New ‘Magnum P.I.’ Jay Hernandez on wearing Tom Selleck’s Hawaiian shirts

Two and a half years ago actor Jay Hernandez was about to quit. He’d been acting since he was 18 and while he could always wangle some sort of acting job, he wasn’t excited by the work.

“I was ready to walk away from it,” he says. “I had a lot of moments like that because Hollywood is not a meritocracy. You can’t earn your place anywhere. You can get to a place, but you have to constantly fight for that. You’re constantly treading water. And I don’t love jumping through the hoops,” he says, seated on a frieze couch in a coffee bar in Beverly Hills, California.

Hernandez had other interests like writing, producing, and business. “It was one of those slow periods and there was a moment where I felt I just don’t want to deal with this stuff right now. I was very close to stepping away,” he says.

But a juicy role in Suicide Squad landed in his lap, then a part in Bad Moms, and a seven-episode run in Scandal kept him on the books.

It’s a good thing he kept plugging because two years later Hernandez landed the role of a lifetime: recreating the part of the winsome Thomas Magnum in CBS’ new version of Magnum P.I..

Slipping into Tom Selleck’s Hawaiian shirts was no easy trick, admits Hernandez who grew up in Rosemead, California, with two older brothers and a younger sister.

“It was probably a month before this happened, I was just watching TV, flipping through it, and saw Magnum, P.I. and thought, ‘Man, I remember watching this when I was a kid.’

“It was Tom on the surf ski riding in a bay somewhere outside of Oahu. And two months later I was doing that exact same thing on the set as Thomas Magnum. So it was one of those very surreal moments,” says Hernandez who’s wearing a bronze shirt with white curlicues and Levi’s.

Photo: AP

He was fearful about taking on such an iconic role, he admits. “I wanted to make sure it was going to feel distinct from Tom Selleck in a way because you can’t replace Tom, you can’t do that,” he says.

He wanted the character to be distinctive yet maintain what he calls “that sort of enigmatic charming thing that Tom had.” “I knew whoever was coming in (to the role) would (get) a lot of criticism, I think … So I was leery of that. I wanted to make sure the creative people knew that they had to do something a little different.”

Ever since he first started acting, Hernandez has tried to do something different. He experienced a fairy tale beginning when he was discovered in an elevator by show business manager Howard Tyner.

Tyner told him he had the right “look” for Hollywood and gave Hernandez his card. “A couple weeks later my mum asked if I’d called him. I hadn’t, so she kind of pushed me to that, and said, ‘Let’s have a meeting with this guy.’”

While his mechanic father objected, Hernandez persevered. “That was the beginning of my career really. He put me in acting classes, got me headshots, started schooling me in the business of Hollywood, and all that. My first experience ever acting was in a class he put me in when I was 18 or 19.”

Unlike many unscrupulous talent agents who ask for a fee, Tyner paid for it all. “He said he would front the money for everything, and when I started making money, then I could pay him back.

“And once I started working, which was like three or four years later, I finally started to pay him back all the debt I had accrued over those three years,” he grins.

Tyner had been a heroin addict, says Hernandez, 40. “When I met him he’d been a couple of years sober. When you’re a drug addict you screw over people, but I was his first project or thing in his life that was unsoiled by that. So I gave him this positive relationship, and he gave me this career path. And I was able to go off and have this business in film and television,” he pauses.

“I was in New York doing press for Crazy/Beautiful which was my first big movie, and got a knock on the door at 12 or 1 o’clock in the morning. And he had passed away.”

A scene from Hostel, directed by Eli Roth, which stars Jay Hernandez. Photo: Itafilm

Looking back, Hernandez thinks he was influenced by his older brothers when he was a kid.

“My early teen years were a little tumultuous because of family stuff,” he says. “I had two older brothers who were crazy. I got into a little bit of trouble. I saw what was happening to other people around me and I thought, ‘All right, I don’t want to do that.’ So I went on a different path that in some ways, pursuing acting kept me on the good path,” he says.

His older brother just retired from the Navy after 22 years. “I realised, looking back on it, that him signing up for the military and taking off was about the same time that I really started getting serious about trying to pursue this,” he says.

“My one brother was gone, and my older brother had just gone off to the Navy and what was I doing? I was trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life. I think him making that decision and being serious about his path and his life, I think probably looking back on it, that definitely had some sort of impact in terms of what I wanted to do with my life.” – Tribune News Service/Luaine Lee

Magnum P.I. airs at 9.55pm every Tuesday on Fox HD (Astro Ch 724/unifi TV Ch 453).

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