Tom Selleck isn’t himself in “In & Out.” It’s not just that Selleck - the macho gumshoe of “Magnum, P.I.,” recently seen romancing sexy Courteney Cox on “Friends” - plays a gay TV reporter in “In & Out, the weekend’s top box-office draw with a take of $15.3 million.
What’s really out of character is that Selleck appears without his trademark mustache.
That was a break for Kevin Kline, who didn’t have to contend with little hairs when Selleck planted a big sloppy kiss on him midway through the movie. Kline stars as a small-town teacher who’s unintentionally outed by a former student during the Academy Awards. The kiss is a misguided attempt by Selleck’s character to force the repressed teacher to acknowledge his sexuality.
“It wasn’t a question of ‘Can I kiss Kevin?’ It was in the script, and they paid me to do the part,” says Selleck, 52, looking like his dashing self again with his mustache back in place.
Still, he admits that “kissing Kevin was a little more difficult than some other kissing scenes I’ve had.” It took 30 takes to get it right. One time, he missed Kline’s mouth altogether.
“As an actor you just do it even if it’s pretty awkward,” Selleck says. “Sometimes on a movie, you’ll shoot a love scene the first day. You don’t know the woman and you’ll just say, ‘How do you do’ and jump in bed. That’s all very strange stuff, but once you’ve done it enough, you get used to it.”
Although it wasn’t their first scene together, Selleck and Kline had very little time to get to know each other before they were expected to pucker up. “We shot it so soon because it’s set outdoors. The movie takes place in June, but we were shooting in September, so we were racing the fall leaves,” Selleck explains.
“That’s a pivotal scene in the movie, a kind of emotional high point that dictates where the rest of your performance goes. So there was anxiety about shooting it so soon, and I felt anxious about playing this guy in a realistic way.”
This sort of anxiety common to actors “isn’t quite as obvious as ‘Oh, my God, were you worried about playing a gay role?”’ Selleck says. “To be honest, no. I mean, people have said to me, ‘I didn’t think you would do a part like this.’ I’d be crazy not to do a part like this.”
As much as the opportunity to work with director Frank Oz and screenwriter Paul Rudnick and a cast including Kline, Joan Cusack and Matt Dillon, Selleck says he welcomed the chance to “change people’s perceptions about me.”
The perception that he’s homophobic developed from his reaction to a supermarket tabloid article in 1991 suggesting that he was gay. Selleck, who has been married twice, promptly issued a statement that he was “singularly heterosexual” and slapped the tabloid with a $20 million lawsuit. He won the case but reportedly settled for a symbolic $1.
He has maintained that his response had nothing to do with being anti-gay and that he would have sued if the story had linked him romantically with an actress he didn’t know.
Another perception is that Selleck, who has had only one hit on the big screen, the 1987 movie “3 Men and a Baby,” won’t consider any role but a lead. Not true, he says. He yearns to do smaller parts. “They’re often the best ones,” he says.
For years, however, “I couldn’t send the signal out in the business that I was interested in the work, not in vehicles for myself. I left a couple of agents because of this. I can afford to work cheap. ‘Magnum’ gave me the financial stability to do other things, but I wasn’t getting the chance to do them.”
His juicy supporting role in “In & Out” could change all that. Some critics are saying he steals the movie.
While allowing that it’s a kick to be hot again, Selleck adds, “I don’t know how unhot I got. I know I got less hot than I was at one time.”
Now he’s waiting to see what offers come his way.
“‘In & Out’ may open up more possibilities,” he says, “but it’s not like I want to play eight gay characters in a row. I want to play different kinds of characters.”
There’s one role Selleck insists he’s not interested in: U.S. senator from California. The rumor that he might run against Democrat Barbara Boxer next year was fueled by a recent New York Times column saying that some Republicans had asked him to do so.
Selleck acknowledges that he is approached to run for office “every so often” and that “it’s mildly flattering.”
“But I have never in my life encouraged anybody. I’ve never had a meeting with anybody. I’m not even a Republican, though a lot of people think I am. I’m a registered independent.”
An unfortunate consequence of what he calls “that wholly false column” is that it forced him to resign as national spokesman of a bipartisan organization called the Character Counts Coalition.
“Because we’re talking about values from a consensus point of view, it’s very important that our figureheads don’t take political stands. Barbara Boxer had signed our joint resolution,” Selleck says.
“I had never flirted with the idea of running, but (the column) had created the appearance of a conflict. I didn’t know what Barbara Boxer would think when I basically said to her face, ‘I have no hidden political agenda.”’
Told that he looks senatorial, if not presidential, Selleck laughs and says, “Look, I have a kid (an 8-year-old daughter). I have all these good jobs as an actor. I’m a public figure already. Why would I want to turn it up a couple of notches?”