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At 24, Autumn Chiklis already seems to be well ahead of her peers. After graduating from the University of Southern California in 2016 with a degree in theater and screenwriting, she jumped into a personal project: writing her own book. Smothered, which hits bookshelves Aug. 7, tells the story of a mother-daughter relationship, based on Chiklis’ own bond with her eccentric mom (dad is The Shield and Fantastic Four actor Michael Chiklis). Told through a series of journal entries, emails, text messages and social media posts, the novel addresses millennials who find themselves graduating from college with no plans or jobs lined up and yet are full of ambition.
Chiklis — who previously had her own six-year arc on The Shield (2002-2008), playing the daughter of her father’s character, Vic Mackey — spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about her new book, growing up as the daughter of “tough guy” Vic Mackey and why she’s just as glad to skip watching some of her father’s work.
Where did the original idea for Smothered come from?
As you can imagine, I have an extraordinary character of a mother. We’ve always had a flipped relationship. She’s “the partier” and the fun, outrageous one, and I was always very bookish and quiet and not as cool. I started posting text messages between my mom and me on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter — with her permission, of course — as kind of an insight into my life so my friends would believe me. They caught fire and people started texting them and sharing them and tagging their own moms and their sisters, and I realized that I had touched upon something special. I actually had people coming up to me saying, “My friend told me to follow you because apparently your mom is hilarious!”
How much were your characters based in fact versus fiction? Do you see a lot of yourself in main character Lou Hansen?
I started with the fact that the daughter was always getting mad at the mom because the mom always wants her to party, and the daughter just wants her to be a normal human and be quiet. The characters developed out of that, but they are 1,000 percent rooted in the reality. I think Lou was actually the person who was the farthest from the truth. I consider myself an academic, but not in the same capacity that Lou is. She is a lot more uptight than I am and very entitled.
And what about Shelly “Mama Shell” Hansen?
The most important thing to highlight is that I exaggerated about my mom, Michelle. I did so for comedy’s sake, and I obviously made her a little less self-aware than my mom is, because when she sends these messages — especially once I started posting them — she was hamming it up. I jokingly say that it is fiction to protect the innocent, because there are a lot of text messages in the book that are variations of actual texts that I received. But at the end of the day, as funny and outlandish as she is, she’s a mom first. And when you come to her with an issue or if she thinks that you’re not doing the right thing by yourself, she will absolutely set you straight. So there’s a lot of truth in it, and she is as funny as the book implies, but she’s a little more stable.
And what about your dad? Is the character Charlie Hansen based on your own father?
It’s interesting, because my dad has this reputation of being the big tough guy, which in ways he definitely is, but with his daughters he’s the most loving teddy bear in the world. I grew up with people being scared of my dad, which is funny because my perspective on him is so different. He’s much more grounded than my mom is, and we jokingly say that they’re kind of like the modern-day Lucille Ball and Ricky. I would say the closest similarities with Charlie are that he presents his tough love in the sense that if he thinks that you are screwing up, he will immediately put you back into place. But he has the biggest heart in the world, and when it comes to his girls, he would do anything for them.
Because of his reputation, have you ever been afraid to bring home a boyfriend to meet him?
It’s been a pretty even mix, where half of them have been absolutely terrified and then the other half haven’t seen The Shield, so they’re okay. My boyfriend is in the half that hasn’t seen The Shield, and I’m hesitant to show him because of the dynamic we have going on now. I don’t want to freak him out.
When you were growing up, what was it like working with and observing your dad?
I’m deeply close with my dad; he’s my best friend in the entire world. To watch him take on roles my entire life and get into the minds and hearts and souls of other people and challenge those perspectives, it definitely had a big influence on the way I tell stories. He was the person who taught me how to literally and metaphorically walk a mile in another man’s shoes and how to handle myself as an artist. He was also very much a person who, if I presented a strong opinion, would completely eviscerate that opinion, even if he doesn’t agree with the other side of it, just so that I had that perspective. That really helped me as a writer, because every time I approach a character, I immediately ask myself: “What is their argument?” And that very much comes from him.
Were there ever projects of his that you weren’t allowed to see as a kid?
I still have not watched all of The Shield. I was on it and I was not allowed to watch it all [six] years because they did not want me to see him in that light. A big joke in my family for years was that I thought the show was called The Shield: Get Out because anytime I would come in while they were watching it, they would go, “Get out, get out!” And then there’s some stuff I, as a daughter, just don’t want to see, but he tends to warn me about things like that in advance. Most of the time it’s non-violent, let’s put it that way. Those are the only things I refuse to watch to this day. I asked my mom one time, “Are you okay with dad having love scenes with other women?” And she’s like, “Oh, yeah, of course. He’s always so nervous. I have to coach him.” She was joking…I think.
With Smothered‘s official release on August 7, are you hoping to see it eventually made into a film?
Oh my goodness. I mean, my mom has been asking who’s going to play her since the moment I started writing the book, so that’s definitely something we dream about. For right now, I’m focusing on one medium at a time.
If it were to hit the big screen, who would be the ultimate dream cast?
My dream would be my dad, but like I said, we’ll see. We’ll see if he’s available for me [laughs]. My mom could absolutely not do it because, bless her heart, she’s the most charismatic woman in the world, but she doesn’t like being in front of the camera unless it’s an Instagram camera. She’s thrown out names, of course. Everyone from Reese Witherspoon to Michelle Pfeiffer. She has her dream cast, let’s put it that way, and has a list of demands. If they ever do adapt this, the casting agents won’t have to work that hard.
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