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Fast chat: Chiklis is a bad guy in 'Vegas'

Michael Chiklis has been a welcome TV presence for more than 20 years. Beginning with "The Commish," a comedy-drama that ran for four seasons in the early '90s, Chiklis has rarely been off the small screen. But the bullet-headed actor really came into his own starring as rogue detective Vic Mackey in the FX police drama "The Shield," for which the 49-year-old Massachusetts native won an Emmy in 2002. Chiklis also has starred as The Thing in two "Fantastic Four" films and is a voice-over artist who has worked on movies like "Spirited Away." Early next year, he'll be co-starring with Jason Statham in the crime film "Parker." Currently, Chiklis is starring as Vincent Savino, an early '60s mobster helping organized crime infiltrate Las Vegas in the CBS series "Vegas." He spoke recently with Newsday contributor Lewis Beale.

What was it that appealed to you about this show?

Vegas in 1960 is a sexy backdrop for a show. It's the beginning of the growth of Vegas, and that's an exciting time to kick off. You also have this unique mix of cowboys and gangsters; there's this culture clash that never occurred before.

You've played good guys and bad guys over the years, but you seem to have a real affinity for the nasty roles. How come?

I'm attracted to complex people. One of the exciting things about being an actor is walking a mile in another man's shoes. I really try to take on that person's point of view, and go with it. To me, I've played my share of white-hatted guys, certainly the Commish was a white-hatted guy. It's just more interesting to play people who are flawed, have grudges, are very human. That's an exciting thing to slip on and work on.

Growing up, what kinds of movies or actors did you watch that influenced you?

My father had really great taste. As a young kid, I told them I wanted to be an actor, and my father would say, "You wanna be an actor, watch this guy," and it would be Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift or Paul Newman. I was watching De Niro; I think he was a big influence when I was going into college -- films like "Taxi Driver," "The Deer Hunter," I just loved the impact those movies had on me, the power of that medium. At the same time, my dad was into pure entertainers, like Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., who could do it all. If you wanna be an entertainer, you have to make them think and feel at the same time.

When did you know you could make a living as an actor?

I decided somewhere very young, somewhere around 6 years old, that I would be an actor. I just never changed my mind. As far as making a living at it, I just thought this is what I'm gonna do, and I'm gonna be successful at it; there was never a question in my mind that this is what I was gonna do.

Yet, at a relatively early age, you appeared in "Wired," the 1989 film about John Belushi that was panned by critics and flopped at the box office. How did you recover from that?

What doesn't kill me makes me stronger. I was a 24-year-old kid; it was my first time in front of the camera. I felt I did the best I could do, being so green. Nothing prepares you for that kind of firestorm. It changed the trajectory of my career; I had not intended to go into TV, but the film world was closed to me. It was the best of times, the worst of times. Ultimately, it humbled me, it made me grateful for opportunities I have had since. I'm glad things worked out the way they did.

You've been married for 20 years, which is eons in show-biz terms. What's your secret?

I don't know. I'm lucky. Opposites attract, but people who are alike philosophically get along. It's important that the person you're with, on the bullet points, you agree with them. If you agree on the big ones, you're not gonna get into big wars. And laughing. That's important.

I read you're a huge Boston Red Sox fan. The Sox had a really bad year this year, and fired their manager, Bobby Valentine. Any comment?

Good riddance.

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