This afternoon, Screen Junkies had the pleasure of speaking with writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber ("Terry Tate: Office Linebacker," Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story and the upcoming Mysteries of Pittsburgh). Much of the conversation focused on his upcoming big screen adaptation of Magnum P.I., which will hopefully start pre-production late this year. The shocker of the day? Three of the beloved series’ 1980s-bound hallmarks – short-shorts, star cameos and ‘staches – will NOT be in the film!
Before making any judgments, read the entire transcript of our chat – which includes some tasty tidbits on Thurber’s other projects like Elfquest – after the jump!
ScreenJunkies: So, Magnum P.I. I know you’ve been working on for quite some time. How close are we to seeing it become a reality?
Rawson Marshall Thurber: I would say we’re closer than we had been about six months ago… and with any luck at all we’ll be shooting it the spring of next year or the latest the summer of next year. So the end of this year we’ll probably start prepping.
SJ: Awesome. Is Brian Grazer still involved, and Imagine?
RMT: Oh yeah Brian Grazer and Universal.
SJ: How’s he to work with, he seems like quite an interesting guy.
RMT: He’s fabulous. Gosh. He’s the king, you know? He’s really down to earth, really smart, and has done it all before.
SJ: Does he ever wear his hair down behind closed doors?
RMT: If he does, I’ve not seen it. [laughs]
SJ: Is this still the genesis story of Magnum you’ve been talking about before?
RMT: Absolutely. It’s "Magnum Begins" I guess for lack of a better term. When we meet Thomas Magnum he’s a bit of a beach bum without much direction in his life. He takes the tourists out on scuba diving excursions and sleeps with the ladies but he doesn’t really have a lot of focus in terms of what he wants to do but by the end of the picture he hangs up a shingle.
SJ: The series is sort of this immortalized piece of the eighties. Do you plan to capitalize on that nostalgia and set it in the eighties or go for a more modernized version?
RMT: No, it’s not set in the eighties at all, it’s a present day re-telling of the story. It’s not sort of sarcastic or ironic like Starsky and Hutch – maybe sarcastic is not the right term. It’s not ironic like Starsky and Hutch, and it’s not deadly serious like the Miami Vice film. It’s much more like Beverly Hills Cop in tone. It’s a straight action movie that’s funny because the main characters are funny, not because they’re dressing in a bear suit and breaking into a party.
I love the series so much, it’s such a great blend of mystery and humor and adventure and great themes of friendship and loyalty. I think the fans of the show are really going to love the film. I couldn’t go punch for punch with a real Magnum aficionado, but two of my closest friends are huge fans, and when I told them I was going to take a swing at it they made sure to hold my feet to the fire with it. There’s going to be plenty in there for fans of the show.
SJ: Well it’s probably good to be just slightly removed from it.
RMT: When I took the job and agreed to do it with Imagine and Universal, I said, "look, I’ve got essentially got three rules. There’s going to be no short-shorts, no cameos, and no mustaches."
SJ: Wow. No mustaches? That’s bold.
RMT: There’s your pull quote right there. [laughs] So it’s a title you know, it’s a theme song you love, it’s a kickass Ferrari, it’s got TC, it’s got Rick, it’s got Higgins of course, and Magnum, the Ferrari, you know, the Robin’s Nest, the whole thing. We get to see how Higgins and Magnum first meet. We get to see, essentially, Magnum’s first case. The script’s pretty bitchin’ if I do say so myself.
SJ: I guess the last question I have about Magnum then is… do you plan to answer whether Higgins is actually Robin Masters? [The famed author, whose resplendent home – the Robin’s Nest – is where Magnum shacks up.]
RMT: [laughs] That’s a great question! No, certainly not in the first picture, but we’re going to definitely leave that window open. We may even hint at it near the end. But we certainly would not answer it. At the most, we might raise the question. But if you look at the series, at first, I was actually having coffee with [series creator] Don Bellisario… we were talking about this. At first [in the series] they hint very strongly that Higgins is Robin Masters, and I think it’s an episode or two after that they backpedal back off half a step. So I think it’s a great reveal and we certainly want to keep that for the second and third version of the film.
