Los Angeles Times

Redemption Role

Twenty-four hours after scoring the biggest upset of Sunday's Emmy Awards, Michael Chiklis was still caught up in the ensuing whirlwind.

The phone had not stopped ringing, the congratulatory food and fruit baskets kept arriving at his front door, and Chiklis was still overwhelmed by his win as outstanding lead actor in a drama series for his role as a corrupt detective in FX's "The Shield."

"I haven't had any time for reflection," Chiklis said during a brief calm moment. "I know it's important. There's just been this deluge of well-wishers and press and flowers and insanity. I hope soon my wife and I will be able to sit down and say, 'Wow, what was that?' "

On one hand, that was Chiklis beating out such better-known and popular competitors as Martin Sheen of "The West Wing," Kiefer Sutherland of "24," and Michael C. Hall and Peter Krause of HBO's acclaimed "Six Feet Under." The win was largely unexpected because "The Shield" is on a basic cable network with relatively low visibility. Although Chiklis' performance was almost universally praised by critics, he was considered a longshot in the lead actor division.

That also represents a creative redemption for the formerly rotund actor whose career has been marked by controversy and undistinguished projects. Chiklis raised such ire in Hollywood when he took on his first major role as comedian John Belushi in 1989's heavily panned "Wired" that many honchos predicted he would never work again. He played the balding, overweight title character in ABC's "The Commish" and Curly in "The Three Stooges." His last series, NBC's "Daddio" was yanked a few weeks into its second season.

Depressed but determined to change the industry perception of him, Chiklis underwent a mental and physical transformation, shedding weight, bulking up and shaving his head. What came out of that process was his portrayal of Det. Vic Mackey, which was hailed for its ferocity and edginess. The character is heroic, but he displays a deep, dark side. At the end of the pilot, he shoots one of his fellow detectives in cold blood.

Speculating on his Emmy triumph, Chiklis said he believes voters were impressed by his character and his new look.

"I think they saw the work, and how much work I had put in to change myself," he said. "I know that Vic Mackey made a certain impact. But coming off who they perceived me to be made that impact greater. I mean, I'm 'The Commish.' I'm 'Daddio.' Fellow artists love a transformation. We seldom get the opportunity to change ourselves."

He said that with the demise of "Daddio," "I hit such a wall in my life. And now I thank God for that low. That was the crossroads. I just had this deep level of despair because I knew what I was capable of doing.

"My wife saw my desire, and told me that if I wanted to turn this around, I had to change, mentally and physically. And not to take another job until the right job came along. I told her, 'I make a comfortable living, and it could get tough.' And she said, 'I will sell this house and move into a hovel if I have to. But you need to do this.' "

Six months into losing weight, the actor tagged along with his wife, Michelle, on a trip to pick up their child at a Gymboree class. There he met "The Shield" creator Shawn Ryan, who was unfamiliar with Chiklis' previous work. The two hit it off.

Recently, Chiklis said he took another look at the show's pilot. "What I find myself saying is what a difference material makes," he said. "And when you have this great cast around you, it makes all the difference in the world. And it's so great to play a guy that's a protagonist and an antagonist at the same time. It is a great role in my lifetime."

Now, the pressure of the show's second season looms, enhanced by Chiklis' Emmy.

"We're just going to keep doing what we're doing," he said. "I will remain true to this character, and not try to outdo it."

He expects the Emmy glow to last for quite a while. He said he was particularly touched by the reaction of the competitors in his category to his win.

"Martin and Kiefer were so awesome," he said. "I've just always admired their work. And here comes Martin running up to me and says, 'Good for you, kid.' And Kiefer gives me this huge hug and is tearful and says, 'I'm so thrilled that this happened to you.' It was just one of the best things that's happened to me."

"The Shield" is shown at 11 p.m. Tuesdays on FX. The network is currently running a "Shield" marathon, showing all of the first season's episodes at 11 p.m. each night through Oct. 5. FX has rated the show TV-MALSV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17, with advisories for coarse language, sex and violence).

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