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Magnum P.I. Star Stephen Hill Reveals How T.C.'s Reunion with His Mom Changes Him Going Forward

We haven't seen the last of Verna yet

Max Gao

[Warning: The following contains spoilers from Sunday's episode of Magnum P.I. Read at your own risk!]

For Theodore "T.C." Calvin (Stephen Hill), not having a relationship with his biological mother is the deepest emotional wound that he has never been able to heal from. But in this week's episode of Magnum P.I., the former Marine veteran and current helicopter pilot comes face-to-face with his mother, Verna (Judith Scott), for the first time in 36 years—an important step that opens the door to a potential reconciliation down the road.

Originally disguising herself as a new client of Thomas Magnum (Jay Hernandez), Verna quickly comes clean to the private investigator and reveals that she traveled to Hawaii in the hope of reconnecting with her estranged son, whom she saw on the news with Magnum and Rick (Zachary Knighton) a little while ago. Although Magnum is unsure that T.C. will want to take a meeting with the woman who abandoned him and his father without reason, Verna explains that her struggles with mental illness worsened after she became a parent, and she made the difficult decision to leave and seek help.

T.C. is understandably reluctant to see Verna again, but after Rick urges him to get closure about the relationship, T.C. uses the meeting as an opportunity to say his piece. "I not only learned to live my life without you—I learned how to thrive," T.C. says in an emotional monologue. "You see, my life is good now, too. I got good people in it that love me. They would die before they would abandon me. … I'm glad you're better. But you gave up your place in my life a long time ago."

Below, Hill opens up to TV Guide about T.C.'s reunion with his mother (and what lies ahead after that beautiful final scene), the development of his character's other relationships this season, his desire to direct an episode of Magnum P.I., and the upcoming episode that took him by surprise.

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What were your initial thoughts when you discovered that the writers were finally going to revisit this part of T.C.'s past?
Stephen Hill: In one of the earlier seasons, they talked about a father figure coming in, and there were childhood heroes [of mine] that could have possibly been T.C.'s dad, but we never explored the mother coming in. But when I got the script [for this episode], they actually asked me about casting the mom. They ended up with Judith Scott, and I just feel really lucky to have her here. I lost my mother in 2003, so I'm always very happy to see people that have relationships with their mom. If I get to meet someone's mom, I'm always very gracious about that because I know what it's like to not have a mom there. So to get the opportunity to explore just the character having a mom, that's like me seeing someone with their mom again, right? So I treat Judith like she's my mom when she's in town. [Laughs.]

I have to assume that on any TV show, especially one that works as quickly as broadcast, you're constantly trying to incorporate new information about your character as the seasons progress.
Hill: One thing I've learned on this show is that when you talk to writers about your life, it can show up in the script, so you gotta be careful what you talk about. But I have already incorporated a lot [of details that are] an homage to my mother in the script. My character is from Durham, North Carolina, where my mom was actually from.

A long time ago, we talked about me studying art history in school, and my mother's high-school classmate was a painter named Ernie Barnes, and he painted this painting called Sugar Shack that just went from millions of dollars. That painting was on one of Marvin Gaye's album covers. So that informs some of my backstory with T.C.—he went to the same high school, he grew up hearing stories about Ernie Barnes, he went to the NFL. All of these parts of T.C. actually honor my mom.

Stephen Hill, Magnum P.I.

Stephen Hill, Magnum P.I.


Throughout the episode, there are little moments when T.C. is moved to at least give his mother another chance—first with Rick at the restaurant, and then with Cade (Martin Martinez) sitting in the helicopter. What would you say is the biggest change we see in T.C. at the start of the episode, when Magnum first broaches the topic of reconnecting with his mom, compared to the end of the hour, when they're sitting on the bench making up for lost time?
Hill: Well, you have to figure out [at the start]: Why does he not talk to his mom? T.C. didn't have that back story written, but it was already percolating [about] why she wasn't there. I was thinking maybe she had died, but [the writers] were like, "No, she's in your life, but she just hadn't been there for a really long time."

I think T.C. is such a good guy, and part of the reason he is a good guy is because he was abandoned, so he never wants to abandon anyone else, he never wants anyone to feel abandoned. So he's being confronted with this woman coming back into his life, but she's kind of why he's a good person. He didn't want to be like her, but he now has to hear her side of the story for the first time. There are so many families in the world that have lost family members to chemical imbalances, either in need of drugs or set on by drugs, so it's really important to explore these topics. But I'm just really glad to have an opportunity to have that relationship [between] a Black man and his mother. We really wanted it to be one where it wasn't about him losing her—it's about him gaining her.

T.C. tells his mother that, at some point, he had to stop thinking about her because he had to learn how to live his life without her. What do you think that speech reveals about how essentially losing his mother affected T.C., and what did you want to convey in that scene?
Hill: When we have traumatic events, especially those that happen to us at such an early age, we bury them so that we're not confronted with it every day. But what happens when you bury a trauma like that is, you don't remember where it is, and it can come up at any moment and it's like you trip on a landmine. But in this instance, the landmine trips on [T.C.]. [He's] been figuring out a way to navigate around that landmine, but it comes into [his] life and blows up in [his] face. He has no choice but to deal with it.

In that moment, there's a beautiful point where he stands up—that was something we talked about when we were filming it—so she could see him and see he's not a child anymore. The last time she saw him, he was looking up to her; he stands up and he's like this giant to her now. So you see the man he's become and the child that he was all at the same time.

