Flying High
Willingboro’s Stephen Hill soars in “Magnum P.I.”
By Terri Akman

Flying helicopters is hard, insists Stephen Hill. And he isn’t just saying that because he “flies” one on TV (Hill has the role of TC, the ex-marine turned helicopter pilot on the CBS reboot of “Magnum P.I.”). In an effort to appear authentic, Hill has been studying up, even toying with getting his license. That’s typical of Hill, who says he puts 100 percent into everything he does. 

“This role is the dream of a lifetime,” Hill says. “TC is a tough guy but not too tough, not in a caricature kind of way. He’s a stand-up guy, and to be a helicopter pilot is really cool.” And who wouldn’t enjoy the toys: a helicopter, beefy van and the old Airstream where his character lives. Plus, the show films in Hawaii. 

Hill is a fan of the original series and when he consulted his predecessor Roger E. Mosely about the role, Mosely encouraged him to make the part his own. “For me, it’s good mojo to have the original show playing in my trailer, so I have the first season on DVD, and I play it pretty often,” he says.  

Whenever possible he pays homage to the original. “In one episode, I wore a beret because in the original, TC always wore hats,” Hill says. “I’m trying to work that in, but nowadays, with copyrights [for caps with logos] it makes it tough.”  

Making a reboot does have its challenges, especially for fans of such a popular original. Magnum P.I. first ran on CBS from ’80 to ’88 making Tom Selleck a household name. Hill is offended by internet trolls who criticize the remake, admitting that it’s hard not to read your own reviews.  

“For this particular show, there are a lot of huge Tom Selleck fans, and there’s a nostalgia for the show. People feel like you’re getting into their memories and messing around with their experiences. But there are multiple 007s. People tell the same stories over and over.” 

He’s especially vocal when it comes to Jay Hernandez, currently portraying Thomas Magnum. “I get very defensive when some of the older fans come for him,” Hill says. “He’s a great guy, a great dad, super loyal, and he’s so talented.” 

While this is Hill’s most recognizable character to date, he has plenty of acting credits, including the film “Draft Day,” the TV series “Boardwalk Empire” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” He also currently has a small recurring role in the Netflix series “Maniac.” 

Hill moved to Willingboro with his mom in fourth grade. Soon after, his dad moved to Harlem, N.Y., so Hill split his time between the two, spending weekends and summers in Harlem and going to school in Willingboro. 

“Going back and forth between two totally different places, in terms of the hustle and bustle of New York and the quiet life of South Jersey, really taught me to be my own man early on,” he says.  

“I saw a lot of kids in South Jersey follow the trends of the New York kids, but the trends came later. It isn’t like that now because of the great equalizer that is the internet. It always made me a man that didn’t follow the crowd. I never did any drugs, and I didn’t have my first drink until my sophomore year of college. I always beat to my own tune.” 

South Jersey elicits fond memories for Hill, and he credits his upbringing with making him such a hard worker.  

“You learn a lot when you work,” he says. Stints at Great Adventure and McDonalds – both at the same time – delivering morning and evening newspapers for the Burlington County Times and Trenton Times, picking up trash for Public Works and landscaping, were all character-building experiences. 

He also credits Willingboro as a place that grew a lot of talent, from runner Carl Lewis to music producer Carl McCormick (aka Cardiak) to Wanya Morris from Boyz II Men. “The talent from Willingboro makes you believe if it’s possible for that guy,” he says, “then I can do that too.”  

But Hill didn’t become an actor right away. After graduating Virginia’s Hampton University, Hill sold Xerox machines. When his mother passed away in 2003 of pancreatic cancer at just 62 years old, he realized he wanted more out of life. 

“I wanted to do something that was fulfilling, because I thought my mom didn’t have that chance,” he says. So he started taking acting lessons from Susan Batson who had coached Nicole Kidman and Oprah Winfrey. “I loved it and stuck with it over a long period of time before this big break.”   

Hill’s schedule varies based on the size of his role in each episode. When he isn’t working, he takes advantage of his time in Hawaii, planning surfing lessons and immersing himself in the community.  

CBS has committed to 13 episodes but Hill is hoping the show will be renewed. “I want to keep working on the show,” he says. “I’m having so much fun, and I want more time to explore the island.”

November 2018
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