Q+A with Michael Chiklis

Last we saw Chiklis, the Lowell native was hosting this year’s chaotic Fourth of July extravaganza. He is best known for playing cop Vic Mackey on The Shield, but on his new show, Vegas—set to debut September 25 on CBS—he stars as a casino mafia boss at war with an old-time sheriff. We caught up with the BU grad while he was at the University of Southern California, attending his daughter’s freshman orientation.

By Jason Schwartz | Boston Magazine |
Michael Chiklis

Photo via Getty Images

How’s orientation? Or are you just thinking about all the things you did in college that you’re hoping your daughter won’t?

No, no, I’m more thinking about the good stuff. I’m just kind of in a corny mood at the moment. She’s an awesome kid. I’m jealous, frankly, because this place is awesome.

So, the Fourth of July. What the hell happened?
Well,when lightning strikes, there’s nothing you can do about it. You have to keep people safe, and they felt they needed to get everybody out of there. Obviously it was disappointing and hectic and crazy, but at the same time, I was thrilled we were able to rally and bring everybody back and finish out the show.

Where’d you go during the evacuation? Does Keith Lockhart have a secret bunker?
No,it’s not that glamorous. We just went back to our trailers, and I tried to fit as many family members into mine as I could. The rest of them unfortunately had to scramble and ended up under the underpass on Storrow.

So you know which family members you’re getting the good Christmas gifts from this year.

It was weird, though, because on TV, they just played the recording from the July 3 practice concert like nothing happened. That’s why we do the show on the third, for weather coverage. At least we got two-thirds of it in live and the fireworks went off. And, I have to say, I ended up being a total Jennifer Hudson fanboy. I was a fan of hers to begin with, but to see her onstage just wailing—she was spectacular.

I wouldn’t have taken you as a Jennifer Hudson guy.
Well, remember, I grew up in the theater, and I started out playing sweet, affable guys. The Shield thankfully happened and it left such an impression on people that I’ve been hitting it with darker roles, but that doesn’t change who I am. I’m also raising daughters, so as a consequence, I end up at a lot of musical theater.

This character in your new show—he does seem prone to violence.
I found it really interesting that this mob guy I’m playing went to Vegas in 1960 and was active until 1980. It’s insane the amount of people and money that poured into that town over those 20 years. To me, it’s a fascinating juxtaposition of cultures when you have real city gangsters moving into a cowboy setting.

The show claims to be based on the true story. How based on the true story is it?
Very much. My understanding is that the lion’s share of the stories come right from Sheriff Ralph Lamb and others who were there.

Now you’re a Greek-American guy from Lowell, right?
Greek, Irish, and English, to be accurate.

Okay, so you don’t exactly look like a Corleone. How did you get the role as a mafia guy?
It just made sense. Don’t you know the difference between a Greek and an Italian? 90 miles.

The trope of the Las Vegas mobster is so well established. Do you feel like you have to play it a little bit differently?
I’m gonna do my own thing. Every one of these guys was an individual, so I plan on making this guy an individual. Hold on…. I’m sorry—I’m surrounded by a bus and several hundred college students. They’re all very wide-eyed and apprehensive and confused and happy.

I feel like you could go into your daughter’s dorm and lay down some pretty good intimidation. Channel some Vic Mackey.
Nah, I don’t want to do that to my daughter. But one of the great benefits of The Shield was the dating factor. The young men were terrified of me, and I liked it that way.