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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 3)

Eventually, Chiklis found work in episodic television--"Miami Vice," "B.L. Stryker," "L.A. Law," "Murphy Brown"--crisscrossing the country before finally relocating to Los Angeles in 1991. It was during four episodes of "Wise Guy" that one of its writer-producers, Steve Kronish, noticed Chiklis's potential for a pilot he was writing called "The Commish," then slated for CBS.  

As if the Wired saga wasn't enough, this second big break has its own tale of angst. Chiklis was all but cast until then-network chief Jeff Sagansky found out how young he was and nixed him. It was the last time Chiklis ever saw Sagansky. The show was shelved and was optioned by ABC later that year. But it wasn't until ABC suits spotted him in "Maverick Square," an ABC pilot that aired but never became a series, that they realized they had found the star of "The Commish."

"When my manager told me, I thought he was busting my chops," says Chiklis. "It took me a minute before I realized he was serious."  

It was the second of two monumental changes in fortune for Chiklis within a short time. A few months before, Chiklis's buddies had dragged him to a party. The actor was on painkillers, recovering from a torn Achilles tendon from a basketball game gone bad and in no mood to party. A pretty actress named Michelle Epstein was dragged by her friends to the same party.  

Chiklis was in his usual state--holding court--when Michelle spotted him. "He was the most electric person I'd ever seen in my life," she recalls. "I thought, 'Wow, who is that guy? I have to know him; and I'm going to marry him.' "  

For Chiklis, Michelle was a wake-up call. "At the time, all I could think of was my career," he says. "Hurting my leg forced me to slow down. It was almost as though life was saying, 'You have to stop right now so you can meet this girl.'"  

The two had been dating for four months when Chiklis landed "The Commish" role in 1991. The series was being shot in Vancouver, more than 1,000 miles from Los Angeles, and suddenly, the two were faced with the choices of breaking up, having a long-distance relationship, or Michelle moving to Vancouver. "And, leap of faith, she came with me," Chiklis says, still amazed at her moxie. They married the following year. "And all those friends who took us to the party are still single," he says with a laugh. "So if someone tries to drag you somewhere, just go."  

"Everybody thought I was crazy to move, but I knew," says Michelle. "Of course, I had to train him a little. He was the ultimate caveman. He could have had a club in his hand. He grew up in a house with guys and didn't understand about women--things like presents, birthdays, acknowledgments. After a while, he was like, 'Wow, this is kind of cool.' Now he wakes up in the morning and says, 'Let's go to Fred Segal today and go shopping!' "  

The taming continued when their first child, Autumn Isabella, was born in 1993. "There's something about a father and a daughter," Chiklis says. "When I saw her coming out of her mother and realized she was a girl, I thought, 'Oh, fuck. I'm dead.' My knees buckled. That was it. I knew I was a slave forever.  

"I look at her and see myself without all the fuckups, without all the stuff that's gone wrong. I'm fiercely protective of her. People say, 'Just wait till she's 13.' I don't wanna hear that--[when she goes through adolescence] and rebels. Cause I'm going to do everything in my power to avoid that. I'm going to be the coolest dad I can possibly be. So hopefully, she'll care what I think. It's a fine line. Discipline's very important, but so is staying young with them, listening to them, enjoying them." 

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