LOS ANGELES, Jan. 6 (UPI) -- As the star of FX's landmark cop show, The Shield, Michael Chiklis is no stranger to complex morality dramas. His new series, Coyote, explores the complexities that face characters on both sides of the Mexico-California border.
"People really learn and grow when they're brought out of their own comfort zone," Chiklis said at a recent Television Critics Association panel. "That's true not only of my character, but for myself in the situation."
In Coyote, which premieres Thursday on CBS All Access, Chiklis plays Ben Clemons, a retired Border Patrol agent. He travels to Mexico to repair and then sell his late partner Javi's house to provide for Javi's widow and children.
One night, Maria Elena Flores (Emy Mena) sneaks into the back seat of Ben's car and begs him to take her to the United States. Ben, instead, delivers her to the local police, but learns she is pregnant with the son of a local criminal, Dante.
Maria finds Ben at Javi's house looking for protection. When Dante sends two men looking for her, she kills them in self-defense, embroiling Ben in a drama he never considered during his years on the job.
"It's really rare that you get an opportunity to play someone who sees the world in a particular way and really changes," Chiklis said. "[Ben] is truly, deeply challenged by his circumstance."
A coyote is the casual term for someone who smuggles undocumented immigrants across the border. Ben reluctantly becomes a coyote after spending his whole life arresting undocumented immigrants.
The actor, who also shares an executive producer credit on Coyote, recognizes that the subject matter of the show is controversial. Coyote forces Ben to consider one possible reason desperate people flee their country without going through the formal immigration process.
"This is a highly politicized subject, and we're bringing a human face to it," Chiklis said. "This is about humanity."
The wall along sections of the U.S.-Mexico border makes an appearance in the second episode of Coyote. Although the drama of Coyote is set against a real-world backdrop, Chiklis said the show's priority is to entertain.
Should the story of Coyote spur viewers' opinions about real issues, that would be a bonus, Chiklis said.
"We're just going to tell stories and have all different kinds of points of view," Chiklis said. "Hopefully, people who have galvanized their positions might look at things differently or not."
The subject of an authority figure engaging in illegal activities may remind viewers of The Shield. On the FX series, Chiklis played Vic Mackey, a corrupt cop in charge of his own strike force.
Critics asked Chiklis about similarities between Coyote and The Shield. As Ben gets wrapped up in illegal activities, Chiklis reminded viewers that his character is a retired private citizen.
"This isn't a cop show at all," Chiklis said.
The production of Coyote went south of the border, too. Chiklis said filming in Baja, Mexico, helped him feel closer to the world in which the story occurs.
"We've been to the Sonoran Desert, to the coastline, in the mountains and at the border," Chiklis said. "It's just been extraordinary."