Dread Shield appeal
THERE was a time, Michael Chiklis says, when he started to lose faith in his ability to carve a career as an actor.
Film roles were scarce and Chiklis wasn’t crazy about television work.
‘‘I’ve been through a period when everything looked very grim,’’ Chiklis says.
‘‘At one stage I just felt tired of playing roly-poly, affable guys.’’
Chiklis, renowned for playing the lead in TV drama The Commish, says the turning point came when his wife told him to stop feeling sorry for himself.
He responded by getting in shape, then winning the role of Vic Mackey in respected cop drama The Shield, a show which has defied expectations.
No one was more surprised about that than show creator Shawn Ryan. He assumed each season might be The Shield’s last, despite the critical acclaim and overseas ratings success it enjoyed when it premiered six years ago.
Well before that dazzling debut, however, Ryan had an even bigger shock when the FX cable network in the US decided to make his uncompromising pilot script in the first place.
‘‘I didn’t think anyone would make it the way I was writing it. I thought maybe somebody might like it and make me change it to be network-friendly,’’ he says. He wasn’t alone in that belief. Damon Lindelof, the executive producer of Lost, recalled reading Ryan’s Shield script when it was making the Hollywood rounds almost 10 years ago.
‘‘Mackey murders an Internal Affairs rat in cold blood. He kills a cop. Shoots him in the head,’’ Lindelof says. ‘‘And when I read that, I thought to myself, ‘Shawn Ryan will never get this ending on the air’. Well, I stand corrected.’’
Not only did FX shoot that shocking ending, Peter Liguori and Kevin Reilly — then the top executives at FX and now the heads of the Fox network — put Ryan, 34, in charge.
Ryan says: ‘‘I think one thing that helped me was, frankly, my ignorance. I had not done a lot of TV producing at that point. I had written for a couple of shows, ( Angel and Nash Bridges) but I wasn’t involved in a lot of production decisions. I didn’t have any kind of preconceived notions about how these things were supposed to be done.’’
Money was tight. In its first two years, the show’s budget was $1.5 million an episode, minuscule compared with many network budgets, he says.
As they tried to keep the peace on violent streets, Mackey and his strike team found themselves in corner stores, messy apartments, claustrophobic interrogation rooms and innumerable alleys.
Despite, or perhaps because of, its unconventional depiction of life in the big city, The Shield was noticed, and not just by awardsgiving organisations and critics. In 2003 and 2004, Ryan says, there were calls from other TV producers and executives who wanted to know how they made a show that won Chiklis an Emmy and garnered truckloads of praise, all on a cable-TV budget.
But the show’s budget dictated deviations from the usual TV formulas. Complicated lighting took too long to set up, so artificial lighting was kept to a minimum. Shooting in small rooms necessitated the use of small, hand-held cameras. Chiklis, who shaved his head before starting work on The Shield, brought a ferocious vigour to the role of Mackey, which won him an Emmy in 2002.
‘‘Some roles are exhausting physically, some are exhausting mentally,’’ Chiklis says. ‘‘Some are really devastating psychologically. (Mackey) is all of that. You ever take a face cloth and soak it and wring it out? That’s me, at the end of the day. I’m a wrung-out washcloth. An overcooked noodle.’’
Ultimately, the genius of The Shield is that it’s impossible to think of Chiklis’s Mackey as purely evil. He’s convinced he’s doing the right thing.
Michael Chiklis has brought a ferocious vigour to The Shield.