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Chiklis is on a fantastic foray

After promoting the opening of his superhero movie, he returns to film `The Shield.'

June 14, 2007|Michael flaherty | Special to The Times

MICHAEL Chiklis is one busy man. After winding down his fifth season as antiheroic "different kind of cop" Vic Mackey on the critically acclaimed FX series "The Shield," he's moved right into promoting his big-screen appearance as fearsome-but-lovable superhero the Thing (a.k.a. Ben Grimm) in "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer." Three days after the film opens on Friday, Chiklis, 43, will be back on "The Shield" set shooting the last 13 episodes of that series. Chiklis talked to The Times about playing two of the toughest guys on two screens.

You've been a comic-book fan for a long time, so playing the Thing must be fun for you.

I thought I was a fan until I went to Comic-Con and realized I'm nothing but a novice.

I got into Marvel comic books in those age-appropriate years -- like 10 to 13. Then I discovered girls, and I was gone. But it is a childhood dream-fulfillment to do this. I mean, it's a big superhero movie, and I have two girls who are 13 and 8 [Autumn and Odessa, with wife Michelle], so it's right in their wheelhouse.

How is the sequel different from the first?

The first was an origin tale, which bogged down the first act. We have the luxury now of jumping right into the storytelling. There's a lot more action on a much bigger scale.

The film introduces the Silver Surfer. What's his deal?

I don't want to give too much away, because he's being billed as the villain in this movie. But I think the hard-core faithful will know better. For anyone who hasn't read the comic book, he isn't what he appears; he's much more complex.

And if this sequel does well, you're contracted for a third "Fantastic Four"?

I think it's going to do great, because I don't care if you're 8, 18 or 80, it's a thrill ride, visually stunning, a good story and just right for the early summer. [And] it's a pleasure to do a movie that my kids can actually see. My kids think the name of my TV show is "The Shield, Get Out!" because we don't let them watch it.

But your daughter, Autumn, plays Vic's daughter Cassidy on "The Shield." How has she not seen it?

She sees the scenes she's in. "The Shield" is grossly inappropriate for someone her age. At some point she'll get to see it, but with me and at a time when I think she can process it. And that'll be longer than the average person because there's the added thing of having to see her father in that context.

What was behind the decision to make the upcoming season of "The Shield" its last?

It's based on the question of how long can you sustain the credibility of this collapse of [Vic's] life and circumstances. How long can you walk that tightrope before he either gets knocked off of it or falls off of it?

Which raises a huge question: Should Vic Mackey be redeemed?

That's a tough one, because his transgressions are pretty deep. I'm sure whatever we decide upon will have a level of ambivalence. One of the overriding themes of the show is, do you ever really get away with anything? But even if Vic is beyond hope, he has to live with hope of some sort of redemption. One of the compelling things about this guy is that at his core there is a hero trying to get out.

"The Shield" may be the fastest hour on TV -- jampacked, and draining, in a good way.

We're so conscious of keeping a frenetic, exhaustive pace. I think I fell asleep for like two days at the end of the last season. I've said to [creator Shawn Ryan] a couple of times, I don't know how this guy wouldn't have a heart attack, an aneurysm or a nervous breakdown.

I recently interviewed your former "Shield" costar Glenn Close. She remembers you curling up on a sofa on the set one day and saying, "I don't want to be Vic Mackey today."

I remember that vividly. I had a flu with severe body aches, and here I am playing this supremely confident animal. Constantly on. And when you feel that way, you just want to curl up in the fetal position and say, "Mommy!"

Between Mackey and the Thing, don't you get tired of playing Mr. Intense Guy?

Sometimes I wish I was in a straight drama or comedy. But you know, it's a blessing to get three-dimensional characters that give you a lot to chew on. Remember, for a long, long time I was known as Mr. Benign. So there was a frustration back then -- like, "Geez, I'd like to do something hard-hitting and impactful." So I can't complain.

But fans probably shouldn't hold their breath for a drawing-room adaptation of a Henry James novel ...

Actually, most people don't realize that I'm classically trained. Shakespeare was my forte, [so] it would be wonderful to play some effete Brit in a drawing-room period piece. There's a lot in my toolbox that I haven't used.

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