Timeless in the eyes of the C&I readers who adore him, the 71-year-old star chats about his work on the CBS family drama Blue Bloods and his love affair with westerns over the years.
On the hit CBS drama series Blue Bloods, 71-year-old Tom Selleck stars as police commissioner Frank Reagan, a self-assured leader at work for his police force of thousands and an emotional rock at home for his tightknit family. Crime, politics, and city issues drive the plot on the show — which just began its seventh season airing Friday nights — but the true heart of Blue Bloods can be found in every episode when Frank Reagan and his family sit around their Sunday-dinner table and converse.
They banter as any close family would, giving each other advice both solicited and unsolicited, sometimes even letting their tempers flare. “I feel one of the reasons for the show’s success is our Sunday family dinner [scene],” Selleck tells C&I. “The most touching evenings are the ones where we fight at the table. This is something that doesn’t exist much [on TV] any more.”
Indeed, Blue Bloods is a lot like Selleck — no-nonsense, reliable, and endearingly familiar. Perhaps that’s why the actor has appeared on five previous C&I covers. Readers feel a powerful connection to him thanks not only to his work in contemporary TV and movies (Magnum, P.I.; Friends; Three Men and a Baby), but also to his undying passion for the art of the western. Selleck has stood out in all manner of Old West projects, from TV events such as The Sacketts, Crossfire Trail, and Monte Walsh to the theatrical release Quigley Down Under.
The star has revealed to C&I time and time again that his favorite characters have always been the ones wearing hats and boots, riding horses, and living off the land.
He pursues such passions off camera, too, at his longtime ranch in Ventura County, California, where we caught up with him for our latest visit. When he’s not filming Blue Bloods in New York or working on the next installment of his Jesse Stone TV movie series, Selleck can be found tending to his 65-acre property, which includes a restored hunting lodge, a corral, and a barn.
Here’s more from our chat with the true-blue, timeless Tom Selleck.
Cowboys & Indians: Our last interview took place right before you were leaving for New York to start the initial filming of Blue Bloods. Tell us a bit about these last six years in the Big Apple.
Tom Selleck: It was an exciting and apprehensive time, as it always is when you’re tackling something new and you hope it works. Obviously it has worked big time. I’m proud to say that Blue Bloods is now appointment television, a must-watch on Friday night. You get inside the heads of the Reagan family, specifically my character, Frank, the police commissioner of New York City, who has the lives of 35,000 police officers on his shoulders, including his son who died in the line of duty.
C&I: Blue Bloods executive producer Leonard Goldberg told TV Guide that Norman Rockwell’s famous Thanksgiving dinner painting provided a second bit of inspiration for the creation of the show. What do you take that to mean?
Selleck: The writing is getting better and better, and Leonard did get inspiration for merging a police show with a family show — especially the cornerstone Sunday dinner scene — from that painting, as his family always had dinner together after church. Leonard also brought in Emmy-winning husband-and-wife writing team Robin Green and Mitchell Burgess, best known for writing about a family on the other side of the law on The Sopranos. They wanted to do a show about heroes, even though we don’t always win.
C&I: Another signature role you’ve brought to life over the last decade is that of the late best-selling writer Robert Parker’s character Jesse Stone, the world-weary New England police chief investigating a string of murders. The 10th movie in that series is in development. Tell us a bit about the journey, and fill us in on the status of the next one.
Selleck: I love the character of Jesse Stone, and I think that No. 9, Lost in Paradise, was a very good show with a strong story arc. We got a two-movie commitment from the Hallmark Channel, and I worked pretty hard to get the ninth one on the air. I knew I’d have to write it with my partner while I was working on Blue Bloods and did quite a bit of the work at Christmastime. Some people think the ninth was the best one ever. It’s not a question of inspiration, as I walk in Jesse’s shoes whenever I start to explore this complex character. And I still am inspired to write No. 10, but decided I wanted to spend some time with my family during hiatus this last year.
