Tom Selleck: Hitting on a Long Shot

Tom Selleck looks back at his sharpshooting Aussie western, Quigley Down Under.


Tom Selleck thinks the 30th anniversary of his famous big-screen cowboy movie Quigley Down Under is worth celebrating — and he knew exactly how he wanted to do it.

“I contacted a guy who repairs old guns and had him fix up an 1878 Colt revolver,” Selleck says. That gun isn't in the movie, but Selleck thinks it's the kind Quigley would have chosen. “If he had a handgun, it would be a modern double-action revolver — that's why I picked it. Plus, I just love the old-fashioned way it looks.”

Selleck shows off the Colt in a case with a metal plate that reads “I said I never had much use for one. Never said I didn't know how to use it.”

That line, from the movie's exciting climax, is well-remembered by western fans who enjoyed the movie in 1990, as well as those who have since discovered it on cable TV.

“When I found the script, it had already been handled by a lot of people, one of them being Sean Connery,” Selleck recalls. “But I just absolutely loved it.” Selleck played Matthew Quigley, an American sharpshooter who travels to Australia to take a high-paying job from rancher Elliott Marston (Alan Rickman). When he gets there, he picks up a female traveling companion (Laura San Giacomo) nicknamed Crazy Cora by her fellow passengers. But when Quigley learns the job is killing Aboriginal people, he punches his host and escapes with Cora into the outback.

Quigley Down Under wasn't Selleck's first cowboy movie. In 1979 he starred in a TV miniseries based on Louis L’Amour’s The Sacketts, then reunited with that same cast in 1982 for The Shadow Riders, another L’Amour adaptation. “By then I was hooked,” Selleck says. Even after the friendly detective show Magnum P.I. made him a household name, he was eager to get back on a horse.


It almost happened in Lonesome Dove, also directed by Quigley’s director, Simon Wincer. “Simon asked me to do it, but I didn't have a lot of free time because I was in every scene on Magnum. It was a role my dear friend Robert Urich ended up playing. But since then every break from Magnum I thought, I gotta find a western.”

Yet when Quigley Down Under came along, Selleck admits to being scared by the role of Matthew Quigley. “It was this larger-than-life, legendary character, the kind of role you would want to cast John Wayne in,” he says. “I'm 6-4, but so what? In the back of my mind I still feel like I'm 17 years old, even now. It seemed like a lot to take on.”

Once he was in the movie, just acting the part wasn't enough. “I wanted the movie to be true to life. You see a movie like Vera Cruz, that takes place in the 1860s, and they're using 1892 Winchesters and Colt Single-Action Armies, which weren't even invented then. But that's what movies were — they didn't care, but I did.”

Selleck dressed his character, had saddles built that were right for the time period, and carried a Shiloh Sharps 1874 Long Range Rifle with double triggers. He picked his own horse, remembering advice he heard from wranglers that John Wayne wouldn't get on a horse less than 16 hands tall, “'cause it just doesn't look right.” He also had a say in casting and still remembers when Nicole Kidman auditioned for Crazy Cora. “She was too young at the time,” he says.

Quigley Down Under opened on October 19, 1990, to some positive reviews, but then was overshadowed at the box office by another cowboy movie, Dances With Wolves, which opened just a month later. “Quigley made money, but [the two westerns] were released too close together,” Selleck says. “You can't control that stuff.

Tom Selleck looks back at his sharpshooting Aussie western, Quigley Down Under
PICTURED: TOM SELLECK stars as Matthew Quigley. (Credit Image: c MGM/Entertainment Pictures)

“I knew it was a good movie. I started getting a positive response to it that I still get to this day. I talk to Laura, same thing, and to Simon. They get asked as many Quigley questions as anything else.”

Besides its many loyal fans who stream it wherever they can find it, the movie's legacy can also be found in Forsyth, Montana, at the annual Matthew Quigley Buffalo Rifle

“They call that a Quigley,” Selleck says.

The Quigley Shoot

Every June, the Montana town of Forsyth undergoes a transformation, shedding its usual name for "Quigleyville." This annual tradition coincides with the arrival of hundreds of elite long-range marksmen who gather to pit their skills against each other. Organized by a local gun club, the Matthew Quigley Buffalo Rifle Match is considered the premier sharpshooting event in Eastern Montana since the Custer fight.

Competitors test their mettle by firing at six targets positioned at varying distances, ranging from a cool 350 yards all the way up to a challenging 805 yards. Any old-school single-shot or lever-action rifle chambered for a hefty .375 caliber or bigger is fair game. Top winners in each age bracket walk away with prestigious Quigley plaques signed by none other than Tom Selleck himself. The most impressive female shooter takes home the coveted Crazy Cora Award. The all-time record score belongs to Al Loquasto, who in 2004 managed a staggering 46 hits out of a possible 48. Despite three decades of competition, no one has yet managed to conquer the long-range course perfectly. Perhaps next year will be the year!

For more information, visit

Photography: Images courtesy AF Archive/Alamy Stock Photo, Entertainment Pictures

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  1. Darlene aww Musgrave says:

    Love the movie and love the authenticity.

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