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Michael Chiklis: Hollywood Survivor

After a controversial film and five Years as TV's "Commish," Michael Chiklis's next challenge Is Convincing Producers He's younger than his roles
Susan Karlin
From the Print Edition:
Vince McMahon, Nov/Dec 99

(continued from page 2)

Chiklis got his acting talent from his mother, Kate; his toughness from his brother Peter, two years older, a real estate salesman who prepped him for rejection with typical sibling rough-ups; and his flamboyance from his father, Charlie, a macho second-generation Greek-American who runs a hair salon in the Boston suburb of Lowell, where Chiklis was born.  

"My father is sort of like an Archie Bunker of the '90s," Chiklis says. "He always says his philosophy was formed by 'twirling curls and listening to broads all day.' He has a tremendous amount of insight about people."  

Cigars came from Grandpa Peter, Charlie's father, who was never without a smoke in his mouth. "I come from the kind of family where my grandmother would sit me down at the table and somehow massage my head and shoulders the entire time she was cooking something for me to eat," Chiklis says. "My grandfather would tell me how the world works. And after being rubbed, petted, loved and fed, he would give me the $20 handshake and I would be on my way."  

His first attempt at cigar smoking was a disaster. "I snuck one in my grandfather's garage and turned green. I inhaled, that was the problem. Who knew? I wouldn't suggest it for people who are five years old. I really picked it up in college, when I was playing a character in You Can't Take It with You that smoked cigars. I stayed with them ever since, although my taste got more refined over time. Now, I have a routine. An OpusX is a perfect smoke for a game of golf, because it's a daytime smoke. It's milder than my favorite cigar, the Montecristo No. 2, a very powerful cigar, which I only smoke after a full dinner with an after-dinner drink, like a Bas-Armagnac.  

"Of course, a good cigar after sex is always great--much better than a cigarette," he says with a laugh. "Those, you want to be like sex: long, long lasting and very powerful. So, again, the Montecristo No. 2, and the Cohiba Esplendidos."  

So what does that suggest about ring gauge?  

Chiklis rolls his eyes. "Oh it's gonna be that kind of interview."  

A natural-born ham, Chiklis got his first professional acting gig at age 13 in a regional theater production of Romeo and Juliet. He spent his adolescence juggling school, sports and professional acting, eventually turning down college football and hockey scholarships to study drama at Boston University's demanding School of Fine Arts. Of 80 freshmen chosen from 2,500 candidates, Chiklis was one of only 18 to graduate.  

Chiklis's early professional experience was ultimately a godsend, because no amount of schooling could have prepared him for the bizarre professional roller coaster he would encounter as an adult. Chiklis was 24 and living in New York City when he shot to national attention--and vilification--by landing in Wired as John Belushi, the "Saturday Night Live" and Blues Brothers icon who died of a drug overdose in 1982. The film and the Bob Woodward novel it was adapted from were panned by critics and lambasted by Belushi's family and friends, who felt that the comedian was unfairly portrayed as a drug addict. But Chiklis, who had been toiling in the anonymity of Off-Broadway and regional theater and who had weathered 12 auditions over three years for the role, saw it only as a career-launching opportunity--or so he thought.  

For 18 months--from the time he was cast to six months after the film's release in 1989--Chiklis could not get called in to read for parts. "After Wired, everyone was afraid to touch me for fear of reprisal," he says. "It was a bittersweet situation. All of a sudden, I was starring in a major motion picture and the next thing you know, I'm being asked by reporters, 'Do you think you'll be blackballed?' I literally went from appearing at the Cannes Film Festival, with the whole international press corps asking me questions, to being alone in my one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn with the phone not ringing. All the dreams and aspirations I'd ever had in my life were in question. It was a humbling, scary experience."  


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