Chiklis: 'No Ordinary Family' is no 'Dark Knight'

Ex-'Shield' star goes family-friendly in new superhero series

It's been three years since Michael Chiklis left behind foul-mouthed, child-unfriendly Vic Mackey and FX's "The Shield." He recently spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about what it was about ABC's family-oriented series "No Ordinary Family," which premieres Sept. 28, that prompted him not only to star in it but also try his hand at producing.

The Hollywood Reporter:
How did you get involved with this project? Do you have a passion for superheroes?

Michael Chiklis: It was pretty much a straight offer. It came to me through my agency. [Co-creator/executive producers] Greg [Berlanti] and Jon [Harmon Feldman] actually reached out to me offering the show. We had been reading a number of other pilot scripts. This was really the one that captured my imagination and really made me excited. I hadn't seen something like this on television. It was ambitious and fun, and I thought it would appeal to the whole family. And it was a nice turn for me coming off of "The Shield."

THR: Were you reluctant to get back into television after "The Shield"?

Chiklis: We wrapped "The Shield" about three years ago this fall. I did need a break and I did some feature work, and this was actually the first time since then that I had opened myself up to a pilot season. It was kind of flattering the number of things I was offered. I had a choice in a way that I hadn't experienced before in my career, which was lovely.

THR: How did you end up choosing "No Ordinary Family"?

Chiklis: Quality. I think that honestly it's the smartest and best stuff by and large that is being done on the small screen. It definitely informed my choice to start looking for something on television. I was coming out of the cable universe, and there was a sameness to the stuff I was looking at in the broadcast-network universe; I wasn't that intrigued by anything until this. This was something that struck me as something family-friendly and all inclusive in terms of an audience and quite ambitious. (Check out a preview of the show below.)

THR: Why did this strike you as being so much better than other shows you were offered?

Chiklis: We're essentially making a 45-minute Marvel feature every eight [days], with a ninth swing day. On the ninth day of the shoot, there are two units -- one that's starting a new show, that becomes the "A" unit. It really is a nine-day shoot. On "The Shield," we were seven days. And that was shot in guerilla style.

THR: Were you looking to do something that was completely different than "Shield"? Because this really is at the other end of the spectrum.

Chiklis: I wasn't particularly looking for something that was family-friendly, just the best script I could find. I usually look first for the best material you can find. Then you ask who is involved here, and is this going to be handled in the best possible way. First and foremost, though, it's the quality of the material, and then, who's involved.

THR: Were you even interested in doing a cop show or anything like "Shield"?

Chiklis: There were some people making an attempt at something in that "Shield" area. It's just that to me, "The Shield" is not the kind of stuff you come across every day. It was extremely special. Sure, if I found something in the world as complex and well-written as "The Shield," I'd jump at it. But I haven't seen anything like it, not in my estimation.

THR: Did you gravitate to working with someone like Greg Berlanti, who has a great track record and has worked on a lot of projects?

Chiklis: Happily for me, I found out that Greg Berlanti was a fan of my work on "The Commish" and had an inkling of my range, and there was that question in his mind. This sort of brings shades of all my previous work into this show. There are those moments where there are shades of "The Shield" guy being a superhero and fighting villains.

Chiklis with Julie Benz in "No Ordinary Family"
THR: Were you concerned about being on network television in terms of the content being more controlled than on cable?

Chiklis: The big question for me was tone, and how do I pull this off in terms of tone. As you know, network television, television in general, has become very niche-oriented. It's very targeted toward a certain audience. Now we're embarking on a show that is all too rare on television: It's one of those kinds of shows that tries to appeal to a broad audience and, in order to do that, the things that are successful don't take themselves too seriously. This is pure entertainment and it's witty and fun, yet soulful and heartfelt. But you also have those great adrenal moments. The threat there is if you go too far in any direction, you go over the top comedically or be too melodramatic and you can fail. Yet if you aren't bold in any direction, you can become vanilla. Tonally, we felt it had to be crisp and smart and fun -- yet not taking itself too seriously.

THR: The show sounds a lot like "The Incredibles," where it's for kids and it doesn't bore adults so much that they feel like killing themselves when they're forced to see a movie with their children.

Chiklis: It's funny that you bring up "The Incredibles"; I get what you're saying. I'm a father and have two children, 16 and 11. A show like "The Incredibles" has wit, pace and excitement and fun, and it's one that as a parent, I go and enjoy as much as my children. I wanted to make a show like that parents and kids could enjoy together. And this is that kind of show that will appeal to both.

THR: So you're making sure that this won't be too cute like a lot of films for kids.

Chiklis: If it makes my eyes roll, we're not doing it. Everybody's radar is full-on about that. All of our discussions have been that. There will be episodes that are lighter at heart and then shows that are darker in tone. We're never going to be "Dark Knight" kind of dark because that goes to a place that precludes and excludes my 11-year-old. One of the templates that we used in terms of tone was the first "Spider-Man" movie: It was pure entertainment; it was smart, had familial stuff between Peter Parker and his aunt and uncle. There was romantic stuff between him and Kirsten Dunst and the adventure stuff between he and Green Goblin. And all worked scene to scene. We're going for that because there's a very sophisticated audience out there. But they had five months to shoot, and this situation is fraught with challenges and quite different.

