Selleck's words are few and thoughtful

October 28, 1990|By New York Daily News

Talking with Tom Selleck is an unnerving experience. Unlik ** so many other stars, in this case you actually get exactly what you expect.

Though somewhat cautious about his personal life ("I try to keep a portion of it private, which is a hard thing to do," he says), he fields questions with meticulous thoughtfulness. If not each word, then at least each answer seems to be measured for its ultimate weight. He is a man who will not be burned in the future as he has been in the past.

Not that he's a shy man -- or a rude one. Polite nearly to a fault, he's more like, well, an open-range hero who only says enough to get his horse fed, his stock tended and his woman taken care of. In other words, the guy's just a cowboy -- more Gary Cooper than Walter Brennan, mind you -- complete with "How the West Was Won" philosophy.

Take, for instance, this snippet of conversation: "I don't like people to mistake kindness for weakness," he says. "I try to be a kind man, but they shouldn't make that mistake."

Or, even, this one: "Everybody," the non-judgmental star points out with a shrug, "picks their own path."

And Mr. Selleck's career path, these days, has brought him to "Quigley Down Under," which opened earlier this month. It's about a kind but strong American cowboy who helps settle an unsettling situation in the Australian outback. He even gets to wear a white hat.

It is because of this film that the 45-year-old Mr. Selleck, who has a 22-year-old son from his first marriage and a 2-year-old daughter from his second and present marriage, has agreed to this publicity tour. And while he insists that "my overwhelming experience with the press has been positive," there was that one little problem some years back, and now his middle-aged personal assistant sits quietly across the room during all interviews.

"Some things," the 6-foot-4 California native says with a resigned smile, "live forever that you either never said or you wished you hadn't said."

And sometimes, as Mr. Selleck so well knows, things you never did with people you never met. In the early '80s, you see, soon after he shot to the top with the launch of TV's long-lived "Magnum, P. I.," the National Enquirer reported that Mr. Selleck was very close friends with Victoria Principal. Mr. Selleck, who said he had never even been introduced to the "Dallas" diva at that time, sued.

Not for the money, he says, but for the principle, if you will. The case was settled out of court and the Enquirer, he says with an I've-seen-it-all-before smile, "did apologize but it wasn't on the front page like the story was."

Even now, he says, he can't discuss the terms of the settlement, but he does allow that he "turned around and gave $100,000" to his alma mater, the University of Southern California, "to create a program to promote the study of ethics in journalism." We're talking a very big white hat here.

Speaking of white hats . . . "I almost did 'Quigley' in 1985," he says, "but it fell through, so I did 'Three Men and a Baby' instead."

Not altogether a bad career move considering how long that cinematic confection stayed in the No. 1 box-office spot (a sequel's on its way). It also proved a nice counterpoint to the fact that Mr. Selleck had to turn down the lead in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" a decade ago because of his "Magnum" commitment.

But he still had a hankerin' to do a Western and when the chance to jump on "Quigley's" horse came around again, Mr. Selleck went for it.

The film was shot entirely in the outback and the cast and crew were stationed in a town called Alice Springs. And while there was a Sheraton there, there was little else.

'It's quite mystical to be there," Mr. Selleck insists. "I actually got a feeling many times that I might be stepping on a piece of land -- because it's so vast -- that no other human being had ever walked on."

These days, Mr. Selleck is bracing for the Christmas release of "Three Men and a Little Lady," the sequel to his 1987 hit, and he's readying to start shooting "Tokyo Diamond." The last, a baseball movie about an American who goes to Japan to play professional ball, begins filming sometime in December or January.

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