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No Ordinary Family – Michael Chiklis on why this is an original series

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No Ordinary Family - Michael Chiklis and Jamie Harris
Jim Powell (Michael Chiklis) © 2010 ABC

After appearing as Detective Vic Mackey on FX’s gritty, groundbreaking drama The Shield, for which he won an Emmy and Golden Globe, actor Michael Chiklis is venturing into more family-friendly fare with his new series.

He portrays Jim Powell, who has been married to his wife Stephanie (Julie Benz) for 16 years. They have two children, Daphne (Kay Panabaker) and J.J. (Jimmy Bennett). Feeling disconnected from his workaholic wife, Jim decides the family needs more time together and arranges for them to go with Stephanie on her business trip to South America. When their small plane crashes into the Amazon River, this ordinary family instantly becomes extraordinary – each member starts to show signs of a unique and distinct super power – Jim’s is super strength.

Of course, this isn’t that new a concept for Michael Chiklis, who starred as Ben Grimm, aka ‘The Thing’ in Fantastic Four. We spoke with the actor about his new series and what makes it unique.

Everyone has a tendency to compare shows like this withother shows like Heroes and Lost. Can you describe what makes No Ordinary Family an original series?

Michael Chiklis
Jim Powell (Michael Chiklis) © 2010 ABC

I’ll make a music analogy. Everything comes from somewhere, from some influence. If you look at any great musician, they have influences throughout their lives growing up. They listen to all these different musicians, and they borrow from all of them, and that sort of amalgam of different influences manifests itself in them being an individual artist.

That’s the way I feel about this show. It borrows from a lot of different things that we’ve loved and because it’s an amalgam of all those things, it ends up being something completely unique and different.

You did two tours of duty with Fantastic Four playing ‘The Thing.’ Is this a genre that you like?

Yes. I went through a period between 10 and 14 years old where I discovered comic books. I was a bit of a comic book geek. If you look at the television landscape, there’s such a sameness to so much of it. There are endless amounts of procedurals, and the superhero genre is really coming into its own as a genre in and of itself. It’s something we usually have to wait to see on the big screen. Before No Ordinary Family, it seem seems to me that you had to wait to see the newest incarnation of the Fantastic Four or Spider-Man, or whichever Marvel franchise [was coming out].

Michael Chiklis
Pilot – Jim Powell (Michael Chiklis) © 2010 ABC

We’re doing something that really is quite ambitious here. I think the scope of the show is rather large, and even though it’s intimate and it is a family show, the superpower thing wrapped around it just makes it all the more fun, entertaining and exciting. Yes, I’m a fan of that genre, and I think if we could actually pull this off, it will be something really special for people to sit and watch every week.

In The Shield you played a brutal, swaggering enforcer. On this show you’re kind of a sad sap, an unfulfilled guy.

Hang on there! I want to create a distinction between a sad sap and a guy who is in a transitional period in his life. He’s a failed artist, a guy who really wanted to be a great artist who now is using his art in a constructive manner, being a sketch artist for the police department. So he has a job. He’s gainfully employed. He’s contributing to his family. He’s not quite been a Mr. Mom, but he’s a very active father, a parent. He feels his kids are moving into their own worlds and their own interests. His wife is very successful, and he’s going, ‘Where am I in this?’ I don’t think that qualifies him as a sad sap so much as a strong man who is trying to determine what the rest of his life is going to look like.

A lot of actors when they are identified with a certain role will consciously take something very different. Did you do this to run away from The Shield?

No. I’m not trying to run away. There are shades of that heroic aspect, certainly of Mackey, in this character. He’s nothing like Vic Mackey, there aren’t those shades of gray that you see in the character of Mackey.

I just loved this script, and it was an opportunity to be involved in something with much more mass appeal. You want to entertain people, and to be involved in something that 8, 18, or 80 you can sit down and really enjoy, that appealed to me.

Do you consider this a sci fi show?

I really don’t think of this show as sci fi. The Fantastic Four is a superhero movie. It’s sci fi 100%. Yes, there’s that element of superhero in this, but what we’re trying to do is meld different genres together and make a new thing. And this is at its core, I can’t emphasize this enough, is a family show. It’s a family drama about a family that’s somewhat dysfunctional and is trying to work it out, work through all manner of different problems that all families face in this day and age.

Julie Benz, Kay Panabaker and Michael Chikl
Stephanie Powell (Julie Benz), Daphne Powell (Kay Panabaker) and Jim Powell (Michael Chiklis) © 2010

The superhero element or the super-power element creates such a broad palette for us to paint on and have fun with and be that much more entertaining. So this has great appeal to people who might not be interested at all in sci fi. This is innately relatable on a familial level. Yet, people who are into sci-fi will be into the show too, because it has that element. This is something entirely new. It’s not Heroes and it’s not The Incredibles. This is No Ordinary Family

How do you feel about your superpower?

I always end up with these super-strength [characters]. I think there’s something incredibly alluring to me about being powerful, because sometimes I feel helpless to do things.