THR: So the tone will vary from episode to episode?

Chiklis: If you look at the poster for "No Ordinary Family," look closely enough you can see my tongue in my cheek. We're aware of what we're doing. I wouldn't personally call this a drama or a comedy, I'd call this an entertainment. This is fun, and it's supposed to be fun. People should watch this and have a Calgon moment.

THR: I'm surprised to hear you use that reference. It's kind of unexpected coming from the guy in "The Shield."

Chiklis: I played that Vic Mackey in "The Shield," but I'm not him.

THR: How do you do the action like in "Spider-Man" on a show like this?

Chiklis: We have an ample budget because it's network. Two, one of the most thrilling aspects of this gig for me, the CGI effects world is growing and mushrooming exponentially, and they're able to deliver the effects in quicker turnaround and less expensive. I don't know what we can achieve by the end of the first season in terms of special effects, always new stuff happening. We'll be able to do better. We're shooting gags that are on par with everything we did on "Fantastic Four." The reason we're doing this is they can turn them around faster. I have to also give credit to the cast. We have a cast of actors who are very seasoned pros, people who are used to television schedules who can learn and a phenomenal crew used to television schedule and also feature experience. Thus far, we're pulling it off. And, it really has to run in a completely cooperative atmosphere. There's no time for stuff; we have to be hyper-efficient. Go right to it and live with our choices.

THR: Are you doing something specific as an executive producer, or is it simply a vanity title?

Chiklis: It's not a vanity title at all. It has to do with having an influence beyond just being cast. I have influence over the direction, tone and production of the show. The set is really my realm, and that's a huge component of making the show. My job is just making sure that the set runs in a particular way and [that] it's a happy, great creative atmosphere, and any decisions that have to be made on the set. If location isn't working, I'm there and have the authority to pull the trigger. It would definitely slow things down if we had to defer to someone in the audiences. What it comes down to is a partnership, when Greg and Jon approached me, I wanted to enter as a partnership where my voice is equal.

THR: Did you want to be an executive producer on any project you did this time around?

Chiklis: You get to a point in all honesty where you feel that you've earned that and your voice should be heard. It was mutual respect and admiration from the beginning. We're making casting decisions all together. We were looking at auditions on tape and then going to network with people and all waiting and I think my voice weighed rather heavily after all. I thought about who would play my wife, I thought that's a person I'm going to be working with on a daily basis, and Julie Benz was great. We're all partners in this. If anyone is greatly opposed to anyone, they'd have voiced it. Usually these things, with that spirit of cooperation, these things usually go better. When we saw Kate Panabaker there was no doubt. As far as Ron Malko was concerned, I got a call from Greg Berlanti, and he said, "What do you think of Ron?" I said, "That's genius; make the offer." I love to work with people who are like-minded. People who want to go to work and do the best work they can do and have a good time doing it. I'm going to do everything I can to surround myself with people who are talented and who want to have fun. That ultimately translates on the screen. If people are all filled with ego and weirdness, you see that on the screen too. There's no chemistry, and it just kills it. People realize, for example, how funny Julie Benz is. You work on set with her, you end up [saying], "Oh my God, this girl is hilarious." Autumn [Reeser] just finished a turn on "Entourage." Julie Benz was on "Dexter," and doing something family-friendly, that might be off-putting to some people who saw her on that. If they take the ride, I think the vast majority are going to jump on board and be entertained.

Chiklis, left, in FX's "The Shield"
THR: Did you find being on a network to be creatively constraining?

Chiklis: To be honest, that weighed heavily in my choice of something being family-friendly. With a family-friendly show on a network, we don't have to worry about what we can do and the challenges of what we can and can't do. That's very freeing. I have trouble abiding by being told what we could do, and it was so amazing on "The Shield," there wasn't that in terms of what we couldn't do creatively. If I was doing a hard-hitting adult drama on network television, it would be harder for me in that context. It presents creative challenges and content challenges that any thinking person and grown-up would find very challenging and frustrating. There's a level of frustration in trying to do adult situations on broadcast network television. ABC has been incredibly supportive of this project and very cooperative; in fact, our constraints are more budgetary and timewise. On the creative side, our challenge is a challenge to us personally to us as artists to be witty and creative. The fact is that our only constraints are creative since we're not doing a cop drama.

THR: But network is a good place for this particular show?

Chiklis: Yes, because you also need the reach. We want as many eyeballs as we can reach, and this has that capability. You can be 18 or 80 and watch this show and be entertained. You can have a chuckle, a thrill or have a fantasy. In that way, it's definitely a network show. It's completely on-brand for Disney; it makes sense in every way.
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