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
From the Print Edition:
Vince McMahon, Nov/Dec 99
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Chiklis knows all about the slow build. He acted professionally for nine years before hitting the big time in Wired at 24, endured nearly two years weathering the professional repercussions of its controversy, and spent five years gaining acceptance for his portrayal of a 40-year-old police commissioner--only to find himself at present trying to convince Hollywood that he is just 36. Not only that, but the 5-foot, 9-inch Chiklis--who purposely gained 40 pounds for his roles in Wired and "The Commish"--is working on a physical makeover, meticulously dieting and exercising to return to his athlete's build of 185 pounds.
"One of the ironies of 'The Commish' was trying to show the community my acting range by playing a heavyset, 40-year-old man at 27. Sometimes you can do too good of a job," he says with a laugh. "Now, every interview I have with people who don't know me say, 'Oh my gosh, you're like a young guy.' They're expecting an alta caca to walk into the room."
Of all the ways to be typecast, a conservative police commissioner is about as far as you can get from Chiklis's boisterous, larger-than-life personality. While most established actors are looking for that meaty character role, Chiklis is focusing on simply playing characters his age.
In a six-month run in 1997 in Rob Becker's Defending the Caveman, he was a guy with savvy insight into the female psyche; in Warner Bros.' 1998 sci-fi action movie Soldier, starring fellow cigar maven Ken Russell, he was a space colonist with a heart; in this year's Body and Soul, he was a boxing manager. Then there're his turns as a likable Russian mobster and recovering alcoholic, respectively, in the independent films Taxman, starring Chiklis's buddy and Le Grand Havana Room co-founder Joe Pantoliano, and Carlo's Wake, a comedy with Rita Moreno and Martin Landau. Taxman was due out in August and Carlo's Wake has yet to be released.
Taxman finally gave Chiklis a chance to work with Pantoliano for the first time since they met in the early '90s at a play that Pantoliano was doing in a Santa Monica warehouse. "Joey Pants is the one who made me a member of the Havana Room," says Chiklis. "I love him. He's one of those characters who make you really happy to be in this business."
"He's a good guy with a big heart," counters Pantoliano. "When I did the opening for the Grand Havana, Michael and his wife, Michelle, came to the party dressed completely wrong. When they saw me standing outside in a suit, they immediately ducked into a fancy store and dropped $5,000 on new outfits they had tailored on the spot. In an hour."
Any special reason for their friendship?
Pantoliano thinks carefully. "He gives out really good cigars."
The pair hung out a lot during "The Commish" days, smoking cigars in the bar at Vancouver's Sutton Place Hotel with celebrities, such as Tom Selleck, who were in the city for various productions. After five years there, Chiklis was known as the Pope of Vancouver for hooking up visiting actors with the best restaurants and clubs.
Coming off that kind of career high, his current flurry of work is especially sweet, considering the naysayers who emerged after his series ended in 1995. "If there was any intimidation before, after Wired, 'The Commish' and the one-man show on Broadway, I'm not intimidated by anything anymore," he says. "What's more, my confidence is through the roof. You need conga balls to open on Broadway in a one-man show. Giant, swinging conga balls. And if I can stand in front of 1,000 New Yorkers and make them scream with laughter, I can go into almost any audition, for two people for two minutes."
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