Jay Hernandez Interview: Magnum P.I., Tom Selleck and the Show’s Tone

Magnum P.I. star Jay Hernandez
Jay Hernandez stars in ‘Magnum P.I.’ (Photo: Karen Neal © 2018 CBS Broadcasting, Inc)

Magnum P.I. has been synonymous with Tom Selleck since it premiered in 1980. Now Magnum is getting a makeover from the team that rebooted Hawaii Five-O and MacGyver. Jay Hernandez plays the new Thomas Magnum and he spoke with reporters at TCA after a Magnum P.I. panel.

Magnum is still a returning veteran, now solving crimes for clients in Hawaii. Higgins is now a woman played by Perdita Weeks. Magnum P.I. premieres Monday, September 24, 2018 at 9pm ET/PT on CBS.

Did you by any chance do any ride-alongs with a real P.I.?

Jay Hernandez: “I’ve done so many ride-alongs with cops and state troopers and port authority that it wasn’t something essential for me. I’ve trained with weapons. I mean, I feel like 20 years of a career has prepared me for this role.”

How do you like Hawaii?

Jay Hernandez: “I don’t know, I haven’t seen most of it because I’ve been on set the entire time. I’m in like every scene from beginning to end. So far that’s my week and on the weekends I’m doing TCAs and photo shoots. Probably in about two months I’ll get a chance to spend some time on the island and do some surfing.”

Talk about the iconic firsts, the first time you sat in the Ferrari, the first time you got the Hawaiian shirt.

Jay Hernandez: “We’re not doing a Hawaiian shirt quite yet but it’s coming and it’s kind of an earned moment which I think they did a great job with it. For me, I would say one of the most surreal, I had to step back and pinch myself moments, was two months before I got this opportunity, I was randomly flipping through TV, I saw Magnum P.I. on the guide. I clicked on it. It was Tom Selleck on a surf ski in the middle of a bay in Hawaii. Two months after that I found myself in that very same scenario shooting that scene where I’m in the surf ski with the Detroit Tigers hat going through the bay. It was just so surreal to find myself in that spot.

I was a huge fan of the show. My mother was a huge fan of the show. That one’s going to stay with me. It was one of the first moments where it really landed on me that I was given this chance to play this iconic character.”

Did something stand out to you about the original show and made you a fan as a kid?

Jay Hernandez: “What I loved about it was Tom, to be honest. Some of the ancillary characters or storylines were kind of a little campy. It felt like a show from that time period, but looking back on it, it was the charm, it was his charisma, it was that ability of this individual to be attractive to both men and women in the sense that women wanted to have a relationship with him. Men wanted to drink a beer with this guy. It was just cool. As a kid, I responded to that. The red Ferrari didn’t hurt. Things like that, the beautiful women, Hawaii as a location, all that stuff was just icing on the cake.”

When the time is right, would you like to have him on the show?

Jay Hernandez: “I would love to. I would love to. There’s a million ways we can make it happen, but he’s still on a show. Not to wish anything bad for Blue Bloods but if that ends, then there might be a possible way to get him to do the show and I would love that.”

What is different about this Magnum?

Jay Hernandez: “I think a lot of the backstory feeds who this character is, how this story is being built. I would say the one glaringly different aspect of the show is the fact that Higgins is a woman and that dynamic between Higgins and Magnum is going to be different. There’s relationship stuff that can be explored that can turn out to be really interesting and fruitful in terms of building story, but outside of that, I think the main bones and pieces of what made Magnum P.I. special and unique, the POW thing, the charm, the backstory is all still there and feeds into the show, into this character, this version.”

Have you been asked to play a pre-existing character before?

Jay Hernandez: “I’ve played real life individuals. Like in World Trade Center, I played Dominick Pezzulo.”

But redoing one?

Jay Hernandez: “I’ve never done a reboot. No, I don’t think I have.”

What’s daunting about it? Just that there is a footprint?

Jay Hernandez: “Well, I feel like because it’s such a different direction for this character, I feel less burdened by the past. I think if the example of Jared Leto, when I did Suicide Squad, there was built in hate for his portrayal of it. Everybody wanted him to fail, so I had that in the back of my mind.

I thought it was a really smart thing for Peter [Lenkov] in casting and the network to do something that felt really different. Visually, I don’t have the mustache. As Peter said, that was something that Tom brought to the character. I just thought they were dealing with it in the right way because honestly coming in, it was one of the things that I was worried about. I know there’s going to be, regardless of the casting decision, everyone thinks they know best. They know better than the guys writing checks and blowing up Ferraris. It’s like the guy in his mom’s basement knows better than all these people, right? So, everybody has an opinion and I knew that there was gonna be some sort of backlash, but I felt confident in the fact that I can do this, and two, that it was enough of a different direction that there was less weight on me. So it gave me more freedom.”

What’s the relationship between Magnum and Hawaii? Are they glad you’re back?

Jay Hernandez: “They are over the moon. They want the show to work. They love the show. Pretty much everybody I come across has a story of like my dad was this, my mom shot on the thing. Or, this used to be Tom’s favorite place to eat. Everybody’s got a story. It made such an impact on the island and it was a great selling point for the island.

Tourism feeds that state. There’s a service industry, there’s a lot of things that we are, as a production, going to be able to bring to the local economy and the people there. So they are very thankful that we’re there, but everybody has a soft spot for Magnum P.I.. They want the show to work.”

