'Blue Bloods' Star Tom Selleck on Being an 'Accidental' Actor, His 'Appetite for Failure' and Retirement

Tom Selleck

With hit shows like Blue Bloods and Magnum, P.I. to his credit and box office successes like Three Men and a Baby and Quigley Down UnderTom Selleck has had an impressive career.

But in his new memoir, You Never Know, he attributes that career to an accident—a happy one—that was the result of his having played basketball at USC, where he was a business major, which led to him appearing on The Dating Game.

“I don’t think it really would have happened if Dick Zanuck [the president of 20th Century Fox in the ‘60s] wasn’t a fan of UCLA basketball and I played at SC,” Selleck tells Parade in this one-on-one interview. “Which, I think, he found interesting and was why he said yes to me signing a contract [for the Fox New Talent development program]. But once I got there and was exposed to it, I think after getting over the nerves for a couple of months, I realized I liked it. Then they fired me.”

Selleck wasn’t fired for lack of talent—rather, the entire program was discontinued—but the lessons he learned there served as the foundation to his career. He also made lifelong friends like Sam Elliott and Linda Dano, and met Esme Chandlee, his publicist who helped boost his profile even before he could afford to pay her.

Related: Blue Bloods Star Tom Selleck Is Releasing a Very Intimate Memoir, You Never Know, Including Never-Before-Told Stories

“I had terrible work habits at school, but I had terrific work habits in sports,” Selleck said of his start. “You’re really dealing in acting with, as I called it, getting an appetite for failure, and I already had an appetite for that because I played sports. So, I looked at it differently. But it was an accident.”

<p>Photo by CBS via Getty Images</p>

Photo by CBS via Getty Images

With The Dating Game under his belt, failure and all, Selleck decided to throw himself into auditioning. But he wasn’t an overnight success. It took him 13 years to land the role of Thomas Magnum in Magnum, P.I. As the story goes, the timing of that big break was both fortuitous and frustrating. He was offered a second role right after he had signed the contracts with CBS: that of Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

“I love the Raider story. I’m proud that I lived through it,” admits Selleck, who is still very philosophical about the result.

Magnum was a big struggle itself, just getting the piece of material that it turned out to be," he says. "That was a long road. When I finally agreed to do Magnum and Don Bellisario had written this great script, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Then something else happened that was really good.”

Selleck went to Bob Daly, who was the head of CBS, to see if he could get a waiver to do Indiana Jones in addition to Magnum.

Related: Tom Selleck's Net Worth In 2024 Proves Blue Bloods Makes Green

“Bob Daly is a good guy," Selleck says. "He had every right to [say no]. The business was very structured in those days. He said, ‘I don’t want a movie star in my series because he’ll want to leave.’ A lot of actors had done that. I never was about to even consider that."

Tom Selleck, Jillie Mack<p>Photo by Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage</p>
Tom Selleck, Jillie Mack

Photo by Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage

He could have done both and possibly have had a different career because it turned out that there was a strike and Magnum was postponed. But Selleck is satisfied with the way things turned out. His path led him to the life he now has, including meeting his wife, Jillie Mack, when he was filming Lassiter.

“All those things happened. I owe a lot to the business and the success I think I’ve earned, which is key," he tells Parade. "If things had gone a little different, if I had fooled somebody and gotten a big part my first year at Fox, I think I would have been in and out of there pretty quick and that would have been about it."

During our chat, Selleck also talked about the words of wisdom he lives by, his love for his 63-acre California ranch and more.

<p>Courtesy: HarperCollins</p>

Courtesy: HarperCollins

You were initially reluctant to write this book. Why did you change your mind?

Annett Wolf, my current publicist, who’s also a dear friend, kept bugging me. I figured I had something to share; I wasn’t going to do a tell-all or a political book or a get-even book. But I do have a lot of work that people aren’t aware of, and I thought that there were lessons in that. Mostly, I don’t think you should start a book unless you recognize what I do when I do a screenplay, which is first and foremost you have an obligation to entertain. If you entertain people, maybe you can also move them and say something that they might listen to. But those moments must be earned. That’s my philosophy.

Speaking of philosophy, you also give us your words of wisdom: Show up on time, put a smile on your face, do your job. You have to choose to be offended. Were those values learned from playing sports or were those things that your parents taught you?

Some, like, "Risk is a price you pay for opportunity"—I’m not even sure my dad said it, but he just lived it with the way he went about his whole life. But other ones came to me in the book. Particularly with the times we’re living in, you have to choose to be offended. I think that’s something that a lot of people should contemplate. It seems like we’re all looking for reasons to get mad at somebody else or to be offended. It’s pretty easy to take a deep breath and think a second time before you push send.

Related: Blue Bloods Is Ending But Tom Selleck Is Ready to Go For More

So yeah, it was a matter of both, but where did I learn them? Probably from sports, probably from my parents. Occasionally, people put words to [an idea] I couldn’t forget, like George Will’s book Men at Work, about baseball. “Luck is unpredictable, but talent tends to take advantage of it; therefore, the talented tend to have more of it.”

