The Shield's hard-as-nails, Michael Chiklis has a soft spot for his Boston home.

Michael Chiklis can't remember a time when he wasn't a Boston RedSox fan. Just talking about Fenway Park makes his trademark raspyvoice go soft. "There's no better place to see a baseball game," he says. "To know it is to love it." As Vic Mackey, the magnetic, Machiavellian L.A. cop at the center of The Shield, Chiklishas earned a reputation as a bruiser with a Bruce Willis smirk. In real life, Chiklis ("Chikie" to his friends) is a family man with a big laugh and a serious soft spot for Boston, the city he still calls home, even though he hasn't lived there in two decades. And nothing gets him nostalgic like talking about America's pastime."Fenway Park is a home-run hitter's venue, a defender's nightmare,"he says. "It's got all kinds of holes in it, places where you can hit a ball, and it's a real problem for the outfielders." Herattles this off with the ease of a man who has had this conversation before, over a pint or four at the Cask 'n Flagon, the sports bar where everyone is welcome (except Yankees fans). "The Sox have always been a heavy-hitting team, but we're better defensively now," he says. Then he stops for a moment. "Listen tome. I sound like I'm doing an interview for ESPN."

Chiklis was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, but when he was five, his family moved to Andover, the very pink of New England's prepschool culture' something of a shift for Chiklis's middle-classfamily. "It's a Waspy town, and we were a Greek family who moved onup," he says. "But it was cool. I was sort of a street urchin who got educated."­ Chiklis was five or six years old when he announced his life's ambition: to become an actor. "And my parents were like, 'Sure, next week you'll want to be a fireman,'?" he says.

But Chiklis never faltered. With his parents' encouragement, he did summer stock in New Hampshire and scored a raft of regional shows closer to home. He was captain of the football team at Andover High, but it was acting that fired his imagination. When it was time for college, he applied to one place - Boston University's School of Arts. "It's a good thing I got in," he says. "I don't think I realized how competitive it was. Like, out of 3,000 people,85 people got in. What was I thinking?" Luckily, he was one of those 85, and he spent the next four years in Boston immersed instage work - learning Shakespeare, studying Chekhov.

At night he lined his pocket as a court jester at Medieval Manor, a Renaissance-themed restaurant where he offered customers wine andone-liners. He played drums in a female-fronted rock band, DoubleTalk, a group with a philosophy of noise and Aqua Net above all else. "We would play the club circuit, these really nasty places like the Rathskeller, also known as the Rat, and we'd play theChannel, the Spit, the Roxy. We'd play the Paradise and the Middle East in Cambridge, and by the way, those two are places I still go to nowadays. The Middle East is a small, intimate venue, and it's agreat place to see everybody from King Crimson to the Dixie Dregs."

Of course, playing rock music in the '80s came with one imperative- big hair. "Believe it or not, the bald guy had some big hair, and it was long," says Chiklis, whose shiny skull has earned him a place among the recognizable-bald-guy ranks of Telly Savalas and Mr. Clean. Chiklis even did a Bertolt Brecht play, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, with a Mohawk - "and it actually worked for the character," he adds. Not everyone was pleased with the fashion statement, however. "At the time, my dad owned a beauty salon called Talk of the Town, which is now called Shear Image. And you can imagine - me walking in with a jet-black Mohawk? He had some suggestions."

Soon after graduating from BU, Chiklis moved to New York and prepared for greatness. Greatness, however, took its sweet time. Chiklis scrapped and starved like any barely working actor and eventually landed the lead in the critically maligned 1989 John Belushi biopic Wired. Next came the likable small-town title character in the 1991-95 television series The Commish. But afterward, he fell into a rut, stereotyped as the doughboy do-gooder. So he shed the nice-guy image - lost 50 pounds, shaved his head, and ended up scoring the role of a lifetime, Vic Mackey, in Shawn Ryan's renegade FX series about crooked cops, The Shield.

Loosely based on scandals in L.A.'s Rampart division, The Shield brings viewers inside the tense, morally compromised world of cops in the fictional town of Farmington. Mackey is the swaggering tough who runs the department's strike team with all the subtlety of a pickax. He is a classic antihero, a protagonist so compelling that even after he killed one of his own men in the pilot episode, it's still hard to dislike the guy. Over the course of the show's first four seasons, he cheated on his (now ex-) wife, planted evidence on several suspects, stole from the Armenian mob, and strong-armed justice a number of times in the name of, well, not law as much as order. Chiklis compares Vic Mackey to Shakespeare's Richard III, a character he calls "one of the greatest ever written" (he also hopes to make a film version of that play). The witches' brew of ego, pride, and power suits him well: Chiklis has won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his performance on The Shield.