The movie, which premieres this weekend on TNT, is adapted from the novel of the same name by Jack Schaefer, perhaps best known as the author of the classic Western "Shane." Selleck plays Monte Walsh, a cowboy practicing his trade at the end of the 19th century, just as his way of life was becoming obsolete.
The production coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Western -- "The Great Train Robbery" premiered in 1903. It also comes two years after Selleck delivered the highest rating in history for a basic cable movie with "Crossfire Trail," a Western based on Louis L'Amour's book.
The project reteams Selleck -- both as star and producer -- with "Crossfire Trail" director Simon Wincer ("Lonesome Dove") and writer-producer Michael Brandman. It also boasts an all-star cast including Isabella Rossellini, Keith Carradine, George Eads, Barry Corbin and William Devane.
"I may be wrong," Selleck told United Press International, "but I think this is best role I've ever had other than Magnum, and that was a different kind of best role, because he grew and changed over the years."
Walsh is ill at ease with the encroaching technology that is changing his world against his wishes. Selleck said he felt something like that as the 20th century turned to the 21st.
"I felt left behind -- I'm tech resistant," he said.
"Monte Walsh" was made into a movie once before, in 1970, when Lee Marvin and Jeanne Moreau starred as the cowboy and his worldly lover. Selleck said the new project is not a remake, but a different take on Schaefer's book.
"There was a cynicism to movies in the early '70s," he said. "The movie moved me but didn't end positively. It wasn't until I read the book ... that I found the key."
There's no point in giving away the ending here, but it's fair to say that it's forward looking, not entirely tragic. In any case, Walsh is up against a most formidable adversary -- one that no hero outside of science fiction has ever figured out a way to beat.
"The real villain of this piece is time," said Selleck, "not any individual."
In some of the roping and riding scenes, said Selleck, viewers will see the actual actors handling horses and throwing ropes.
"In a Simon Wincer movie, you're going to have to ride," he said. "You're going to have to have skills, because you're going to use them all."
A rule of thumb in Hollywood is, if you can't see an actor's face in a stunt you're probably seeing a double. But if the actor is in fact performing a stunt, filmmakers will make sure you see the star's face. Selleck said the rule did not always apply in this project.
In the opening sequence there is a shot of him appearing to rope a steer, but just as he releases the rope there is a cut to a longer shot -- and you can't tell whether Selleck actually put the lasso where he wanted it. Selleck said he did rope some steers during the production, but even he can't be sure whether that's him in the shot.
"That particular steer, a longhorn, weighed more than my horse," said Selleck. "I had him on my rope. You can't control the angles on a Western because the steer won't go where you want it to go."
Anyway, said Selleck, you don't want to shoot a Western in close-up -- the scenery is too attractive to leave out of the frame.
With "Monte Walsh," Selleck has now produced and starred in TV Westerns based on the work of three of the leading Western writers of the 20th Century -- Schaefer, L'Amour and Elmore Leonard, whose "Last Stand at Saber River" was adapted in 1997. He said the pressure as a producer on all three projects was scary.
"Louis was a friend," he said. "I respect Elmore immensely. When you adapt a book, ... it takes a whole lot of nerve and a little stupidity to think you can come up with something. Somehow you do it."
Selleck said he has "a couple of features" in the works, and will adapt another L'Amour book for TV -- but it was too soon to provide much detail.
"I don't have an agenda," he said. "I'm thrilled that I seem to be at a stage of my life where I go from cable to TV to Broadway to feature films. The nice thing is I like doing Westerns and I will always have a Western in the works in the near future at TNT."