Three Emmy awards, a Golden Globe Award and two SAG (Screen Actors Guild) Awards for Best Actor in a Comedy Series – these are just some of the accolades that actor Tony Shalhoub has earned for his portrayal of Adrian Monk, a brilliant detective who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) on the USA Network’s hit series Monk. Adrian’s psychological disorder costs him his position as a legendary homicide detective with the San Francisco Police Department. Due to the tragic unsolved murder of his wife, Monk has developed an abnormal fear of germs, heights, crowds and virtually everything else, which provides an unusual challenge to solving crimes…not to mention his day-to-day existence. Traylor Howard (Natalie Teeger), Ted Levine (Captain Leland Stottlemeyer), Jason Gray-Stanford (Lieutenant Randall Disher), Hector Elizondo (Dr. Neven Bell) and Emmy Clarke (Julie Teeger) co-star on the hit original series.
As Monk celebrates it’s eighth and final season, all of your questions will be answered. In addition to the return of Sharona Fleming, Monk’s beloved nurse and “Girl Friday,” played by Bitty Schram, and resolution to Monk’s efforts for reinstatement to the SFPD, the final episodes will concentrate on solving the murder of Monk’s beloved wife, Trudy. Guest-stars for season eight include Elizabeth Perkins, Rena Sofer, Dylan Baker, Meat Loaf, Bernie Kopell, Jay Mohr, Daniel Stern, Alex Wolff, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Eric Balfour, Kelly Carlson, Reed Diamond and Tim Bagley as Monk’s nemesis Harold Krenshaw. Feature director Dean Parisot (Fun With Dick and Jane), who directed the Monk pilot (in addition to Galaxy Quest, which Shalhoub), is scheduled to direct one of the final episodes of the show. Monk airs Friday nights @ 9 p.m. EST/8 p.m. CT on the USA Network.
At the end of July, myself and a group of other journalists had the pleasure of speaking with Tony Shalhoub about his work on Monk as well as other topics. An edited version of our Q & A follows. Enjoy!
What is the lasting impression you want audience members to take from watching your show and watching you?
TONY SHALHOUB - That’s a great question. I think, if I had to choose one thing, I would want people to take away this idea that sometimes peoples’ problems or neuroses are kind of a blessing in disguise. And even though there is sometimes pain associated with these things, sometimes in the face of adversity with obstacles to overcome, people can really kind of soar and find their higher selves. I think what we’ve tried to do on the show is we’ve portrayed my character as someone who turns his liabilities into assets in his life. And I don’t know this for sure, but I hope when we get to the end of season eight we’ll have seen some real healing from Monk, and I believe in that. I believe that there is healing and that there is change, and that all of those things are really key to all our lives.
I wondered if you had any input into the changes in Monk, because from the ads it seems that’s sort of looser and more comedic this season. Do you have a preference to comedy or drama?
TS - I don’t really have a preference, to be honest. In fact, my only preference is to have a great deal of variety and diversity in the material that I work on. I’ve been so fortunate throughout my career when I was doing theater – more with theater than anything else – as well as films that I’ve had a chance to do a broad range of things. A lot of my choices that I make are about that very thing. Every project that I have an opportunity to do or choose to do, I want to be different from the last thing I did, and I think that’s why I have a diverse kind of resume. It’s really what I originally set out to do as an actor.
You talked about your character and what he sort of means, but in terms of the pantheon of great TV series, what sort of legacy do you think this show will leave, and what will you take away from it in that regard?
TS - With the onslaught of cable and during a period where television is kind of redefining itself, there are precious few shows on the air that are suitable for a wider audience, like a younger audience, you know, such as people in their 30′s, and then those in their 70′s and 80′s. So I hope one of the things that will be remembered about this show is that it was one that all those different demographics could tune into and could appreciate on their own level. Again, there haven’t been a lot of shows like that in the last decade, so I hope that’s something people will focus on and remember for a long time. The fact that it’s still possible to tell interesting stories and good comedy without it all having to be exclusively adult-themed or super-violent or with language that some people might feel is inappropriate for younger audiences, and that Monk was kind of able to stand out and do that.
Have you found that the longer you play Monk, that the differences between you, Tony, and the character has eroded. In other words, have you become more like him and he more like you over the years?
TS- I would say yes, absolutely. I mean, I resisted it for a long time. I wrestled with it, I fought with it, I was in denial about it and all of that, but, inevitably, I feel like I’ve been “infected” in some ways by this character. Minor tendencies that I had in my life prior to Monk have just kind of ballooned and expanded,and it’s inevitable. I’ve given up trying to resist it. I’ve had to just surrender to it, and I’m hoping when the show is over that I’ll have some period of recovery, but I’m not holding my breath.
I wanted to know how the final season is structured? I mean, the season premiere seemed like a very standard, great, hilarious episode, but when do we kind of get into the wrapping of things up?
