‘Magnum P.I.’s Jay Hernandez on the Magnum & Higgins Romance and Season 6

Apr 24, 2023

The midseason finale of the NBC series Magnum P.I. sees an armed hit team coming after Thomas Magnum (Jay Hernandez), TC (Stephen Hill) and Rick (Zachary Knighton), forcing them to fight for their survival. The former Navy SEAL, Marine chopper pilot, and door gunner are more than capable of handling their own, especially when you throw disavowed MI:6 agent Juliet Higgins (Perdita Weeks) into the mix, but with their past demons coming back to haunt them, they’re being tested harder than ever before.

During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, Hernandez (who is also a producer on the series) talked about the events of the midseason finale, bringing the brotherhood together again, what it’s been like to explore this story arc, when he knew how this storyline would eventually end up, exploring romance between Magnum and Higgins, what he’d like to see in Season 6 if they get to continue with the series, evolving from actor to director and which two directors most inspired him, and what has most surprised him about playing this character longer than any other.
Collider: It’s easy on a show like this, with an ensemble cast, lots of moving parts, and action and stunts, to not have everybody together, all the time. This recent storyline specifically targeting Thomas Magnum, TC (Stephen Hill) and Rick (Zachary Knighton) has been really interesting to watch because it’s brought you guys together a fair bit and it’s given the audience a lot of insight into their past. What have you most enjoyed about that storyline, getting to play it out together, having several episodes to explore it and give it a chance to breathe, and now getting to this end point where you’re finally giving some answers?

JAY HERNANDEZ: Yeah, you touched on it, getting the guys back together. One of the original elements of the show is that brotherhood, and we don’t always get to be together. Oftentimes, they’re in different storylines and we don’t even cross paths, so having those moments where you get to see the guys together is great. It’s one of those things that sometimes we get away from too much and we need more of. I recently talked to Eric Guggenheim, the showrunner, about doing more of those stories in Season 6, if we get the opportunity to do that.

Image via NBC

What have you most enjoyed about getting to explore these guys being hunted themselves, when they’re usually the ones that are helping other people? How different has it been for them to really figure out how to help themselves?

HERNANDEZ: For Magnum, specifically, he puts the burden on himself and I feel like, if anything were to happen to some extent, Magnum would take responsibility or blame himself for it. That weighs heavy on him, all the time. He’s tasked himself with protecting everybody, in his world, but also everybody out there in the world. He just wants to do good for everybody. I think that’s one of the reasons why the audience loves his character so much.

When you found out about this arc, how much did you know about? Did you know what the end point would eventually be, or did you get some of those reveals later, as the story played out?

HERNANDEZ: I knew the direction, but I get the full story when I get the first draft of the script. Earlier concepts or scripts can have shifts in the story. Nothing is solid until we get that first production network draft. So, it does change a little bit, but I had an idea of where it was going. To some extent, I’m also surprised when the script comes.

How did you feel about where it would leave everybody, by the end of this episode, and what will that mean for them moving forward?

HERNANDEZ: There’s question and doubt and fear, to a certain extent. It’s a place that they’re not really put into very often, being hunted in this way. Oftentimes, it’s Magnum, or the crew, or Higgins, going after somebody else, but the tables turned and the roles have reversed. It’s a fun dynamic. And ending the last episode the way we did, with a cliffhanger, it’s a pretty big story development, which does carry into multiple episodes, and not just the midseason finale, but in the future. Those serialized aspects of the show are really fun. I like playing them because they service things outside the pace. And they’re just fun to play with, as an actor. So, there’s a lot to look forward to in the next couple of episodes and the second half of the season.

Image via NBC

After everything they’ve been through, when it’s something that profound, it wouldn’t realistically get wrapped up, and then they’re okay in the next episode. You want to see them be affected in some way.

HERNANDEZ: Yeah. It’s funny, that’s one of the things that I fight for often because, with just the nature of network television and the shows you have to make, it’s easy for them to brush past things, but we have to still carry that with us. For people like Magnum and Higgins and Rick and everybody, that is their truth and their reality. I’m constantly reminding people and I sometimes have to remind the writers that we can’t let this stuff just go, once we tell that story. I know that there are things that we have to service and do, but every story we tell is another layer of reality or truth for these characters. I always try to keep that in mind, and just try to keep a bit of honesty.

Another big component to this season has been the fact that the show has upped the sexiness factor, with Magnum and Higgins (Perdita Weeks) officially in a relationship now. How have you felt about the relationship between them evolving in that way? Is it something that you guys had talked about doing for a while, or was this just the right time to bring that into the show?

HERNANDEZ: It’s something the writers have teased for so long, and the audience was ready for it. To be honest, they earned it, after years of teasing it. If we don’t do something about it, it becomes more annoying than anything. Going into the season, it was a fun thing to do. And then, being able to engage in that relationship and show a dynamic between these two characters that’s outside the procedural aspects of the show, is really fun. You get to live in those little intimate moments between Magnum and Higgins, and that’s been cool for us, watching it evolve. A lot of times, those moments are the ones that are the most fun to play, where we just have quiet, intimate, honest moments between these two characters. For the actor, you get to do something a little different.

It’s fun because you guys have had time to get to know each other, over these seasons. Like often happens on a movie, you don’t have to jump right in on the first day and have to figure out a relationship between characters. What has that been like, as actors, to find? When you guys already know each other and already have your own banter, what’s it like to incorporate that into a relationship on the show?

