Selleck Plays the Odds on 'Las Vegas'
The television veteran and "Magnum, P.I." Emmy winner has joined the cast of "Las Vegas" in the fifth year of NBC's Friday drama. A month into his run, his character remains something of a mystery. A.J. Cooper is the new owner of the Montecito Resort & Casino, and just as private eye Thomas Magnum's background unfolded over time, so it is with Selleck's latest alter ego.
"I only know about him what I've done so far," the actor says, "but he doesn't replace James Caan. He's a cattle rancher from Wyoming who supposedly has a lot of money, and he doesn't know anything about running a casino, which makes the character fun. That presents an opportunity to do not only drama, but humor."
Lighter "Las Vegas" moments also have continued with Danny and Mike (Josh Duhamel, James Lesure) vying to succeed Ed Deline (Caan) as the Montecito's new security chief. The returning female regulars faced peril at the end of last season -- Vanessa Marcil's Sam was bound and gagged inside a trunk on an airborne plane, and Molly Sims' Delinda was on an upper floor of the Montecito blown up by a disturbed patron -- but they still get funny moments, too.
Selleck is grateful to have such material so soon in his "Las Vegas" stay. He explains, "The fact that NBC took a long time to make the deal kept me from meeting creatively with (series creator) Gary Scott Thompson and the other producers. I signed the contract the day I started working; that's a weird way to start something, but I still think the character is pretty interesting.
"He is the boss, and he's the kind of person who will be the boss. Beyond that, there are missing gaps in his history, even though hotel security has ways to check into someone's background. They just can't figure out very much about him. He's a risk-taker and a real entrepreneur, and he's developing relationships with the other characters. There's plenty to play with that."
Even so, the makers of "Las Vegas" also are counting on Selleck to carry the role by using his own persona "for better or worse," the star says. "I can't just show up and expect people to watch me. It takes writing and preparation, but that being said, I'm used to how television works. I remember on 'Magnum,' we'd sometimes get a script, decide to throw it out the night before and write as we went along. Anything is possible, so I don't find developing a character on the fly completely threatening."
Another definite aspect is that Cooper is an ex-Marine, which Selleck says "gives him a bond, and in some sense a rivalry, with Danny. Once you're a Marine, you're a Marine for life." In picking up with other continuing characters, Selleck has had a less sure path. "They gave me DVDs of last season to watch, and the last one -- which was the season finale -- was a bad DVD."
"Las Vegas" isn't the first example of Selleck joining an ongoing series. He played Monica's older boyfriend on "Friends," and more recently, he had a recurring role as Shirley's ex-husband on "Boston Legal."
Accepting such a part, Selleck says, entails "a leap of faith. On 'Friends,' they were nice enough to call me and pitch the story. I liked the show and I trusted them. With 'Boston Legal,' I had an advantage because [creator-producer] David Kelley had written the role with me in mind. When I read it, I said, 'Shoot, I've got to play this.'
"With this, there wasn't a blueprint. Jimmy is kind of irreplaceable, and I wasn't about to just take over his character. The other things I cared most about were that they'd make this a collaborative work in progress, and that Jimmy left on good terms. He's a friend, and that turned out to be the case."
Selleck began work on "Las Vegas" early for two reasons. The producers wanted to get ahead in the event of a Writers' Guild of America strike, and Selleck had a late-summer commitment to be in Nova Scotia for "Jesse Stone: Thin Ice," his fifth CBS TV movie about the small-town lawman created by novelist Robert B. Parker.
The new film didn't have an air date at this writing, but Selleck still is basking in his Emmy nomination for the preceding one, "Jesse Stone: Sea Change." Also a producer of the movies (the first three of which are available on DVD), he's proud of how they've held their own, even in repeats.
"CBS took a risk on these at a time when TV movies weren't performing well (in the ratings)," Selleck reflects, "so I'm grateful. These look more like feature films, and I think networks get a little worried about that."