Until now, no one has rivaled the physical presence of Mackey, but that may change with the addition of Forest Whitaker (Platoon, The Crying Game) to the cast as Detective Jon Kavanaugh. Whitaker is an actor who manages to loom large while maintaining a quiet gravity. Then again, quiet may not be on the table for a show like The Shield. "We do a lot of nasty head-butting, the two of us," Chiklis says of his and Whitaker's characters. He won't reveal much about the season, but he does offer this: "Some things come full circle, and it deals with conscience. We have a tagline for every season. This year the tagline is 'conscience is a killer,' and it has to do with my character's odyssey. The original sin of the show, so to speak, is coming back to haunt me."

In the past year, writer/executive producer Shawn Ryan has hinted that the show may be coming to a close, but Chiklis isn't so sure. "One of our collective fears is that we'll let this show fade or become long in the tooth," he says. "We were talking about [ending the show] a lot before this season, but we came into this season, and it feels as fresh as season one. Maybe even better, because we're a well-oiled machine now. We know how to do it."

In the meantime, Chiklis is making forays into film. Last year, in order to play the Thing in Fantastic Four, he donned a costume so cumbersome it actually sent him into therapy - it was that traumatic. "Seeing my daughters' faces made it worth it, though," he says. Chiklis has two daughters, Autumn and Odessa, and he was glad they could finally see him in something made for their demographic. (Autumn plays Chiklis's daughter on The Shield, but he has been adamant about not letting her watch certain violent scenes.) This summer, he braves the massive costume again to shoot the sequel, due to open in the summer of 2007.

He's also starring in a supernatural thriller with Lucy Liu called Rise, slated for this summer. "I can't really describe it without giving too much away," he says. "I'll just say that Lucy is divine in it. And it's got a real old-school genuine American noir feel to it." In the film, Chiklis plays an L.A. cop, somewhat familiar territory. "On the surface, people are saying 'Why are you doing this movie?' Like, big stretch, you know? When you see it, you'll see why. It's very different than anything I've done."

Were there any downtime (there isn't), he'd love to take his family back to their beloved Boston. He would book a room for his family at their favorite hotel, the Ritz-Carlton,­ overlooking the Public Garden, and take his wife to a hushed, romantic dinner at Petit Robert Bistro in Kenmore Square, or at L'Espalier on Gloucester. One afternoon the family could go shopping along Charles Street or inside Copley Place, and later they could stop at the Boston Children's Museum or the New England Aquarium. And at night, they could visit the North End to fill up at any number of that area's classic Italian restaurants - Lucia, Joe Tecce's, Mamma Maria. "You just can't find Italian food like that on the West Coast," he says. "It just doesn't exist."

Of course, Chiklis would have to catch some sports while he was in town. He loves his Patriots, but it's the Sox who have his heart. In 2002, Chiklis threw out the first pitch at a Sox game, and you get the feeling that, along with his Emmy and his Golden Globe, it was the kind of honor that can make a guy's life. Afterward, he joined a group of friends for dinner at Abe & Louie's steak house, and they feasted on rib eyes and red wine. "Now, that was a good day," he says with a sigh.

Sometimes, he even misses the bitter Boston winter. "People always complain about the weather and changing of the seasons," he says. "But what happens is, as a result, there is this exchange of ideas that happens while you spend those winters in Boston. There are almost 50 colleges and universities in the city, so when I went to college there, it was such a wonderful place to be, surrounded by students and ideas. People are real in Boston. They don't mess around. They tell it like it is." He makes a little groan. "Talking about this stuff is making me homesick."

Sometimes, when he's in sunny L.A., he overhears someone with a Boston accent, and he can't help but stop to chat. "It gives me that feeling you only get from the things that are home," he says. "It's all those things that make you smile, that remind you of when you were a kid growing up and the joy you had, that remind you of the certain things that only your city got right."