Under the pseudonym Richard Stark, author Donald E. Westlake published 24 novels starring Parker, the daring and relentless thief with a strict code of ethics. Popular with crime-fiction readers and Hollywood producers alike, the character has been featured in more than a half-dozen films, portrayed by actors ranging from Lee Marvin to Mel Gibson. On Friday, action star Jason Statham joins their ranks with the release of Parker.
Based on the 19th Parker novel Flashfire, director Taylor Hackford’s crime thriller finds the brutal thief looking to get even with four gangsters who double-crossed him and left him for dead. If the adage that a hero, or in this case anti-hero, is only as good as his villain, then Parker gets a big helping hand from the nefarious Melander, played by cunning character actor Michael Chiklis, who recently spoke with Spinoff Online.
Acknowledging the classic formula of the heist genre that made the novels and previous adaptations irresistible, Chiklis shared that this film benefits from having Hackford (Ray, An Officer and a Gentleman) behind the camera. "I think the reason why I took the movie was Taylor Hackford,” he said, “because then you have a substantive Academy Award-winning character director -- that's what he's known for, he's an actor's director -- taking on this genre."
He characterized Hackford as a bit of a general, "and generals can be blustery and abrupt and hardcore, but they can also be soulful and helpful and I think he's all of things and a lot more."
Hackford's reputation for casting great actors was also a draw for the Emmy winner. "I spent all my time with Wendell Pierce [The Wire, Treme], who I fucking loved, who's my buddy. We became total friends during this gig." Chiklis laughed. "Here we're playing cops and robbers in the context of a really cool flick with a really top-shelf filmmaker and in New Orleans -- that does not suck."
Describing his character as a "malevolent bastard who is out for himself," Chiklis admitted he was only vaguely aware of Westlake's novels before taking on the role. "I perused one of the books, but I wasn't a fan like I was of the Fantastic Four or those comics."
The actor, who played The Thing in Fox’s Fantastic Four and its sequel Rise of the Silver Surfer, is such a comic-book fan that he became a little starstruck when he met one of his heroes. Shortly after his own comic Pantheon was published in 2010, Chiklis was interviewed for a documentary about the legendary Stan Lee. In what the actor described as “one of the greatest moments of my life,” he gave a copy of Pantheon to Lee, who promptly asked Chiklis to sign it for him
“I have – someone took a picture of me signing, doing a salutation to him on my comic book, and talking about geeking out,” he recalled.
Like his hard-hitting co-star Statham, Chiklis is widely known for his tough-guy roles. "We kind of joked about that, about how we're both sort of easy-going, affable guys in life, and the whole Jessica Rabbit Defense, that 'We're not bad, we're just drawn that way,’" he said.
But Parker’s brutal, show-stopping fight between Chiklis and Statham almost didn't happen because the production had run out of time to shoot at a particular location. "I was crestfallen,” the actor recalled. “I was devastated because we were supposed to fight.”
Luckily, Hackford and the studio intervened, and six months later Chiklis received a phone call. "We got two days and we came together and beat the shit out of each other for two days, and that was right,” he said. “That was fun."
The Shield veteran also spoke highly of co-star Jennifer Lopez, who plays Parker's down-and-out partner Leslie. "She was lovely. She is so ‘Jenny from the Block,’ he said. "There's no entourage. There was no weirdness. She was just a committed actress who was there and working with us."
His favorite moment on the Parker set occurred during a difficult location shoot at the Ringling Brothers mansion in Sarasota, Florida. The actor's beloved Red Sox had just been eliminated from the playoffs when a surprise visitor arrived. "I was lower than a snake's belly, and onto the set walks Helen Mirren, who did not disappoint at all. She was just as lovely as can be and I became like a 14-year-old girl at a Justin Bieber concert," he laughed.
Hollywood executives have a tendency to typecast actors, a roadblock that can be difficult to navigate. "If you do something well, it can be indelible and then you can have a fight trying to go in a different direction," he acknowledged.
Chiklis has managed to avoid this trap, but only because he has made a deliberate effort. "The biggest struggle for me, ironically, was when I was mostly known for playing sort of affable lovely guys -- The Commish and Daddio and that whole string of 'nice guy' roles that I got and I couldn't get out of that," he said. "And no one would see me even for anything else."
The actor, who’s now playing a gangster on the CBS drama Vegas, credits his wife with helping to reignite his career with an important piece of advice: "She was the one who said, 'It's not incumbent upon the studios to reinvent you, it's incumbent upon you to reinvent yourself."
"I had to make this sort of physical transformation as well as emotional and then refuse to work otherwise," he continued, acknowledging that the decision was a gamble. "I said to my wife, 'This could get really uncomfortable' and she said, 'We'll sell the house. We'll do whatever we have to do." Now that's some woman."
Once given the opportunity to play Vic Mackey, the crooked cop on FX's acclaimed drama The Shield, everything changed.
"I had already done the affable thing, and then once you break out on the hard-guy thing, there's this broader range," he explained, noting he’s now looking to do something a little more grounded. "I have been caught recently in sort of these epic, bigger-than-life, huge-stake situations and I wouldn't mind being in a sort of a Sundance-y, kind of a "people" sort of film right now. Because that's completely in my pocket, but I just haven't had that opportunity."