C&I: What made the last one, which you wrote with your partner, Michael Brandman, such a standout?
Selleck: Jesse is a very risky character who can go over the edge at any time. Jesse has rather dangerous rules, and maintaining means being limited to two (very healthy) drinks a night. The story in Lost in Paradise revolves around a despicable serial killer played by Luke Perry, who finally admits to three murders when someone imitates him, committing a fourth murder, and he couldn’t stand that.
C&I: There seem to be a lot of cowboy-hero qualities in Jesse, and even some Western values in Blue Bloods.
Selleck: This is particularly true with Jesse. He has a strong sense of irony with lots of bad habits, but the audience seems to love him. The head of the Paradise Town Council doesn’t like him at all and was trying to get rid of him until movie No. 8, saying, “We think you behave like a small-town sheriff.” Jesse replied, “Like a benevolent Gene Hackman in Unforgiven?” You could put this character in a western setting and all you’d have to change is cars to horses — something that I really miss. I also compare Blue Bloods to Bonanza — these are shows with strong family character and strong family values.
C&I: We know well that your heart has been in the western genre for more than 30 years. Tell us a bit about your relationship with Louis L’Amour, starting with The Sacketts miniseries in 1979.
Selleck: I was raised in tract housing but grew up watching westerns, and those movies had a deep-rooted influence on me. I was very lucky to get cast in The Sacketts. My pal Sam Elliott — we started out in the business together — was already cast as my brother, and this was a big plus, as I was pretty nervous. Other actors included Ben Johnson, Slim Pickens, and Jack Elam — all these guys I’d seen in westerns. I got hooked on the genre, and although I’d ridden before, I really learned how to ride during that project because the director was a stickler for his actors looking authentic on horseback. I didn’t want to look like a slacker. After The Sacketts, the creative team made a pact to work together again, but another Louis L’Amour project almost didn’t happen. The rights to make a Sacketts sequel got tied up in legalese, so Louis wrote a new book with a movie in mind. I’m proud to say that Louis and I became friends on the set, which meant a lot to me. He knew that we were all going to do another project together one way or another, so he created The Shadow Riders for us.
C&I: Later came Last Stand at Saber River, Crossfire Trail, and the acclaimed Monte Walsh, which you also executive-produced for TNT. Tell us a bit about the experience of making Monte Walsh.
Selleck: Monte Walsh is a simple morality story, as most great westerns are, about a cowboy living in the early 20th century when life was drastically changing. He isn’t a gunman, isn’t a sheriff; Monte’s just a cowboy who can no longer live the life he wants to live. It was the flaws in the character that made the audience root for him. The movie became the highest-rated basic cable movie ever to air on Friday night, and I think that people who say western movies no longer work are crazy.
C&I: Do you do a lot these days on your California ranch?
Selleck: We don’t have any horses left on the ranch, as my beloved horse Spike, from Quigley Down Under, passed away at around 30 years old. I do most of the grunt work around the ranch, and 65 acres is a pretty big piece of property for around here. Our daughter, Hannah, just won a big equestrian Grand Prix event in Europe. I just love riding a long stirrup in a Western saddle.
C&I: You live on the ranch and film in New York City and in Canada (for Jesse Stone films) How important is sense of place to you and your work?
Selleck: This sense of place has become very important and was instilled in me when I started doing westerns. Jesse Stone’s house is a solitary place located on a point near Paradise. In Blue Bloods, we film in the city of New York, as the Reagans are New York City cops. I hope I’m not done doing westerns, though, as they are now very hard to get off the ground. I so miss it, and more than any other experience I’ve had in film, these movies create a sense of place. Everything in a western can work for you if you allow it — not spending time in your trailer. Perhaps if you’re just sitting on your horse between takes and staying on the set, you can still kind of experience that lifestyle. There was a real sense of unity between cowboys.
From the November/December 2016 issue.