HERNANDEZ: It’s funny, we have a very similar dynamic. We give each other shit all day, and there’s definitely a level of competition between us, so that part of it is fun. We take it seriously when we get those moments, so if they don’t feel honest, we fight to make them better. Any time there’s a script that comes with something between them, you sit and talk it out, and if I have to send some notes in and make some adjustments, then I do. We’re constantly trying to get it right because that’s the one thing you don’t wanna get wrong. It’s now such an important part of the show that we just don’t wanna make mistakes. We want it to feel right, we want the audience to be happy with it, and we also want it to be honest. Relationships aren’t always perfect and everything doesn’t unfold the way you expect. We’re just trying to keep that part of it interesting and helpful to the story, in general, as it can possibly be.

Image via NBC

You’re waiting to find out if there will be a Season 6, but I would imagine that you have already thought about it a bit. Do you still have a list of things you would like to see with the show or with the character? Do you keep a list of ideas, for when those conversation opportunities arise with the creative team?

HERNANDEZ: Yeah. I definitely have a list. I have a lot of suggestions. I’m constantly doing work that probably nobody sees. But in terms of next season, one of my hopes is that we actually add more serialized aspects to the show. After living with an audience for five seasons, they’ve earned it and I think they’re comfortable with it. There’s a shorthand. It’s those touches that keep people tuning in and interested. For me, as an actor on the show where I’ve shot almost 100 episodes, it’s more interesting. So, that’s one thing that I’d like to add. And then, there are a number of other suggestion that I have, and we’ll see if I get to implement them. There are always creative conversations between me and Eric Guggenheim, the showrunner. I definitely have some ideas. If we do get the opportunity to come back, I think the next season will probably be one of our best. If we get to do it, we’re gonna make it worth it, like we did this season. I think this was one of the strongest seasons that we’ve had so far, and the network and the studio both agree. It’s a living, breathing thing. These shows evolve, and the characters evolve. It’s been fun watching that happen and watching Magnum’s evolution, and I’m curious and excited to see what happens next season, if we get one.

You’ve also made your own evolution on the show, from actor to director. What has that experience been like for you? What do you feel you’ve learned from doing that? Are you already asking when the next episode is that you can direct?

HERNANDEZ: Yeah. I was trying to get the season finale. I was like, “If there’s an open slot, give it to me.” I keep turning in these solid episodes. Directing was part of my long game, in terms of doing the show Basically, when I said yes to the pilot, I was thinking about directing, if we were still on the air for a couple of seasons. It was something that I knew I was going to make happen, and it’s been so rewarding and really fun. It’s lit a fire. I will be directing a feature in the next couple of years, I guarantee you that. I love doing it. I think I’m good at it. In my career, I’ve done, I don’t know how many films, and worked with some really amazing directors that have taught me a lot. I’ve now shot almost 100 episodes of television. I read those scripts, and I see what they look like and see how the drafts come in, and then I see the changes, and I see how something’s been shot, and I’ve done all of these choreographed sequences. I’ve done so much and learned so much from this show that it’s a natural evolution for me.

Image via NBC

Were there specific directors that you’ve worked with, that you feel like you took the most from and that really most inspired you, for the first time you tried directing? Are there directors that have most influenced the way you direct?

HERNANDEZ: There are two people that really stood out. I did a movie with Oliver Stone, called World Trade Center, and the type of care and preparation that we engaged in, prior to stepping on the set, was just mind blowing. We were reading books, like The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, and going through sensory deprivation tanks, and having philosophical conversations for two hours in his office. There was no detail that was not thought of, and that has definitely been something that I’ve carried with me. And then, I would say another one is David Ayer, working with him on Suicide Squad and really thinking about character, but also the psychology of a character and what motivates people. Just as an actor, when I’m on set, I’m like, “All right, so you want me here? Why am I here? What motivated me to get here?” Those are basic questions, but to be honest, a lot of people don’t have the answer. They’re just like, “I don’t know, I thought it would be cool, if you stood here.” But I need a reason. Delving into understanding psychology and also fully understanding who a character is defines everything that follows it. There shouldn’t be unknowns, in terms of the character. In regard to Magnum, specifically, internally for myself, I have most of those questions answered. It’s funny because sometimes I’ll get a script and read it, and I’ll immediately say, “Nope, this is not the guy.” And then, I have to reach out to Eric and have a conversation about why that is and make adjustments, as necessary. My career and the films that I’ve done have absolutely informed how I see directing. And then, the amount of experience that I’ve gotten being on set and shooting action, and just visually understanding what a scene should look like, and how it should be choreographed the geography of it, I feel like I’ve gained so much knowledge, as a result of doing a show, in terms of feeding a potential directorial career.

You’ve done different TV shows, over the years of your career, but you’ve spent the longest amount of time on Magnum P.I. What has most surprised you about spending so much time with the same character on the same show? What have you found yourself really liking about it, that you might not have even realized, when you were shooting the pilot?

HERNANDEZ: There’s a real confidence in knowing who this guy is. As I said before, there are moments in a script when I immediately know that it’s not right. I just feel like I know this guy and I know exactly who he is. I’ve internalized him over the past five or six years, or whatever it is. I know this guy with my eyes closed, and having confidence in the character, in that way, is new. For film, it’s insular and defined. For television, it’s a character that lives and evolves. I’ve never had a chance to live and evolve alongside or inside a character, longer than Magnum. For better or worse, it’s part of me now.

Magnum P.I. airs on Sunday nights on NBC.

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