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King of the Hill

Staying “sharp” with Stephen Hill (center) are fellow iaido practitioners Jesse Cohen (at left) and Raymond Luong. Cover photo: Melody Levy (makeup artist) and Julia Gadiana (hairstylist)

Actor Stephen Hill is always at the top of his game — whether it’s practicing the Japanese martial art of iaido, or soaring above the clouds as high-character pilot “TC” Calvin on the TV series Magnum P.I.

When Stephen Hill touched down in Hawai‘i in 2018 to film the pilot episode of Magnum P.I., it was his first visit to the Aloha State. Little did he know at the time how much of an impact the islands would have on his life.

Magnum, definitely, has been life changing in a lot of different ways other than just my career,” says Hill, who’s cast in the role of Theodore “TC” Calvin, a military veteran who flies helicopters. “I try to not take anything for granted and I’m just very grateful for being here.”

Born in New York, Hill spent his childhood splitting time between Willingboro, New Jersey, and the Empire State, following his parents’ divorce when he was just 2. He graduated from Willingboro High School, where he played football and ran track, and enjoyed many hobbies, including drawing, dancing, cooking and landscaping.

Stephen Hill plays helicopter pilot and military veteran Theodore “TC” Calvin in the TV series Magnum P.I

He attributes his motivation to succeed to several other Willingboro High alumni, namely Olympian track star Carl Lewis, musicians Wanya Morris of Boyz II Men and Ryan Toby of the R&B trio City High, and record producer “Megahertz” of Bad Boy for Life.

“Between those four individuals, it really let me know that I could make it,” he explains. “To see people from a little small town like that — it’s actually possible.”

Hill went on to Hampton University with the intention of studying cinematography, only to learn that the school didn’t offer it anymore, so he switched to photography and mass media. He also started modeling, and after college, became a salesman for Xerox while also working at B. Smith’s Restaurant in New York. During that time, his mom died, which was a turning point for him in deciding to pursue his dream as an actor.

with Roger E. Mosley, who played TC in the original Magnum, P.I. and returns as Booky.
PHOTOS BY KAREN NEAL/CBS

“I just so wish she was here — not for me being able to say, ‘Look Mom!’ but just (because) I would love to (have) spoil(ed) her,” he says.

Hill started taking classes with renowned acting coach Susan Batson and eventually landed his first speaking role (not counting commercials) on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. He admits his journey into showbiz hasn’t been easy. There were a couple of times when he almost quit, but he kept going and finally got what he calls his biggest break: Lewis and Clark.

“That was the first time I actually was flown somewhere to work on a project and was given housing,” he explains. “We were there for three months, and were supposed to be there for longer, but they pulled the project. But it’s still a big break because it was produced by Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks and Ed Norton, and that was amazing. Even though it didn’t come out, I would say it was a highlight because, for me, being on Luke Cage, I love Marvel stuff. I used to collect comic books as a kid, and I still do every once in a while. You can’t keep me out of a comic book shop or a bookstore. So, that was a big one.”

As for Magnum P.I., he says it’s been “a life-changing opportunity, and my goal has been to just really give it my all because I know it could have legs that are very long.”

Looking ahead, Hill hopes to do more film and television, as well as indie work. His dream role, of course, would be to play a superhero with powers, and would love to find roles in the Star Wars, Marvel and DC universes.

Stephen Hill (second from left) stars alongside Tim Kang, Jay Hernandez, Perdita Weeks, Zachary Knighton and Amy Hill in Magnum P.I. SCREEN GRAB PHOTO COURTESY CBS 2020 CBS BROADCASTING INC.

“But you know, it’s happening right now (with Magnum P.I.). TC is a superhero,” he says about the character he plays in the show. “I have the cool van and I’m the only one with a vehicle that’s faster than the Ferrari. I’m a youth league coach. I’m military. I come to the rescue a lot, and I’m very protective and honorable.”

Many also see his character as “the moral compass of the show.”

“I aspire to be more like TC. I think I am like him in a lot of ways, but I think he’s definitely morally superior than me.”

While home is still New York, Hill has found his time in Hawai‘i to be very healing, noting that his gemstone is the volcanic glass obsidian (he typically has one in his pocket). He also enjoys stand-up paddling and has discovered a passion for the Japanese martial art iaido, which he does six mornings a week.

He also practices qi gong and kendo twice a week, as well as a guided (Buddhist) meditation called om mani padme hum on Sundays.

“When I was a kid, I was doing karate in Harlem when I went to see my dad on Saturdays, and (that was the day) everybody spars,” shares Hill. “They learn technique during the week and I’m not there, so they would bring me in the hallway and teach me technique for 30 minutes and then I would go out and spar with everybody, and I would just end up throwing blows and not using any technique whatsoever.

“For a long time, I felt like I missed out on certain things because I was in a family where my parents had separated, but now this is my choice. I can’t point to anybody and say, ‘Oh, I can’t go out there because of you.’ It’s my responsibility, and to be at this age, to take on something where I have to be dedicated and challenge myself, is really cool to me. I just like being able to come out here and the brotherhood with these guys.

“There are a lot of fighters on this island and a lot of fighting styles, but literally with this sword you have an imaginary opponent. You really learn to fight against yourself — your own laziness, your own ignorance, your own fear and you go within.”

When he’s not busy filming or practicing martial arts, you might find Hill at his neighborhood Thyda’s Tacos food truck in Kaka‘ako, his favorite steakhouses (such as Hy’s and Stripsteak) or his most recent dining discovery, W & M Bar-B-Q Burger in Kaimukī.

He’s also a regular at Raising Cane’s and when he’s in the mood for a taste of home, he goes to Jersey Mike’s for a “hoagie or heroes” with oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and oregano.

As his career continues to soar, Hill seems to have found a balance between fame and success, while having gratitude for the dream he is living. He’s a Libra after all.

“I am just a normal guy with an awesome opportunity,” says Hill. “I’m not any more special than anyone else. I just have an awesome opportunity and I’ve aligned with what I really want to do. There are plenty of people out there that just haven’t had that opportunity to align themselves with what they actually want to do in the world.”

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