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Chiklis Masters The Thing in 'Fantastic Four'

The Boston Red Sox have been known to drive their fans crazy. For longtime, wicked-diehard Michael Chiklis (search), they helped keep him sane.

While shooting the movie "Fantastic Four" (search) in Vancouver, Chiklis spent long, arduous hours being transformed into the comic-book superhero The Thing (search).

It was hot, heavy, head-to-toe.

"It was hellish," said the actor best known for playing tough-guy detective Vic Mackey on the FX television series "The Shield."

But fortunately for the New England native, all this was taking place last October while his beloved Sox were making the run to their first World Series victory in 86 years — and that provided some relief.

"The Red Sox sincerely got me through this movie," Chiklis told The Associated Press over an egg-white omelet breakfast.

"Sixty pounds of latex, it was hellish. So I spent most of my time in the makeup chair watching the Boston Red Sox, which was phenomenal. This was during the playoffs and the series. I saw all of it," said Chiklis, who turns 42 on Aug. 30 — the same birthday as Ted Williams.

"Sometimes I saw whole games without doing a shot in my full makeup. I needed something, anything, to get me out of my head when I was in that."

Chiklis had famously changed his body four years ago to win the part of Mackey, a cop with a fluid sense of right and wrong, which earned him a surprise lead-actor Emmy in 2002 and a Golden Globe the following year. He'd shaved his head and worked out two hours a day, six days a week, to shed the roly-poly shape he had from playing John Belushi in the 1989 film "Wired" — his first big break, which bombed — and starring in the '90s TV series "The Commish."

(In person, the affable, blue-eyed Chiklis has some of the same energy as his TV persona, as if he's about to burst out of his skin even before his first cup of coffee.)

But after preparing to play Ben Grimm, an astronaut who mutates into the hulking, orange Thing after being exposed to radiation, he realized, "I blew it — I did the wrong thing."

"I thought, well, I'm gonna be in this suit all day, I'm going to need endurance, so I started running 10Ks," he said. "The day I put it on I realized I had made a mistake — I had trained improperly for this. It's 60 pounds and it's insanely hot. And I rarely got into any kind of cardiovascular area but my heart rate went up immediately because of the heat. What I should have done was put a 60-pound pack on my back and walked around with it for 12 hours."

Director Tim Story ("Barbershop," "Taxi") tried to be attentive to how Chiklis was feeling. He shifted around the schedule with co-stars Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba and Chris Evans and used doubles whenever possible to get Chiklis out of the costume quickly.

"When he first got in the suit, I remember him going — with just the mask on — `I don't know if I can do this.' And in that instant as we sat and talked about it, he felt better," Story said.

"It was scary when he first said that to me," he added. "This guy is such a professional; for him to say that, you know he's serious. He's not a diva who cries when he has blue M&M's in his M&M jar."

Story, who'd watched "The Shield," said Chiklis was his first choice for the role.

"He's just a great actor," he said. "He has this hard exterior but at the same time you know he's a teddy bear, and that's kind of how Ben Grimm is."

A summer popcorn movie might seem like a surprising choice for someone who has received such acclaim for the powerful work he's done with meaty, adult material.

Chiklis acknowledges: "I didn't take this because it was going to be a tour de force as an actor. I have that satiated with 'The Shield,' I really do. ...

"I did this for my kids, for myself," he said with a laugh. "I loved The Thing when I was growing up."

But appearing in a big action movie which could turn into a franchise is part of a bigger plan, something he's discussed with his wife of 13 years, Michelle, with whom he has two daughters: 11-year-old Autumn, who also plays his daughter on "The Shield," and 6-year-old Odessa.

"Frankly, quite honestly, for a career, it's not a stupid move to become involved with something like this," he said. "It's employment potentially for 10 years. It gets your name out there in an international context that puts you on all those lists that you must be on as an actor in order to get movies greenlit. It's a giant, tremendous stepping stone, is what it is. But it's also great in itself — a great job to have, a great vehicle to be involved in."

Born in Lowell, Mass., and raised in nearby Andover from age 5, Chiklis said he knew he wanted to be an actor "since before I had memory." Growing up, he would spend time in his father's hair salons, hanging out and flirting with the ladies.

"It was actually an incredible place to learn about women, in a beauty salon. 'Cause you listen, you hear what interests women, what they like to talk about."

(As for the woman who would become his wife, Chiklis met her 15 years ago in Los Angeles "at a party neither one of us wanted to go to. We were both dragged there by our respective group of friends, and we met and that was it, pretty much. We've never been apart since.")

Chiklis, who studied acting at Boston University, still has plenty of ties to New England. His father now runs a salon in Pelham, N.H.; his mother, who's divorced from his dad, is the right hand to the CEO of the Boston-based Partners insurance group. (Older brother Peter lives in Florida.)

Several childhood buddies still live there, and he went back to throw out the first pitch before a Sox game at Fenway Park in 2003. He also had the thrill of introducing the New England Patriots before this year's Super Bowl.

"I said `What, is Matt Damon busy?'" he joked.

But home is Los Angeles, the setting for the graphic police drama "The Shield," though series creator Shawn Ryan admits he originally envisioned an unknown, young Harrison Ford type for Chiklis' role.

"What Michael brought — I remember the moment Michael walked out of the first audition — (director) Clark Johnson turned to me and said, `'That was fantastic. He's like a pit bull with a badge.' I said, `Yeah, that was really interesting.' It was something completely different than I had intended but it just immediately felt right."

Since then, Ryan said, Chiklis has "gotten subtler — in a great way."

"He walked in an amazing actor. It's nothing like we fixed him," he said, laughing.

"What's always impressed me with Michael is he's always able to go to the well within himself and bring out different sides of Vic, different moves, different looks," Ryan added.

Chiklis has something different in mind for himself off-camera, too. He wants to direct, which he got a taste of last year when he directed an episode that featured his daughter.

"It was thrilling," he said. "I just love making movies — every aspect of it — and there are so many talented people in the business, particularly on a show like 'The Shield.' What direction is, really, is just that. You're sort of steering and allowing talented people to be talented.

"It's the ultimate team sport."