T.C. says there's a lot of necessary work that needs to be done on both sides to effectively salvage the relationship they have. Will we see that work in the episodes to come?
Hill: We've filmed some more! I think people will be pleasantly surprised to see this relationship evolve, and I'm looking forward to even more. A lot of families either came together or were torn apart because of this pandemic. I've talked to people that are not talking to family members; I have family members not talking to me, and I ain't talking to them in real life! So I hope that a story like this makes people say, "Damn, I gotta pick up the phone. I gotta get on a Zoom call. You know what? Let me just drive over here." I hope it makes somebody call somebody and say, "Hey, I love you."

T.C. has gradually grown more comfortable in his role as a legal parent to Cade. What kind of feedback have you received from parents and children in the foster care system?
Hill: There's a middle-aged, white guy in Boston, and he's a cop. I don't know, but … Boston is not known for the most racially nice place to live in the country. [Laughs.] But he watches Magnum P.I. with his son, and T.C. is their favorite character. I think that the relationship with me and Martin allows us to explore those father-son relationships, and I actually don't have any children in real life, so it's cool to explore that through [the] character. So in a way, it is like an adoption for me. We have conversations even offline, and I've told him and Emily Alabi, who plays Mahina, my love interest on the show, "Hey, you guys are guest-starring on the show, but your day of being the series regulars or the leads on the show is coming. Please keep that same energy that you have." They bring a warmth to the set and I'm kind of known for that here as well, so we all come together and it feels literally like family coming into town.

How much are we going to see of T.C., Cade and Mahina going forward?
Hill: I finished a scene with Martin a couple of days ago, and I think he just flew out [on Friday], and then Emily flew in [on Thursday], and we just filmed a scene [on Friday] morning. What's so cool about having them is [that] you start with this character, and it's like you have a balloon, and then another character comes in that's within your world, and then you get another balloon and another balloon. It's like that movie, Up, with the old man who had so many balloons that his house lifted up.

You're only as good as the relationships that you have with people, so their world within my world is growing. Emily's even got some scenes that I'm not in because her world is growing; Martin's got some scenes that I'm not in because his world is growing. Their characters are fully forming, and it only makes their interaction with me even stronger, so I love that their characters are evolving.

Judith Scott and Stephen Hill, Magnum P.I.

Judith Scott and Stephen Hill, Magnum P.I.


The finale will put Magnum, T.C. and Rick in danger and wrap up the mystery surrounding the death of Captain Buck Greene. We can't talk about specifics, but what was your reaction when you read that script?
Hill: We actually don't do table reads, but I wish we did them sometimes. [Laughs.] I personally love a table read because it's different from when you're reading the script on your own. There's a little slight theater element of that, and the characters and the storylines pop off the page a little better. But I will say that I was like, "Really?! Y'all are going there? Okay, we got canceled, and now y'all wanna show off." Maybe we were holding something back a little for the next seasons, and then when you get canceled [and then revived], you're like, "Throw the kitchen sink at [the characters]!" Everything is high stakes. Let's all hope we keep going, because I think we have more to explore, but I feel really good at what we are exploring this season.

You've had the chance to be directed by three of your co-stars: Jay Hernandez, Zachary Knighton and Perdita Weeks. How would you compare their styles behind the camera?
Hill: I reached out to all three of them and said, "Hey, I know you guys are tough and can handle it on your own, but if you need anything from me, if I'm off and you want me to come in and help out, or you need me to go get you some lunch or something, just let me know." [Laughs.] We are like a family in that way. They have different styles about them, very different personalities, but it was smoother than I had expected. [Laughs.] The beauty of it is I can watch and learn from them and what they do, and maybe [write down] what I like and what I don't like so much. [Laughs.] And then when I'm ready to direct, I'll be ready to go.

How close are you to feeling ready to direct?
Hill: I started behind the camera in the first place; my goal was to become a cinematographer. So in college, I had directed very small projects. But going forward, I've got some ideas for script as well as ideas for directing, so we'll see how that goes, but we gotta keep folks watching the show, so we can have as many seasons as possible, and that will create more opportunities. I'll direct one, maybe Amy Hill gets one, maybe Tim Kang gets one. Let's all direct one! [Laughs.]

There are some fans who have taken notice of the behind-the-scenes photos that you or other cast and crew members have shared this season, including one involving camping in the woods.
Hill: I didn't post the camping scene, but that would be what we shot the other day. That includes Katsumoto and his son—it's a bonding moment. And what's so cool about it is that in this male bonding episode, we have Perdita Weeks doing the directing. So you have all this testosterone around this camp fire, and then you have Perdi saying [in a high-pitched British accent], "Uh… action!" [Laughs.] And I just hope that they have the same love when I'm over in the director's chair.

Looking back, do you have a favorite episode or storyline from these first five seasons?
Hill: I'm gonna give you three. One is called "Farewell to Love," and that was my original first love interest, and that was a big one for me. Another one was [called "Mondays Are for Murder"] where me and Jay were undercover at a sunscreen company, and we both have on suits, and he's the good cop, and I'm the bad cop. It's a very comedic episode, and it happens in an office space. We do have some beach scenes in there, but it's not the typical Hawaiian [film set].

And then my absolute favorite episode would be with me and Roger E. Mosley [who played the original T.C. and passed away last August]. The first episode he did was really cool, but [I loved] the other one where we get to do karaoke together. We both saved the day because he busts us out and then I take another guy out at the end, so we kind of had a back-and-forth banter with one another. When I was off for a day, I would stay just to watch him, so I'm just glad I had that opportunity. I miss him very much, and in almost every interview I do, I try to shed some light on him and give some thanks for him passing that torch to me. That's my absolute favorite episode.

Magnum P.I. airs Sundays at 9/8c on NBC. Episodes stream the next day on Peacock.