Opening this weekend is director Taylor Hackford’s (Ray) Parker. Based on the novel Flashfire by Donald E. Westlake (published under the pseudonym Richard Stark) the crime thriller stars Jason Statham as the title character, a professional thief with a strict personal code of ethics. Parker doesn’t steal from people who can’t afford it, he doesn’t hurt people who don’t deserve it, and if you break his rules he will hunt you down and make you pay. When his team double crosses him on the job and leaves him for dead he tracks them to Palm Beach with a mission for vengeance. The film also stars Jennifer Lopez, Michael Chiklis, Nick Nolte, Clifton Collins, Wendell Pierce and Micah Hauptman.
During the recent Los Angeles press day I got to talk with Chiklis. He talked about what attracted him to the film, what it’s like working with Hackford, how he prepares for roles, playing the villain, hist fight scene with Statham, planning for the second half of his career, and what people can expect from his upcoming film Pawn.
Collider: Tell me a little bit about how you got involved in this project.
Michael Chiklis: Taylor Hackford. He reached out through my reps, wanted to meet me on the film. He was really the attraction on the film. I was aware of the novels, though I would be disingenuous if I said that I knew them, that I was a fan of them. I knew of them. Like the Fantastic 4 stuff, for example, I knew those intimately and loved it and I was a fan. I was aware of these; that’s it. So really my attraction to the project was Taylor Hackford. Then after sitting with him and him laying it out for me I was just like, this is going to be one of those tried and true genre films but with an Academy Award winning director at the helm, sounds good.
Talk a little bit what it’s like working with him.
Chiklis: Taylor I really like, he’s like a general, and like a general- some generals are tough and there’s a lot of bluster, but they’re also very soulful and really caring at the same time. I think if I were to cast Taylor in a role it would be of a General or an Admiral, because he’s a leader. This was interesting for him because you can really tell that he’s an actor’s director and that’s why he’s done so well with drama and actor’s pieces. He was a little bit a fish out of water, in my estimation, in the whole action genre part of it. But he has such a command of the craft and he’s been doing it so long. I can’t wait to see the picture to see how it all came together. My instinct, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, is that it would be that tried and true genre picture but with character development and nuance that you don’t usually find in those kind of pictures, or that when you do see it, it’s a better picture for it. Because you really care what blows up, you know what I mean? You care who’s in the car that blows up.
Chiklis: You’re invested, yeah.
You mentioned that he’s an actor’s director, what kind of notes did he give you?
Chiklis: I can only speak for my own experience, and I work this way as a director as well, he poses questions. That’s always lovely as an actor when the director says things like, “Is there any value in trying this? Would he look at it from this point of view?” So if you pose the direction in the form of the question it allows the actor to go, “Huh, let me play with that idea, that notion.” As opposed to a dictate. Which is interesting because I know that’s kind of antithetical to what I just said, but he’s a general in terms of crew, the way he moves camera and everything, but then when he speaks to you as an actor, individually, then it becomes a different thing. Although I saw him work differently with other people, it was interesting.
You’ve done a number of action and crime projects, when you were on set did you notice any ways that his approach to the genre was different than what you’ve seen before?
Chiklis: Sure, I mean this was a much larger scale feature version. If you’re going to compare it to The Shield, The Shield was down and dirty, ugly street gorilla shooting; nine or ten pages a day, just killing it. Whereas this was much more controlled, you’re doing maybe a page a day. So it’s a slower process. In a lot of ways for actors it’s harder because, you know, I’m kind of a [snaps fingers] let’s go, let’s go. Just in terms of style or form, is that what you mean?
Yes, in terms of how he shot it, running the set- for example compared to something like Fantastic Four which was very different, but also a big action piece-
Chiklis: Yeah, that was brutally, painfully slow. Sometimes as little as 2/8 of a page in a day; that was six months. This was two months, which at least you moved on, you had some pace. There were three and four page days.
Generally speaking how do you like to prepare for your roles and how did you prepare for this role specifically?
Chiklis: Well, god, do you have three hours? That’s a big question. I’ve been a student of the craft of acting since I was young. I feel like there’s no set, definitive method, if you will. There are different methodologies of approaching a character, depending on the script, the style, the piece. I mean, you certainly wouldn’t approach playing Vic Mackey in the same way that you would do a Molière comedy, although that would be an interesting exercise and I suppose you could, you know what I mean? There’s just a lot of ways to approach material. Film, when you’re playing a guy and you’re trying to come from a real place, I usually try to build the characters from the inside out, the internal life of the character, hopes, thoughts, desires, motivations, what makes this person tick, and then build it up to the outer guise of the person.
