A Thing or Two With Michael Chiklis

Actor Michael Chiklis talks to WebMD about summer sequels, his brief bout with claustrophobia and longtime struggle with weight gain, and why balance is the key to good health.

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on June 04, 2007
From the WebMD Archives

Your new film, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, is the sequel to the summer 2005 blockbuster, and once again you play "The Thing." We hear you had a really hard time with the costume the first time around ...

I really freaked out. I experienced the feeling of claustrophobia for the first and only time in my life. The costume was made from thick latex rubber, and I had to sit in a chair for five hours while it was literally glued to me from head to foot. My body core superheated, and I became incredibly hot -- which only heightens the feeling of claustrophobia. I felt overwhelming helplessness because my hands and feet were bound. I couldn't get out on my own if I wanted to. I looked at my wife and said, "I don't know if I can do this."

Your wife, too, suffers from claustrophobia ...

When she walked into the trailer and saw me [in my Thing costume] for the first time, she nearly fainted. My wife had a hide-and go-seek trauma as a kid. She was locked in a footlocker with her knees pressed to her chest. The other children forgot that she was in the game and left her there. Wearing the costume, I really viscerally understood what my wife goes through.

Was this a new feeling for you?

Yes! I have always been a person to take up challenges and overcome adversity, and have never been one to let my fears dictate my actions.

So how did you face "the costume" every day at work?

I talked to a psychologist briefly on the phone. She gave me some ideas to help me stay in the moment, because thinking of being in that costume for 12 hours only heightened the feeling of panic. My mantra was: "I can hear. I can breathe. I can think. I can feel. I am OK." I repeated it over and over again. Once I was in the costume and started moving around, and I felt that had my senses, it became manageable. It was like, "Hey, I am all right." And then I was fine.

Was there any upside to this experience?

Totally. Not that I was insensitive to my wife before, but now I really get it. I am a grounded person and not prone to fears or anxiety. This was a good experience, because I became more sensitive to people who suffer from that malady. Claustrophobia really is an out-of-body experience. It was a triumph, because it was the only job where I felt, I can't do this. And I did it. There is nothing like that feeling.

So did you wear the same suit for the new sequel?

No. The new costume is vastly more comfortable. The suit only took an hour and 20 minutes, not five hours, to get into. And Team Thing could take the suit off me in five minutes. That's a huge thing, psychologically.

What you do you do to keep your weight in check?

I have struggled with weight issues for most of my adult life. I am constantly trying to combat my genetic propensity for weight gain. We have food sent by a delivery service that provides portion-controlled, healthy foods. It's almost like having a private chef.

Do you exercise?

My wife and I hike five to six days a week. We do a three-and-a-half mile hike. It's a pretty challenging, relatively steep, 50-minute hike that gets our heart rates up and lets us use our bodies. I try to get at the very least 45 minutes to an hour of cardiovascular exercise per day.

Does anything get in your way of keeping these healthy habits?

My Greek heritage. We have this unfortunate love affair with food. We are about to go to Italy on vacation, and we are going to do some eating.

Do you ever give yourself a break?

I believe you should be as good as you can for six days a week, and then on Saturday or Sunday all bets are off. Eat what you like, really rest that day, and do fun things. Too many times dieting means deprivation, and seems like slow torture. It is easiest if there is a consistent light at end of the tunnel.

Besides a love affair with food, what else runs in your family?

There is longevity in my family. We are all strong as bulls, but we also tend to be built like bulls. We are stocky, well-muscled, and low to the ground.

Are you at your ideal weight?

I am 5'9, and some guidelines say I should weigh 170 pounds. There are a myriad of body types, and you have to look at each person individually. I weighed 170 pounds in seventh grade! Even if I worked out three hours a day and had perfect portion control, I will never see 170 pounds because my head weighs 45 pounds. I have dense muscle mass and very thick bones. I am just dense -- literally and figuratively.

What disease or condition would you like to see eradicated in your lifetime, and why?

Cancer. The pervasive nature of the disease is sort of unnerving. I just lost my aunt to cancer, and my uncle has non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Two of my mother's siblings have been affected in the same year. I do feel incredibly blessed, knock wood, that my wife, children, and I have been clear. It does make you acutely aware and want to do something about it.

What can you do?

I am about to host the Revlon Run Walk for Breast Cancer with [singer/breast cancer survivor] Sheryl Crow. [Editor's note: the walk took place May 12, 2007.]

What is the best health advice you have ever been given?

My dad told me to live in moderation. He also told me that the key to a good life is job satisfaction. It shouldn't matter whether you are successful or not by social standards. If you are doing what you love to do, you will lead a happier, healthier life.

Are you satisfied with your job choice?

Unbelievably so. It's fun. It's great.

Any unhealthy habits?

I did, for a time, smoke cigarettes.

What made you quit?

My then 6-year-old, who is now almost 14 and whom I never smoked around, had just seen an anti-smoking ad. She must have smelled smoke on me and knew. She said, "Daddy, you are smoking, it's killing you, and you have to stop."

And you did?

I used Nicorette gum, and, frankly, I still use it today. I really feel that it's a lot better than the carcinogens and tar and chemicals you inhale when you smoke. I know that I will never smoke again.

Has being a parent changed any of your other health habits?

Being a parent makes you much more health-conscious. You look at your children and want to set an example and do what's right, and you want to live and see your children get married and help raise their children.