SJ: Are you guys any closer to casting it?
RMT: Yes we are and I wish I could tell you who. I can tell you this: The guy we got to play Higgins and the guy we got to play Magnum are pretty awesome. I think people are going to be very, very happy.
SJ: Moving on to Elfquest. How did that project come about and how did you get involved?
RMT: I read the comics when I was eleven. My older sister gave them to me, and it was sort of my first introduction to the world of fantasy. Up until that point I had read pretty basic morality tales. Stuff that you read when your that old, don’t do bad things, do good things. This was my first introduction into the world of complex characters and interweaving story lines. I was just sort of lost in it and wowed by it. So I fell in love with it when I was about eleven. I’d wanted to do it for a long long time, and I talked to my agent about it before Dodgeball came out, that it was something I was interested in. Finally the rights came up again and my agent called me and asked if I was still interested, and I said absolutely. And he said, "you should go sit down with Wendy and Richard Pini," the creators, and I went and saw Wendy and Richard and talked about it and they seemed to like me enough to say, "Okay, give it a shot." I went around town with the property and had a couple bidders on it. I ended up going with Warner Brothers‘ Courtenay Valenti who is fantastic, and I’m just fixing to start writing the script.
SJ: Do you know yet if it’s going to be live action or CG?
RMT: No, we don’t know, and that was a real part of the conversation between myself and Warner Brothers because I’ve always seen the film as animated. Frankly, i have a hard time seeing it any other way. I think Warner Brothers is a little more inclined to make it live action, or sort of a 300-style hybrid. We both agreed to shake hands that we don’t quite see it the same way, but let’s move down the road and write the script and see what it comes back as and do a test with it animated, and a test with a hybrid, and there’s a lot of exciting technology that Warner Brothers has been working on, proprietary technology that they are very excited about, and I’ve had conversations with a couple of the big brains over there about a new way of giving me and the audience what we see on those comic book pages, so I’m excited to see what that means. I haven’t seen the tests yet. That’s the incredibly long answer. The short one is we’re not sure yet. Whatever it’ll be, it’s going to be the best way to tell a story.
SJ: The artwork is so iconic.
RMT: I know. That’s why when I hear live action, my brain kind of freezes. I’m not deathly opposed to a live action version, I would just need to see it and make sure it works.
SJ: So the plan is Magnum PI first, and then straight on to Elfquest?
RMT: I think so, it’s always kind of hard to predict that far ahead. The plan is to write Elfquest right now, and there are a couple other projects I’m scheduled to write, likely at the end of this year i’ll be back on Magnum.
SJ: Any time we can talk to a director, we like to ask this… and you’ve had such an eclectic career so far, but… what’s your dream project?
RMT: Well, Mysteries Of Pittsburgh certainly was one, Dodgeball couldn’t be called a dream project because I just sort of wrote it myself and did it but I’m very proud of the film. Elfquest is definitely another. Another I turned in to the good and kind people at Bruckheimer films is a post apocalyptic sci-fi picture called Rifts, which is based on a role-playing game of the same name put out by Palladium. I’m very keen on that. I’m also looking at developing a TV show based on a role playing game called "Deadlands" that I love. It’s sort of a supernatural western.
SJ: Last question. Terry Tate versus Predator. Is it going to happen?
RMT: Oh god. It depends if the Predator refills the coffee pot or not I guess.
A huge thanks to Mr. Rawson Marshall Thurber for taking time out of his busy slate to have a chat. He was a gentleman and a scholar, as you all should strive to be. Check out Mysteries of Pittsburgh, opening April 10th in select cities.
And a special thanks to Mr. Mike Rosen, Development Producer at PRETTYBIRD, a kickass company repping Mr. Thurber in the world of branded entertainment and beyond.