Michael Chiklis on Classic Sports Movie Comparisons: ‘When the Game Stands Tall’ Is Not About Football

The veteran actor tells TheWrap why he thinks the film has a place among all-time sports movies

Michael Chiklis

Michael Chiklis is best known for his role as corrupt LAPD detective Vic Mackey on the long-running hit series “The Shield,” but he’s about to show more of his passionate, inspiring side in the upcoming feel-good sports film “When the Game Stands Tall.” Chiklis plays the part of Terry Eidson, an assistant football coach at De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif. The film tells the story of how the Spartans handle adversity and come together after 12 straight state titles and 151 consecutive wins.

TheWrap talked with Chiklis after a screening of the film and discussed the similarities between working in sports and working in Hollywood, his hopes for the film’s success and how it stacks up against other classic sports films such as “Rudy,” “Hoosiers” and “Remember the Titans.”

TheWrap: Tell me about the character you play in the film, and what you think will resonate with people about him.
Chiklis: Well, I play Terry Eidson, who is (head coach) Bob’s (Ladouceur) right hand. If Bob is the brains of the operation, Terry is the heart and passion. He’s a really excitable boy, an “A” personality. He gets the kids fired up, whereas Coach Lad is stoic and a man of few words. They’re very different; they’re an odd couple, but at the same time, they’re a perfect complement to each other. They really are sort of like peanut butter and jelly … it just works.

The biggest thing is that they share a common goal, which is to make these boys into men — young men who are responsible, conscionable and actually answerable that take personal responsibility and accountability for their lives. I really liked these guys (Eidson and Ladouceur); I liked them as soon as I met them. I really thought, “These are a couple of cool guys and they remind me a lot of my high school coaches.” I was really blessed to have some great coaches in Andover, Mass. (Editor’s note: Chiklis was born in Lowell, Mass., but by age 6, he moved to Andover. He’s a graduate of Andover High.) I remember so many specific things about what I learned from them that — as a 50-year-old father of two and a husband — I still apply to my life.

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As an actor, film and television is a tremendously collaborative sport. You know, let’s get 135 people together and make a show. If you can’t play nice and collaborate with people and be reliable and consistent, then you’re not going to be very successful for very long in any industry. We talk an awful lot about the film industry and the television industry and how special it is, but really, it’s like so many other walks of life. It’s a business, and it’s a business that you have to collaborate with other people and work with other people. The people that have long-lasting, substantive careers are the ones that work well with people and are grounded and real. That’s my experience.

Being an accomplished actor at this point in your career with a lot of strong credits to your name, do you think “When the Game Stands Tall” will be a box office hit?
I’m really hopeful. Selfishly, part of it is I hope it does well so they’ll continue making movies like this because it’s soulful and it’s real and relatable. The only thing I’m reluctant about is making it sound like it’s a preachy film, because it just isn’t. I think it’s a really cool story and it’s really, really well told with wonderful performances. It doesn’t bash you over the head; you just get caught up in the story.

I’m also a big fan of where they decided to tell this story from. The clichéd version would be to tell this story of the streak and through its rise, then to its conclusion. You’re at the end of the streak by the end of the first act. And then it’s about adversity, and overcoming that.

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Obviously, football is central to this film, but there are plenty of life values that you can get out of watching it. Do you think it will resonate with a non-football-loving audience?
Absolutely. It’s not about football. I can think of at least a half-dozen people that were incredibly pivotal in my life and my success. Without them, I don’t know what would’ve happened to me, and I don’t know if it would’ve been pretty. I’m incredibly thankful for it. That’s about personal growth … that’s what I’m really hopeful will resonate with the audience. That’s what this (film) is about.

How do you think this film compares to other sports films like “Rudy,” “Hoosiers,” “Remember the Titans” and “Miracle”?
I hope it has its place in that pantheon. Personally, I think it holds up in that realm. What makes it stand out is where it picks up the story thematically, and then this guy (points to Jim Caviezel, who plays Coach Lad). He’s the lynchpin of it, playing an uncommon coach. A lot of coaches are portrayed as fiery and screamers. Coach Lad is one of those guys that could level you with a look, and make your blood run cold.

“When the Game Stands Tall” opens nationwide in theaters Aug. 22.