Michael Chiklis Interview
(Remembering John Belushi)
Back on March 5, 1982 the world lost one of its greatest comedians. His name
was John Belushi and he was found dead in an L.A. bungalow. He was 33 years
old. Last year the movie "Wired" was released based on the book of
the same name by Watergate investigator Bob Woodward.
While the movie met with a negative response from critics, actor Michael
Chiklis received much praise for his portrayal of the late comedian.
We talked with Michael Chiklis about his role as John Belushi.
Q: Do you understand why there was so much controversy surrounding the
making of "Wired?"
A: Well, it's really hard for me to put my finger on it. I have so little
to do with the politics involved here that it's very difficult for me to understand,
especially having done the picture myself. It's funny, because we never
intended to hurt anybody. I guess at first, they were afraid it was an exploitation
piece. When the movie finally came out and the critics saw it wasn't an exploitation
piece, it seemed like they got angry because it wasn't. So it was almost like
damned if you do, damned if you don't. You know what I mean? Each person that
was against it had their own reasons for not wanting to see it made. I think
some of it was truly a concern for Belushi's name and a lot of it was self-centered
and self-motivated concern.
Q: The producers of the movie advertised it by saying, "It's not just
a story about the man. It's a story about America." Do you see it that
A: Yeah, to a great extent. I don't think people realize how much of an impact
'Saturday Night Live' had in America, and how much of an impact Johnny had
on America. It's just very strange. At the time he was on were on the cover
of Time Magazine? That’s a magazine that deals primarily with world news.
The time was a very weird time in America. It was the 70"s. It was truly
the most apathetic period in our nation's history, I think. People were sick
of causes. It was, the hell with causes. It was the birth of the "Me Generation." All
of that was reflected by these irreverent comics. I find that to be an incredible
irony, how they were so against it (the movie). Here are the most irreverent
comics around, or used to be anyway and all of a sudden, God forbid that someone
say something about them. Especially the truth? It's like these guys treaded
on everybody. Face it. They would do things about the Pope. I guess they had
the protection of "All in good fun." All in the name of comedy, but
they were also making some very serious social statements in many of those
skits. And they know it.
Q: "Wired" was also advertised by saying "For John Belushi,
Every Night was Saturday Night." How could a man who was so creative and
working all the time, be partying all the time?
A: No one can see how it happened. Trust me, he was partying every day. When
you're addicted like that you have to do it, to keep going. I'm sure he did
it moderately for a lot of that time and on certain days of the week he
would completely blow out. I know how it goes. You need a little bit to get
you going. I used to do this stuff all the time when I was in college. What
I found out was when I was doing it every single day; you need it the next
day. You needed it to keep going and get through the next day. On certain days,
when you knew you were free enough, then you’d blow out. And when it
got really bad, you'd do it anyway. You'd blow out even when you weren't supposed
to. I'm completely drug free at this point.
Q: After filming "Wired," what did you learn
about John Belushi that you didn't know before?
A: Oh, many things. He wasn't just some loser who died of a drug addiction.
I think a lot of people just passed judgment on him when that happened. When
I learned about the amount of pressure he was under and how he did try many
times to stop doing drugs, and the kind of schedule he had to keep up, and
the kind of tugging and pulling that he was subjected to the last 5-6
years of his life, it just made me lack judgment about him. It made me sympathize
and empathize with him in a way that I really didn't before, 'cause I was just
mad at him before. I was such a big fan of his. When he died I was angry with
him, I think as many were. But, after studying him so extensively and
finding out what a brutal schedule he was under, the guy was very much a victim.
Q: A victim of success?
A: Yes. He was a victim of many things. He was a victim of his own compulsion.
He was a victim of the times. That's something I keep going back to but it's
the truth. The 70's. Just the time period he was in was one that surrounded
him with all the tools he needed to destroy himself. Yes, you could definitely
say he was a victim of success.
Q: How long did it take the producers to cast the part of John Belushi?
A: Three years.
Q: What were they looking for?
A: They didn't want a look-a-like. You should have seen some of the guys.
I'd walk into these things and go, 'My God, there he is!' They would see a
guy and get excited because the look was right and he might've been funny,
but then they'd realize the guy couldn't act. Or, he could act, but he wasn't
funny at all. They wanted someone I guess who could cover the spectrum with
regards to Belushi, because he was so diverse.
Q: You were waiting tables just before you got the role. . .
A: I waited tables all the way up to two days before I went to L.A. so I
could pay off the last of my bills. It's funny but Sharkey not only played
my guardian angel in the movie, but I showed up in L.A. with $30 in my pocket;
when he found that out, it was 'Oh, my God, I got to take care of this kid.'
It was really a great relationship we formed over the shoot. He just sort
of took me under his wing and showed me a lot of the ins and outs, 'cause I'd
always been a stage actor. This was my first appearance on film ever.
Q: When you were told the part was yours, what went through your mind?
A: I screamed at the top of my lungs, called my dad, brother and mother and
we screamed and freaked-out for about an hour. (Laughs.) Actually, I told them
in 5 minutes and hung up. But, after the initial freak-out, all of a sudden
I got very serious and thought, I've got to play this now. There's no way I
can get away with doing some cheap imitation here. I've got to make this a
real character, for myself and play this to the best of my ability because
he's so famous and so fresh in people's memories.
Q: What's ahead for you Michael?
A: The networks have been sending some scripts and it looks like the future
is bright. It seems that the people in the business have responded very positively
to my work. Understanding, all politics aside, the work was there. And, they're
acknowledging that and calling me up.
© Gary James All Rights Reserved