Before they were suburban parents with superpowers, Michael Chiklis and Julie Benz lived very different TV lives. Chiklis made a name for himself as Detective Vic Mackey on FX’s gritty cop drama The Shield. And Benz associated with vampires and serial killers, with a recurring role on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, and a starring role on Dexter. They’ve now moved on to ABC’s sci-fi family drama No Ordinary Family, in which they play super-strong Jim and super-fast Stephanie. I spoke to Chiklis and Benz about the show’s lighter tone, network constraints, and fear of bathtubs.
TV.com: What do you think distinguishes No Ordinary Family from the other superhero shows we’ve seen on TV?
Julie: To me, it’s more of a family drama rather than a superhero show. It’s much more oriented to the masses rather than a niche audience.
TV.com: We’ve seen the Powells try to go on with their lives normally and be this "ordinary" family. How long is that going to last?
Michael: I think that’s going to remain a struggle for quite some time for them, to maintain some sense of normalcy. As time goes on and as they acclimate to these newfound powers—I actually think that’s one of the great sources of tension dramatically, and comedy as well. How much they use their powers, whether people are going to find out about it, and then what that would mean to their family, leading to further complications, all of that.
TV.com: You both come from darker TV dramas. What’s it like going from the worlds of Dexter and The Shield to a lighter series like No Ordinary Family?
Julie: It’s refreshing! [laughs]
Michael: Yeah. You know, those are great shows. Julie and I came off of really hard-hitting, dark, adult dramas. I think I can speak for both of us in saying that they were incredible experiences and wonderful as actors. But variety is the spice of life, and you want to stretch and try different things [instead of] having to be in sort of dark, dark spaces and dying in bathtubs and killing gangbangers.
Julie: It makes it easier for my parents to watch. [laughs]
Michael: That, too! And my kids.
TV.com: Julie, did the Dexter producers promise not to kill you off? Because that was really rough for Dexter fans.
Julie: It was rough for me! [laughs] It was rougher for me than it was for the fans. But yeah, we do have a giant bathtub on set, and the big joke is, I will not set foot near the bathtub. I will not go near it. Don’t really want to film any scenes in the bathroom. Perfectly happy staying in the bedroom.
Michael: It’s a really nice tub!
Julie: It’s beautiful! I’m afraid of it.
TV.com: Hey, Janet Leigh refused to take a shower unguarded after filming Psycho. You’re not alone on this.
Michael: [laughs] Julie’s having her bathroom renovated right now.
Julie: I know, but I don’t have a bathtub in it! It’s a walk-in shower.
TV.com: The show has been pretty light in tone so far, though we did see a murder in the second episode. Will No Ordinary Family be getting any darker, or is the tone fairly consistent?
Michael: In all honesty, my concern was that the show would just remain very light fare, but after having some great conversations with [showrunners] Greg [Berlanti] and Jon [Harmon Feldman], they want to do a show like last week’s that are very light—and paint it on a broad canvas. We go away to a decidedly darker tone in some shows, so it gives the show just a broader breadth for us to deal with. And I think that’s smart and leaves the show open for a whole lot of different places to go.
TV.com: Speaking of where this is going, how long do we have to wait before the whole family knows about JJ’s power?
Michael: Not long. Couple episodes. And by the way, some dark stuff coming right up. We have a battery of really, really strong shows. I think when you go from the luxury of a 16-day pilot shoot into series, which you’re condensing the same size show into nine days—it’s a big bear for us to get our arms around. But I think that the writers, the actors, the crew have finally gotten their arms around this bear, and there’s this tremendous arc of improvement throughout. The show’s only getting stronger.
TV.com: Are you finding it hard not being able to say “s***” on TV?
Julie: [laughs] It’s also refreshing.
Michael: [laughs] It is what it is. Again, people know broadcast television is different. I think it’s one of the reasons for me, just speaking for myself, that if I was going into network television, choosing a family-oriented show was much easier in that I don’t feel, in the context of this show, that we’re constricted by content. Because it is a family show. Now, if I was doing a cop drama, it would be very difficult for me having done The Shield. It’s really hard to go from a content-heavy, hard-hitting table drama to a quote-unquote hard-hitting drama on a broadcast network. It really is tough to go from saying “s***” to saying “dirtbag.”
TV.com: Last question. If your characters had to switch powers, how do you think you’d both fare?
Julie: If I was super strong and Michael was super fast?
Michael: That’s just weird.
Julie: [laughs] It wouldn’t work.
Michael: It wouldn’t. Look at me! [laughs] It would work for Julie—that’s what’s unfair.
Julie: You have legs of steel! I mean, your legs are steel. If you’ve ever felt Michael Chiklis’ legs, they’re made out of steel. They’re like rocks. [laughs] It makes sense that he’s super strong.
Michael: But Julie could pull it off on either front, ‘cause she’s really, really strong, but she’s also so sweet.
Julie: Yeah, I would fail with super strength.
No Ordinary Family airs Tuesday nights at 8pm on ABC.