Tom Selleck isn't a Democrat. He just plays one in the new TNT comedy drama, "Running Mates," airing Sunday, the eve of the Democratic National Convention.
In fact, the Emmy Award-winner of "Magnum, P.I." fame plays the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee in the film that also stars Laura Linney, Nancy Travis, Teri Hatcher and Faye Dunaway as the women behind the candidate.
Well-spoken and handsome, Selleck's Gov. James Reynolds Pryce is riding the crest of a popularity wave when he arrives in Los Angeles for the Democratic National Convention. But Pryce, who is described as a maverick, is feeling enormous pressure from the party's powerful elite and their money men. With their support comes an ultimatum: Back their agendas or their financing dries up.
Pryce is also wrestling with his choice for running mate. The two leading candidates are the slick good ol' boy Texas senator Mitchell Morris (Bruce McGill), who has a hand in every special interest group's pocket, and the mild-mannered, idealistic Terrence Randall (Bob Gunton), the junior senator from Colorado and a leading proponent of campaign finance reform.
Travis plays Pryce's opinionated wife; Hatcher is a hotshot Hollywood fund-raiser who had a fling with Pryce; Dunaway plays another former flame, the alcoholic wife of a womanizing senator (Robert Culp), and Linney is his campaign manager, who also slept with him.
Executive producer Gerald Rafshoon, who was President Jimmy Carter's director of communications, says that the 55-year-old Selleck was tailor-made for the part of Pryce. "He was a natural," he says. "I think he's got the look and the heft. I think [viewers] can buy him as presidential candidate."
On a recent afternoon, Selleck was relaxing in a suite at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills reflecting on politics and politicians.
Stretching his long legs on a chair, Selleck maintains that Pryce believes he's not selling out to big money when he implies at the convention that he'll choose the sleazy Morris to be his running mate.
"I think he's fooling himself," says the charming, affable Selleck. "He's judging himself by his good intentions. He says to the Randall character, 'Don't worry. I'll get us where we want to go.' But if you give up your soul on the way there... Who you are when you get there is much more important."
Nor does he believe Pryce is a two-faced politician. "See everybody thinks they're ethical because they judge themselves by their good intentions. We are meant to compromise as leaders--policy and programs--but not ethics and standards."
The chord which "Running Mates" touches, offers Selleck, is that Americans are pretty sick of politicians. "I'm not beating up on the two [presidential] candidates," he says referring to Republican nominee George W. Bush and the presumptive Democratic nominee Al Gore.
"They are no different than most of the candidates who we have had lately. We'll elect one of them. As a voter I am waiting for any [candidate] who will stand up and say when you ask him a question, 'I don't know' or 'That's none of your business.' Those are two good answers I am waiting to hear from politicians."
Selleck is an independent who has given money to both Democratic and Republican candidates over the years. To him, the soul of a politician is more important that their policies. And he admires risk-takers like Minnesota's Gov. Jesse Ventura. "He touched a chord," says Selleck of the wrestler turned politician.
"People want to trivialize [Ventura], but he turned out the vote. We have a system where the candidates want to win so much, they play it safe. They don't take any risks. They pander as opposed to saying, 'What the hell? Take the risk.' "
Over the years, Selleck's name has been bandied around as a potential candidate for political office. "I don't intend to run for anything," he says firmly. "I am a public figure. I know what that's like."
"Running Mates" airs Sunday at 8, 10 and midnight on TNT. The network has rated it TV-14-DL (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14 with special advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language) .