Are you running into Hawaii Five-O there?

Jay Hernandez: “Not constantly but on my way back to L.A. from Hawaii this time for the TCAs, Scott [Caan] was in front of me. It’s the first time we’ve met so it was good.”

Do you think you’ll cross over?

Jay Hernandez: “Yes. There’s already characters that are coming over from Five-O to Magnum. So it’s kind of like this world that Peter’s building on the island with detectives and P.I. There will be an official crossover that’s going to take place, but I think it’s probably maybe more middle/later part of the season.”

Magnum P.I. star Jay Hernandez
Jay Hernandez stars in ‘Magnum P.I.’ (Photo: Karen Neal © 2018 CBS Broadcasting, Inc)

TV has gotten so serious. Is Magnum fun like the original?

Jay Hernandez: “I think tonally it’s similar but I think there’s always going to be some of that levity. There’s always going to be those moments of drama, but it’s not too heavy with that. I feel like the world is tense and heavy enough. There’s so much gravity when you turn on the news, there’s so much bullsh*t out there right now and so much hate and negativity. Everybody has these platforms on social media where they can espouse things and be anonymous. I feel like we don’t need more gravity when you turn on the TV. We need a little bit of that levity, so tonally it’s a bit of an escape.

It’s escapism. It looks visually beautiful. There’s that action element but the pilot’s a little more action heavy than the rest of the show will be. The way I look at it, tonally it’s a bit of escapism. Turn the TV on for an hour and get away from all the bullsh*t.”

Is this a dream role for you?

Jay Hernandez: “Yeah, yeah. It’s hard to pull the Magnum aspect. I remember when I first broke the news to my mom. I was taking my time having this conversation because she was a massive Tom Selleck, Magnum P.I. fan. That’s how I was introduced to the show.

So, we were at dinner. We were having a nice steak, glass of wine, kind of loosening up. I was like, ‘You know, mom, I didn’t want to say anything but I’m going to tell you now because it’s all official, we’re all done with contracts and all that, but I’m playing Magnum P.I.’ No, I said, ‘I’m doing Magnum P.I..’ And she said, ‘Who’s going to be Magnum P.I.? Please tell me it’s Tom Selleck.’ I’m like, ‘No, it’s not Tom Selleck. It’s going to be me.’ My own mother. She wanted Tom Selleck. She still wants Tom Selleck. She’s pitching me. She’s like, ‘When is he coming to the show?’ I’m like, ‘Knock it off. I’m Magnum. Maybe the show down the line.'”

Has she seen the pilot?

Jay Hernandez: “Blown away, yeah. She’s like overflowing with pride. Both of my parents are very happy for the career that I’ve had and it’s kind of like this cruel bit of life imitating art because my brother just two and a half, three weeks ago retired from the Navy. I’m playing a Navy guy. He spent 22 years in the U.S. military, went on numerous tours, went to the Middle East, went to Iraq, all this stuff. And I’m playing a Navy guy on television. So, for me, it’s a real source of pride to be able to portray a character like this. The fact that Peter Lenkov is conscious of this positive portrayal of vets coming back and allowing them to have a positive impact in society. It’s not all about PTSD and my misery and all that sort of side of things. For me, it’s a great honor and a great pleasure to be able to play a character like that.”

Have you swung your mom to your side?

Jay Hernandez: “Yeah, I think so. I think so. She’s an easy sell though. She just wants to meet Tom, I think. That’s the only thing. If she meets Tom, she will die a happy woman.”

Do you have a physical regimen for this role?

Jay Hernandez: “I did before but it’s so hard. My days are just insane. I’m first one in, last one out and then I just have to study for the next day’s material. I’ve been trying to run as much as possible, trying to hit the gym and trying to do surfing, trying to do as much surfing as I can.

My third day in Hawaii, because I got a place that was unfurnished, so I had a bed but it was on the floor so technically I didn’t really have a bed. But I did buy a surfboard, so order of operations was buy a surfboard, get a bed frame, how about a TV. I had my priorities straight.”

Did it take any convincing to get Tom Selleck’s blessing?

Jay Hernandez: “I’m sure it did. I don’t know that but I’m assuming that it’s such a part of his life, it was his baby. It gave him a career. It’s iconic. It’s been around forever. It still airs on television in 100 plus countries around the world.

I’m sure that he was a bit trepidatious about the whole thing and who’s being cast and how is it going to do? What if it’s really huge? If it’s too big, he might not like that. So, I’m sure there was a little bit of that. But at the end of the day, this is his legacy so I would be protective of that if I was him. That being said, he gave us his blessing so all of that considered, I think we’re in pretty good shape.”

Have you ridden in a helicopter?

Jay Hernandez: “I have been in the helicopter. It didn’t take off though. Not yet, not yet, but it’s coming.”

Do you do all your stunts?

Jay Hernandez: “I did most of my stunts in the pilot. I did have a stunt double who was great but I did most of my stuff. It’s like insurance stuff; I’m going to do as much as I can get away with. The stuff that you see in there so far, that’s been me and hopefully I’ll keep it that way as much as possible.”

More on Magnum P.I.:
Magnum P.I. Series Preview – Photos, Cast Info and Plot