Michael Chiklis Gets Into 'The Thing'

In the world of television, Michael Chiklis is used to rushed shoots and low budgets. On The Fantastic Four, Chiklis finds himself in heavy prosthetic makeup as The Thing, working on massive sets with intricately choreographed fight scenes.

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“This goes under the ‘You know you're in huge movie when’ category,” Chiklis said on a day off, two months into the shoot. “The first day I went to the Brooklyn Bridge set to see a 75 yard section of the Brooklyn Bridge having been recreated with a half a mile track in a circle so that the traffic could flow through it, surrounded by three stories of blue screen, you walk on the set that day and you go, 'Wow. Hey mom? Mom, you gotta see this.' And then, to see this unfold and we're going to spend eight days on that. We're not with that set yet. At least eight days of the filming on that set, and then second unit spends an equal amount of time on that set and it's gonna translate it to maybe two minutes of the movie. It's an extraordinary thing to watch.”

Some may say that Chiklis’s character on The Shield, Vic Mackey, is made of stone when it comes to taking care of bad guys. Well, Mackey’s got nothing on Ben Grimm, who becomes a creature made of rock. “Ben Grimm, the Thing, he’s a tough guy, tough exterior, heart of gold,” Chiklis said. “In a nutshell, that’s it. He’s been Reed [Richard, Mr. Fantastic]’s best buddy and protector. I’m the brawn, he’s the brains so he’s in trouble. No, he’s a protector, a strong guy who doesn’t want to be a hero, doesn’t fancy himself a hero. He just wants to do his gig and get on with his life. But I think the thing that makes him truly heroic is choices. As you’ll see in the film, he has to make a pretty selfless choice to be heroic and I think they all do. That’s key in this little yarn.”

Chiklis has a lot of time to think about what’s inside The Thing as he spends hours in the makeup chair getting dressed in prosthetics. “For me, you know, spending 11 or 12 hours in latex is fun,” Chiklis joked. “It's a little like being in the seventh circle of hell, but in a good way. At the end of the day, honestly, sure it's hot, it's uncomfortable, it's cumbersome, the outfit, but when you see it, it really is extraordinary.”

It is the end result that keeps Chiklis focused on the value of the character through all the hardship. “There's a sort of surrender that you have to give up, because if you're trying to control the situation, you really can't. It's three hours to get into this head to foot, so you just have to relax in whatever way that you can. Initially, it was kind of frightening for me. I knew it would be a physical challenge. I did not know that it would be a psychological challenge and initially it was for me. I'm not a phobic person or an anxiety-ridden person, but I had a full-on anxiety attic the first time they put me in it, and I think it's because once they put the hands on me, I can't get out on my own. But now, it's two months later and I'm through it. So, in terms of just the personal discomfort, I'm talking about that a lot, but I really want to make it clear that when you put your eyes on the prize and the big picture of it, you look at the dailies and you see what we're doing, now it gets good to you and you start to go, 'Wow, this is something special. This is something I can talk to my kids about, my grandkids about. Now this is a special, special job.'”

And he can’t complain, because using prosthetics instead of CGI was his own idea. “I sort of gave myself my own sentence to this. I was very insistent. I really wanted it to be a costume because I felt that if it was just a CGI that you’d lose the humanity. But the other question was can we make it so that it looks and feels like the original character, a sort of real manifestation of this character, and that I wouldn’t be completely lost in it? And that’s the extraordinary thing that these guys have accomplished is that even when I’m in 60 pounds of prosthetic makeup, I’m in there. You see it’s my eyes, it’s my face and it moves with every nuance of my face and I think it’s a pretty extraordinary accomplishment to marry the technical with the emotional and the human. And hopefully, that’ll translate onto the screen.”

Chiklis petitioned for the role, having been introduced to Marvel producer Avi Arad through a colleague. “A year and a half ago, I met this gentlemen at a party, and Jennifer Garner actually introduced us. I said, 'I have two words for you: Ben Grimm.' And, that was the beginning of it. He called me into his office some months later and discussed the possibility. This is a year ago, August. I was in excruciating pain frankly, emotional pain because there was a big question as to whether I would be available for this film because I have a television series that's ongoing, and it was all about, 'Can we make this happen?' Purely from a scheduling standpoint, and of course the film kept getting pushed back and pushed back, which made it more and more precarious. It really came down to [the film producers] and all the folks at FX, everybody involved, the head's of state, sort of a meeting of the minds and making it happen for me, for which I thank them all.”

How future entries in the franchise will affect The Shield’s schedule is unknown, but the production current schedule allows Chiklis to appear in all Season Four episodes. “They did an extraordinary thing over at FX and Fox. They pushed the shooting of The Shield three and a half months so that I could be in every one. And also do this. I’ve never heard of that. I’ve never seen that done personally. So it makes you go like, ‘Wow, they’re doing that for me, that’s pretty cool.’ It makes you feel good. I mean, for them to bend over backwards to make this happen, it’s flattering and it’s thrilling and it’s humbling. It’s all of those things.”

With everything in place and Chiklis on the set, even with all the technical complications, he’s having a blast. “Hey, listen. I’m a rock hard He-Man. I get to play a rock hard he man. That’s crazy. Who gets to do that? And I was a fan growing up of The Fantastic Four. I loved this comic book, so I’ve been blessed to play a number of cultural icons before, and I know that there’s a certain responsibility that goes along with that, but you can’t get preoccupied with that as an actor. You really have to just bring your own joy to the opportunity to play this character and to just jump in. You have to just go for it.”

Chiklis hopes that the time is now right for the movie, thanks to the technology available to realize the vision of the comic books. “It's really a great time for this film to be made too because, on a technical level, 20 years ago you make this picture, it's cheese whizzy, you know, because you can't achieve the visual effects. Mr. Fantastic stretching and this kind of prosthetics and [Johnny Storm] turning into flame and [Sue Storm] going invisible and the force field and whatnot. Now the technical can be married with the practical and the emotion and the human in a way that it never could be before, and I think that's what we're trying to achieve is not to just be a technical show. We're trying to fuse those elements together as seamlessly as we can for it to work as a cohesive film.”

The Fantastic Four is in production in Vancouver, racing for a July 1 release.

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