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Selleck gets political

But Tom is just acting as candidate for TNT movie

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Despite all those reports to the contrary, Tom Selleck insists that starring as a presidential nominee in the TNT movie "Running Mates" is as close as he wants to get to the political arena.

"I should say I'm not a candidate, I just play one on TV," Selleck recently told TV critics.

And the actor said he has no desire to run for office himself.

"I'm interested in politics. I find it fascinating," he said. "And this subject comes up every so often, which is flattering, but my answer would always be — I'm already a public figure. I know what that's like. Why would I turn it up a couple of notches, because that's what we do to our candidates?

"I think the picture speaks to that in a pretty entertaining way. No, it didn't fuel any desires to run for public office."

In "Running Mates," Selleck stars as Michigan Gov. James Reynolds Pryce, who's on his way to the Democratic National Convention to claim his party's presidential nomination. But should he bow to pressure from party insiders and accept their choice as vice president — a corrupt senator who brings big money with him — or go with a senator who backs idealistic campaign reform but doesn't have the financial backing?

And Pryce is at the center of a professional/personal quadrangle of women — his wife (Nancy Travis); his campaign manager (Laura Linney); a senator's wife (Faye Dunaway) who was his entree into Washington society years earlier; and a Hollywood insider (Terry Hatcher) who is a big fund-raiser. The women are all friends, despite the fact that each knows the others have been personally involved with Pryce.

For Selleck, however, the candidate's personal life was easier to play than his professional life.

"For a couple days, I said, 'How can I be presidential?' And you can't be presidential. That's a result you have to leave up to the audience," he said. "And then you really get down to the work about what motivates this guy."

He did alter his appearance, however, shaving off his trademark mustache. "The only guy in the last half-century who had a mustache as a candidate lost," Selleck said, referring to two-time GOP loser Thomas Dewey. "It just didn't seem a contemporary choice."

Still, he called seeing his own image on mock campaign posters "intimidating."

"You walk on a set and there's a giant picture of you and you go, 'I'm going to play this guy? And they're going to believe it?' " he said. "I would like to think that the same thing happens to our candidates. That deep down inside of them they're going, 'They're buying this thing, but am I really enough?' "

He also insists that "Running Mates" is not really about the Democrats any more than it is about the Republicans or anyone else.

"It reflects on problems of the human condition and the good and bad behavior you see in the movie is certainly not unique to one political party or another. . . . This talks about problems we all understand as people" he said.

As a matter of fact, if you want to raise Selleck's ire, all you have to do is suggest that he's a member of one party or another.

"For the last 10 years, I've been an independent. And I've probably given as much money to Democrats as Republicans," he said before adding, "Although I never say how I vote, I probably voted for Ronald Reagan in the '80s."

Selleck said he's somewhat amused by all those stories that he has political aspirations of his own.

"I hear those things a lot about running for office. It was fun as an actor to put myself in the place saying, 'What would it be like?' "

Not that he really wants to do it.

"The good thing about acting is you get to do these things," he said. "You even get to die. And then you go home for dinner."

"Running Mates" premieres Sunday at 6, 8 and 10 p.m. on TNT. It also airs Friday, Aug. 18 at 6 p.m.; Sunday, Aug. 20, at 4 p.m.; Wednesday, Aug. 23, at 6 p.m.; Friday, Aug. 25, at 8:30 p.m. and Saturday, Aug. 26, at 11 a.m.

E-MAIL: pierce@desnews.com