges, I guess. And I don't think that was the perception out in the world at large, though."
The actor has steadfastly refused studios' offers of multiple-picture deals.
"They're great for security and they make great headlines, but they lock you into things creatively and, quite frankly, monetarily, where if you have faith in yourself, it's better to be a free agent."
If Selleck is anything, it's self-confident -- and he readily admits it. But he doesn't for a second seem egomaniacal or self-obsessed. He knows that what he's got to offer filmmakers is a salable commodity -- talent and good looks -- so he just goes about his business. And part of that includes the struggle to remain as grounded as possible.
But it's difficult. An example was the sight of 100 or so people – mostly women -- lining the hallways in the Desert Springs Hotel hoping to glimpse Selleck as he walked from his suite to a conference room where the media interviews to promote "Three Men and a Baby" were being conducted.
"Well, if I chose to have some time to myself, I probably wouldn't stay in a hotel and have it announced," he said in reference to the hallway gawkers. Selleck is also adamant about maintaining his independence and not surrounding himself with various sycophants and hangers-on.
"So in my private life I don't have an entourage. … If I'm going to a function that's work-oriented or sometimes, say, a concert or something, I'll get some help to get me in and out. But other than that I'm not comfortable with people getting me in and out of place. I think if you lose touch with all of that, apart from everything else, you lose touch. … That's a real trap if you don't get some privacy and don't go to the market and deal with it on your own."
The man is also pretty serious when it comes to discussing the end of his TV series. At the end of last season, Selleck's character, private eye Tom Magnum, was seriously wounded and nearly died. Originally, viewers were to think he had gone on past the Pearly Gates, but Selleck decided to go for one more year. Now that this year's episodes are drawing to a close, it's beginning to take its toll.
"It's mostly the family aspect, and you know I work with probably -- not probably -- the best crew in the business. I mean, we know each other and we really are family and we kid around a lot, we have a lot of fun.
"That's the real reason I came back (to one more year of 'Magnum'). It was never a money question -- CBS and Universal have been real fair to me, so when they started talking about an eighth year, the areas that worked on me were kind of the family aspect of the unit we've got."
But this year, he said, is definitely the last. It's on to the stage and more film work. He's still interested in a movie that's currently titled "Quigley Down Under," about an American cowboy who goes to work in Australia. And there are those persistent rumors about him starring as Rhett Butler in a remake of "Gone with the Wind."
"I've been approached a few times, kind of formally, about interest," he said, slowly shaking his head. "Certainly, nobody's sent me an offer. I don't think I'd want to do it. Now that's not to say I wouldn't do it, you know; you read something and if it’s a good enough script and unique enough, it can change your mind about a lot of things.
"But in concept, I think it's a bad idea. … See, I think if you do 'Gone with the Wind' you're not trying to capture the essence of Rhett Butler, you're almost trying to capture the essence of Clark Gable. And you can’t do that."