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Selleck manages to wring sparks of humor from this melancholy lawman, who, as the film begins, has lost his end-of-the-line job as police chief of tiny Paradise, Mass.

The surface whodunit surrounds a mob-related double homicide, “but the mystery at the beginning of the tale is always Jesse.

“He’s a totally decent guy who has a lot of issues, and deals with them every day,” says Selleck. But Jesse is a man of few words _ words that often leaven with irony the pain he feels.

Selleck makes it work. Not for him is overacting as Jesse, who pines for his ex-wife and struggles for grounding in this backwater town.

“It’s like crying on-screen,” says Selleck, citing his cardinal no-no. “Actors are always proud when they cry. But what people do in real life when they’re getting emotional is, they try NOT to cry. They’re embarrassed about it.”

As for Jesse, “he’s had a real journey,” Selleck says sympathetically. “Right now, in (film) number eight, he’s trying to get his job back and put his universe back in order.”

Like Stone, the future of the franchise is uncertain. CBS hasn’t made its intentions known.

“But I don’t think that this is the end,” Selleck says. “If CBS doesn’t want Jesse anymore _ and God knows that’s their right, and bless them, they’ve produced eight of these _ I think there’s a lot of people in line who’d like to do it elsewhere, who’ve expressed interest over the years.”

If this sounds like a very gracious warning to CBS, so be it. Selleck wants to stay in the Jesse Stone game, saying he could probably do two films per season, plus “Blue Bloods.”

Despite their many differences (item: New York City and Paradise are very different domains), the two characters share some traits: They are both in law enforcement, both are private men and both sport mustaches (supplemented with a goatee by Jesse Stone).

Selleck makes the most of it in both roles, working his mustache emphatically with every pensive grimace and moue.

Is facial hair standard issue for Selleck?

“I get a lot of mustache questions,” he sighs, patiently explaining that he first sported one in the 1970s, “when they were common,” and then kept it, of course, for Thomas Magnum.

“It becomes part of your look and it becomes baggage,” he says, “but I never had any qualms about shaving it off” (and did, for example, to play Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 2004 TV film “Ike: Countdown to D-Day”).

In fact, he was OK with the idea of a clean-shaven Frank Reagan, but says CBS felt otherwise.

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