With this particular guy it wasn’t that difficult because he’s not tremendously complex. He’s a malevolent bastard who is out for himself. He’s a thief and a bit of a sociopath frankly. But he has craft, he’s smart, he’s not just a stupid person. Many thieves are stupid, that’s why they’re thieves. But this guy is particularly hateful because he’s smart. I always find smart criminals to be the most hateful because they know what they’re doing, there’s premeditation in what they do, so they’re particularly evil. So I just relished in that. I enjoy being an actor largely; in part at least, because you get to walk a mile in another person’s shoes, you get to see what their skin is like. The other good thing is you get to leave it.
Being that he is, like you said, a malevolent bastard and all around just kind of a selfish dick, how do you find an entry point where you can empathize with a character like that? Or do you?
Chiklis: Oh yeah, while you’re doing it you completely commit to it. You can’t focus at all on how you really feel about the person, you have to find everything that it is that you relate to him and let your id take over. But I don’t want to be a pretentious…whatever, you never lose sight of who you are in these situations. Anybody who says that they do, they’re full of shit. The fact is that you just accept that there are certain people that have a particular mindset and you go with it. Commitment. Imagination. Let your imagination run and then commit to that.
Chiklis: Yeah, sure, that’s when some of the best work happens, when you’re in the pocket and you’re in the middle of it. But you never, ever are unaware of- I’m just very trained in that way, I’m very leery and put off by the out of control actor who goes to that pretentious place because that becomes a dangerous, and not in a good way, actor. If I’m playing a murderer, I’m not going to kill you. We have to go home at night, we have families, you know what I mean? You can never lose sight of who you are and what you’re doing, it’s pretend. [Laughs] It is.
As an actor who’s very invested in your training and the craft of it, are you somebody who likes a lot of rehearsal?
Chiklis: I don’t know about a lot. I do enjoy the process, I do enjoy rehearsing. If you’re talking about theater that’s six weeks of rehearsal for an eight week run, great. Film, all too often you don’t get any rehearsal, where it’s basically, you read it, you block it out really quickly, and then you’re shooting it. And that’s television, too. At least with films like this one you get to really beat it out and work it out a little bit then you get to shoot it. I love the process. I think the process in a lot of ways is just as gratifying as the finished product.
Chiklis: We showed up and…
Kicked the shit out of each other?
Chiklis: And kicked the shit out of each other, yes. We showed up and beat each other up for two days. We’re boys, we had fun. That’s all.
You didn’t have the fight choreography and all that?
Chiklis: No. No, we showed up and it was two days. But you know, a fight scene, one fight scene to take two whole days and Jason and I are both good at physical stuff, you know, within the first couple of hours we had the fight worked out in terms of what would happen in the fight and then you go in to the rest of that day and the whole next day shooting that. So basically it was just two hours to prepare, and the rest of the two days to just kick the shit out of each other and shoot it, capture it.
You just finished up on Pawn, what can you tell people about that?
Chiklis: Interestingly it was because of this movie that Pawn happened. I’ve been thinking a lot about the second half of my life, my career, and one of the big exciting things for me in that area is having my production company become a thriving producing company; Extravaganza. I was telling one of the executive producers on this movie about this, a guy named Brad Luff, if you look on the credits he’s one of the producers on this film, and we really hit it off. It was during the making of Parker, a year ago September. We were in Florida at this point talking about it, and we really hit it off, and he was saying basically that he would like to do that too, build a production company. Next thing you know we were getting to the wrap of Parker and he said, “Listen I’ve got this little tiny script and we’re going to try to fit it in for December.” Now this was late September and I was like, “OK, let me read it.” So I went to my hotel and I read it and I said, “Well, you know, there’s a lot of problems with it, but let’s try to do it.”
There was a director already attached to it and it was a very small-budget movie, but it was a first for our production company to get off the ground. We wrapped sometime in late September, we took October to re-tool the script, November to cast it and prep for it, and then we were shooting December 2nd. We shot it in 15 days, which in feature film terms- put it this way; we shot the pilot for Vegas in 16 days. That’s 45 minutes; this is a 90 minute film in 15 days. But all in, when you consider all these things, we made a cool little movie with a great cast. There’s some phenomenal work in it. It’s me and Forest Whitaker, Ray Liotta, Stephen Lang, Nikki Reed, Common, Max Beesley; just an incredible cast in this little, tiny movie. We just got picked up for distribution from Anchor Bay and we’ll see what happens with it. It was a great kickoff for us as a production company. All things considered I was proud of what we were able to in that abridged period of time with that budget and all that. And now it’s really set the pick for us on the next projects that we want to put together.