The CBS drama series Magnum P.I. is a modern take on the classic TV character of Thomas Magnum (Jay Hernandez), a decorated former Navy SEAL who uses his military skills to become a private investigator alongside former Marine chopper pilot Theodore “TC” Calvin (Stephen Hill), former Marine Orville “Rick” Wright (Zachary Knighton) and disavowed MI:6 agent Juliet Higgins (Perdita Weeks), whose main focus seems to be keeping Magnum in line with the help of her two Dobermans. There is no crime that Magnum can’t solve and no person that he can’t convincingly charm, especially if he’s driving that vintage red Ferrari.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, actor Jay Hernandez talked about having watched Magnum P.I. as a kid, his reservations about stepping into this role, why he thought they had a really good shot at getting something great, the mustache, when he knows that a character is really within him, the responsibility of being #1 on the call sheet, working in the paradise of Hawaii, whether he’s ever been tempted to just drive off in that car, pulling off the big action sequences, and the dynamic between the team.
Collider: Could you ever have imagined, when you started this whole acting career, that you would be here now, playing Thomas Magnum?
JAY HERNANDEZ: Absolutely not! 100% no. I watched the show, as a kid, but I had no idea that I would ever even get the chance to play Magnum. I didn’t even know they would do a reboot, let alone that I would get the opportunity to do it. So, no, absolutely not.
How did this end up coming your way, and did they tell you they were looking for something different this time, right from the beginning?
HERNANDEZ: Yeah, part of it was that they wanted to do something different. My take is that they wanted to not try to replace Tom Selleck and not try to find somebody that looked and felt like Tom Selleck because that’s a recipe for disaster. After reading the script, I got it. I was like, “Okay, they’re trying to update it.” They changed Higgins, who’s a woman now, they’ve added a little more action to it, and there’s a little bit of comedy with the drama, which was part of the original. It still captures that enigmatic charm that Tom Selleck had. All of the good pieces about it were still there, but it feels fresh.
Was there anything that they specifically put you through, in order to cast you in this?
HERNANDEZ: Just a lot of meetings and a lot of creative conversations, and that kind of stuff.
What ultimately sold you on it?
HERNANDEZ: They didn’t have to sell me on the character. I was on board with that. Learning about how they were going to capture the character and put it on screen, and not do Tom Selleck, I thought was important. The script was great, and Justin Lin directing that type of script, I thought was a perfect pairing. I looked at all those different aspects of it and just figured that this was going to be really hard to mess up. I thought we had a really good shot at getting something great, and doing this show and playing this character for a long time.
At any point, did you say, “Just make sure you don’t make me grow a mustache with this”?
HERNANDEZ: That was one of my first questions, for sure. I thought about it and I was like, “Should I do it? Should I not?” I wasn’t sure where I fell. But then, ultimately, I decided that you can never replace that, so getting rid of it was a smart idea, for sure.
Did you have a moment, either in pre-production or somewhere during the production of the pilot, where you thought, “Okay, I really feel this character”?
HERNANDEZ: It’s funny, when I play characters, the moment that they get into my dreams is when I feel like I have landed in the character, and that happened during the pilot. It happens with every character I play. I dream about something where I’m in that character, in my dream. That’s when I know it’s within me.
You’ve been in this business a long time, and you’ve been an actor for awhile. Do you feel the responsibility that comes with being #1 on the call sheet, since it’s up to you to set the tone for the whole cast and crew? Is that something that you really think about?
HERNANDEZ: I think about it. I think about not just being #1 on the call sheet, but being at a position of authority or power, and how, if there’s a negative aspect of that, it really does trickle down to everybody else. I’m definitely conscious of that. I feel a responsibility, but I’m the kind of person who is pretty easy going, so I don’t have to try to do too much because I don’t feel like it’s a burden to me. The only thing I have to be conscious of is fatigue because when fatigue sets in, people can get grumpy, but it’s not something that I really have to try too hard at. I naturally get along with people and I’m pretty easy going.
I would imagine that when you’re in a location like Hawaii, with that kind of scenery, it’s hard to get too grouchy.
HERNANDEZ: Yeah, I wake up, walk out of my living room and down the hallway, and I see the beautiful azure waters at the beach. It’s an island. There’s a vibe out there that is very calming and serene, which is nice because it feeds the show that same feeling.
When you’re in a location like that, you have the cars, and you’re doing all of the big action sequences, it really must feel like a big show.
HERNANDEZ: Oh, yeah, it definitely feels like a big show. Some of the locations that we shoot at are just stunning, and the cars are so much fun.
Do you ever get tempted to drive off in one of the cars and never come back?
HERNANDEZ: I’ve threatened to do it, but I haven’t done it yet. Give me some time. It might happen. I keep dropping hints, every time I can, to (executive producer) Peter [Lenkov] that I’m gonna have to get one of these Ferraris for a wrap gift, or for Season 2. I’ve gotta get some sort of freebie Ferrari, right? It should be pretty easy to sway him. It’s only $500,000. Come on, guys!
Are you ever afraid to drive such an expensive car?
HERNANDEZ: Oh, no, I’m not afraid of it. I’m like, “Gimme the keys. I’ll take this for a spin. I’m not afraid.” [Perdita Weeks] was very intimidated, the first time she drove the car, but for me, I was just like, “I’ll do this all day!”
What’s it like to pull off these action sequences for a TV series?
HERNANDEZ: It’s crazy to think that you can pull this off for a television show. The schedule is very ambitious. The more action you add to it, the crazier the days get and the harder it makes getting a single episode to done, but we’re doing it.
Have you had a favorite action moment yet?
HERNANDEZ: Yeah, a couple of the fights. We have this great fight scene that takes place inside an SUV, which is really close quarter stuff, so the fight choreography was really great in that. Tearing off and doing a U-turn in the dirt, kicking up rocks and gravel, and then going onto the street and flooring it, was really fun. [Zachary Knighton], who plays Rick in the show, was in the passenger seat, and he didn’t have time to put his seatbelt on and he almost pissed himself. It’s like zero to 60, in two seconds. He was like, “You remember I don’t have my seatbelt on, right?” He was yelling at me. It was pretty fun to see him lose his composure.
What do you most enjoy about the Magnum-Rick-TC dynamic?
HERNANDEZ: Honestly, the dynamic between the guys is great. It was one of the things I was concerned about because I was the first one on board. You don’t know how the surrounding cast is going to shape up. It’s crap shoot. I could hate these guys. They could turn out to be pricks, or terrible people. But Peter and whoever was involved in that decision-making process made really great decisions. I love Stephen [Hill], and I love Zach. We have a great dynamic. Off set, me and Zach are actually rooming together, so that should tell you that we’re getting along. We’re domestic partners, at this point.
I also love the dogs, Zeus and Apollo. They’re bad-ass!
HERNANDEZ: The dogs are great. Although, on set, it’s a little complicated to get them to do what they’re supposed to do. But, they’re beautiful and huge, too.
Magnum P.I. airs on Monday nights on CBS.