So I shared that stuff because it did relate to the work, and it did relate to my philosophy of the work.

The one that was surprising was where you tell yourself, you are enough, even after your success. From the outside looking in, it looks as if you would have had more confidence.

Look, I was the shy kid in speech class. I never wanted to be an actor or anything else. Every actor works differently, but I found that the more confident I was, the more I risked and the more I grew as an actor. It was a slow process. Then you’re always dealing [with the fact that] you’re probably going to lose about 50 percent of whatever talent you have when you go read for a role just to nerves. So, it was a way of dealing with the nerves and the anxiety of the auditions and everything else. I literally did say it out loud sometimes.

I said it in the book, when I was 25, I looked 35 and sounded 15. Everything hadn’t quite formed. I knew when I walked in—as my first acting coach, Bert Connolly, said, “Look, in some way you’re going to have to deliver the guy you look like.” And I said, “Well, I don’t like those guys who like the way they look. I have more of an appetite for quirky people with flaws.” And he said, “But still, that guy who comes in the room, you’ve got to find them both.”

That was a long process, I think, and it was a blessing. People saw a few things I was in, but it was very frustrating for a long time. I mean, to burst on the scene in a show as successful as Magnum—and most people really didn’t know your work, at 35—that, while frustrating, was a blessing.

You talk about learning from James Garner, who you had met while guesting on Rockford Files. So, when you finally had a hit show, you had learned enough that it helped you deal with everything that was happening for you.

Garner was obviously a mentor. I had had two mentors in the show business world. For Westerns, it’s Ben Johnson and for everything else, it’s [James] Garner. To get that job on Rockford at that time when I was such a fan of his work and see how he handled himself on his own set and made it a good place to work for everybody, I didn’t know what the lessons were in the future for me but I sure remembered him when, as Steve Cannell said, “People should take star lessons from Jim Garner.” So, I tried to.

One thing that the success of Magnum allowed was for you to buy your ranch. Reading how much you love being there and driving around on your ATV and checking on everything and doing chores, do you think you’re a farmer at heart? A rancher at heart?

Yeah, I do. Sometimes you think you want something. Like after the Sacketts I realized, "I want a ranch, I want horses." Well, sometimes you get that, and you realize, "No, that’s not really what I want. I got to go back to Beverly Hills." But I was right. And it’s the perfect thing for Blue Bloods. They compress my work in New York so I can get home for about 10 days. It is the perfect antidote to the work I love. I love doing Blue Bloods. I go home and I sit on a ranch and frankly, I could do that all the time. But I do not want to retire. I love acting.

Related: Tom Selleck Is a Softie! The Sweetest Things the Blue Bloods Star Has Said About His Wife, Jillie Mack

Good, because on the last page of your book, you wrote, “in many ways sitting here I am out of time and that’s fine by me.” It wasn’t clear what you were out of time for.

I was sitting in a room that was built in 1910 when I wrote that. Maybe I didn’t make it clear. It’s full of Western memorabilia of another time [period], a picture of John Ford on the wall, and Western bronzes. I kind of wish maybe I would have been a little happier in the 19th century, but probably not.

You didn’t write much on Blue Bloods. Just a chapter at the end and that has lasted twice as long as Magnum.

It wasn’t a question of that. I had no master plan. I just started writing and I got to about page 200. I have a 50-some-odd-year career now and I’m just starting Magnum at page 200. I said if I have an obligation to entertain and I do, I don’t want a doorstop that somebody sees and goes, “Oh, I guess I’d read that some time, but…” I realized that if I talked about everything and kept it short, it’d be like a résumé; I did this, then I did this, then I did this. This isn’t like a pitch for a sequel because man, it was hard work.

I realized that the one place I could stop is when my life had permanently changed. I thought that was a good story. There’s too many stories behind Friends and Blue Bloods. So, I touched on a little about the beginning of Blue Bloods. Because it wasn’t another new beginning and the end of Magnum was a new beginning. It just wasn’t really possible.

So, another book?

I don’t think I could be that entertaining. The stories are too important. It’s not the work, it’s not, “I did this.” It’s the stories that hopefully make this all interesting, what was going on behind the scenes. There wasn’t going to be any room to do that for 50 years.

Now that Blue Bloods is ending, is there any possibility Jesse Stone might be resurrected? You had talked about doing it before, but you didn’t have time.

If Blue Bloods doesn’t [get uncanceled], there is room for a Jesse Stone because I’ve written them, as you know. I love Jesse. And he’d be different. He’s older. It’s been a while since the last one. That’s a fun thing to deal with. Either way, I want to work. But we’re in the middle of Blue Bloods; I’m shooting right now.

Blue Bloods airs Friday nights at 10 p.m. ET on CBS.

Next, Will CBS Save Blue Bloods?