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Magnum Torts : TOM SELLECK IS THE CENTRAL COG AROUND WHICH CABLE FILM'S MORALITY TALE EVOLVES

August 06, 1995|JOHN LEKICH | John Lekich is a free-lance writer based in Vancouver

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA — It is summer on the outskirts of Vancouver and the lack of rain is making the locals a little giddy.

On the set of "Broken Trust," TNT's suspenseful drama about judicial ethics that premieres Sunday, a cluster of determined women are clutching scraps of paper and trying to figure out which trailer belongs to Tom Selleck. They brush their hair in the sun, check their smiles in mirrors that are smaller than the cookies on the catering table, and wait.

It's a good thing they're determined to stick around. "Broken Trust" features their favorite leading man in nearly every scene. As Tim Nash, a respected judge who becomes involved in a government sting operation to uncover corruption among his colleagues on the bench, Selleck's latest role is a creative departure from the laid-back detective in "Magnum, P.I." The offbeat TV series made him a household name in the '80s and ultimately earned Magnum's trademark baseball cap a place in the Smithsonian Institution.

After eight seasons of "Magnum" and a string of features that have established him as an actor with a deft touch for everything from Westerns to light comedy, Selleck plays the central character in TNT's sobering drama. The film also includes such accomplished veterans of the big screen as William Atherton ("Die Hard," "Day of the Locust") and Oscar nominees Elizabeth McGovern ("Ragtime") and Marsha Mason ("The Goodbye Girl").

Directed by Geoffery Sax, who shot the British miniseries "Sleepers" and "Framed," such an abundance of star power is rare for a TV movie. But Lois Bonfiglio, who serves as "Broken Trust's" executive producer along with Jane Fonda, attributes the celestial aura to a story she calls "as delicate and elegant as a house of cards."

Based on William P. Wood's novel "Court of Honor," the screenplay was written by the husband-and-wife team of Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne. Both writers are known for their prestigious individual achievements as authors, essayists and journalists. While they have worked together on such film scripts as the groundbreaking "Panic in Needle Park" and "True Confessions," the latter a big-screen adaptation of Dunne's best-selling novel, "Broken Trust" is an unusual venture for television.

Bonfiglio, who nursed the project along after discovering Wood's book, explains that she became fascinated with the ethical implications of using wiretaps and secret videotapes to test the honesty of public officials. Nash's job, offering bribes to cash-strapped colleagues in return for influencing their verdicts, leaves his fellow judges in the dubious position of having to prove their innocence. Like Didion and Dunne, Bonfiglio couldn't help wondering if the end justifies the means.

"I hadn't read anything in a long time that has all the stylish components of a thriller while going a level deeper," she says. "This is really a story about making moral choices. It raises the issue of judicial corruption. But it also shows how a government, in the hands of the wrong people, can manipulate others under the guise of public service."

The complex nature of the script convinced Bonfiglio that an especially strong cast was required. "The story is sort of like an inverted pyramid," she explains. "It starts out small and all the schemes, the blackmail and the drama get bigger until you reach the top. In order to avoid confusion, every character has to be memorable. So we needed the kind of actors who, by their very presence, take hold of the screen in a way that's impossible to forget."

The atmosphere on the set, while friendly and relaxed, has the unwavering focus of a cast and crew determined to do justice to what Bonfiglio calls "all the different emotional threads that run through the story." As it turned out, this was just the sort of challenge that Tom Selleck was looking for.

"It's been over two years since I've made a movie," he says, chatting amicably in his trailer. "Part of that was so I could stay home with my family after making three pictures back to back. And part of it was having the security of a deal at Disney. So I had the attitude that I was going to wait until something really terrific came along."

A great part of the appeal was the character's multilayered development. On the surface, Selleck's Nash is the golden boy who appears to have it all. In reality, he's going through a difficult divorce, misses his young son and is caught up in the stress of a particularly worrisome murder trial. When approached to take part in the sting, Nash finds himself especially vulnerable.

"He needs some strokes and doesn't really think things through," says Selleck. "He things he's doing the right thing, but he's probably doing it for the wrong reasons. I like that about him. I've always disliked characters that are too perfect because that doesn't allow for change. And I think change is what drama is all about."

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