TS - Excellent question. We’re doing 16 episodes, so our first, say, 11 are our normal standalone ones, and then the last five epsiodes are when we’ll have a connected tissue and will start to get into the wrap up, not just of Monk but of some of the other characters as well. Then what the writers want to do with the final episodes, 15 and 16, is to make it one story, a two-parter that is aired in two segments and will wrap up/be the solving of Trudy’s murder.
What was the deciding factor to make this the final season?
TS- I think there are a lot of things at play there. I mean, there were long conversations that I had with Andy Breckman, one of the show’s co-creators and the main writer. We’ve been talking all along about how many seasons to do, how many episodes he [Andy] had in him, you know, as the writer. At one point, Andy said that he didn’t really think he had more than six seasons,and then he kind of got a gigantic second wind, and we did the seventh, and at that time we weren’t sure if the network was going to go with us on the eight. But to make a long story short, we all sort of agreed that season eight would be it for all of us. I think we will have done 124 episodes by the end of this season, and that we’re all ready to resolve the storyline and move on to other things. We certainly don’t want to go too long and have the quality start to wane and just limp to the finish line. We want to go out while we really feel that we’re still doing great work and delivering really strong episodes. We want to go out on a high.
How many of the old faces from past episodes are we going to see this last season as a way of saying good-bye?
TS - There’s been a lot of publicity about it, so I’m sure you’ve read about Sharona coming back; Bitty Schram is going to come back for, I believe, episode 12, which we’ll start shooting in September. They want to bring the Sharona character back and kind of wrap it up and give it a good send-off. A lot of people really missed Sharona and the dynamic between her and Monk, so we’re all looking forward to that. Of course, we’ll see Harold Krenshaw come back, who’s one of my favorites. He’s the other OCD patient who is always in “competition” with Monk, and he’s played so brilliantly by Tim Bagley. Dr. Bell, the psychiatrist, will be in a number of episodes. I lot of people have asked if we’re going to see Ambrose, and I really don’t think that’s in the cards because John is so busy and it’s difficult to schedule him. I mean, if I had my way we’d do kind of what Seinfeld did and bring back almost every-guest-star there ever was on the show, but ours is going to go in a different direction.
Being from Wisconsin, how did you make your way from there to Hollywood, and how, if it all, do your Midwestern roots impact your acting?
TS - I think they do. I went to college on the East Coast in Portland, Maine, and then graduate school at Yale Drama School. I worked in the theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts for years and moved to New York and then Los Angeles. That’s kind of the road map of it, but I also come back to Wisconsin every year. I have family here and this place was a fantastic place to grow up and it keeps me grounded and somewhat humble to return to it. Yes, I think it just keeps me balanced. I still have great, great friends there and feel like it’s home.
Have you, Tony, learned anything from your years with the character of Adrian Monk, and do you think Adrian has learned anything from Tony?
TS - Yes, I think I’ve learned something from Adrian. I think I’ve learned that sometimes, hyper-focusing on things is actually a good thing to do. Not all the time, and I wouldn’t want to be as fixated and obsessed as Adrian, but I’ve found that sometimes it’s really helpful to look at things in my own life with the same sort of relentlessness that Monk does. Just turning something over and over and trying to see it from all angles, and not being too quick to judge something or label something. So in that sense I feel like I’ve gained a little real-life wisdom. What has Monk gotten from me? Boy, I don’t know. That’s a really good question. Because I’ve been playing the role, I feel like Monk has maybe become a little more open to others and embraces other peoples’ point of view to the degree that he can. I feel like I’ve been that kind of a person, open-minded, in my life.
How involved were you in the development of the character of Monk, and are there any clues that point to the potential killer for Trudy besides the garage?
TS - Well, I wasn’t really there when the character was created. The script was around for a number of years before it came to me, although I do feel that I’ve had some significant input. When I came to the project, the script and the character were somewhat different, and I had long conversations with Andy Breckman about kind of morphing the character more towards to what I wanted to do, more to my strengths. The original script that I was was a little more slapstick, and I want to emphasize the darker aspects of this character. So that was a conversation that a lot of the producers had in the beginning, and I think Andy did such a great job tweaking what he had originally written to fit me and what I wanted to do. As far as the other clues, well, I don’t want to give away too much before there episodes air because I think it’s going to be a lot more interesting for people to discover things as we go along.
In your own life, have you found some of Monk’s compulsions entering your life in small ways and, if so, what were they?
TS- Well, you know, they take so many different forms and kind of crop up at the oddest times, really. Sometimes there are moments where I feel like I’m nothing like my character, but then something will happen and I’ll just realize that I’m rearranging something on a table at a restaurant. At that particular moment seems like it’s absolutely essential that the sugar packets are facing one way and that everything else has to stop until this particular task is completed. Then I realize, what the hell am I doing? I’m channeling the character again. So it would take me about an hour-and-a-half to describe all the things that occur, but just trust me, it just kind of comes over me in waves and I have to really, really check myself and try to pull myself out of these things.
A big loss for your show was the loss of Stanley Kamel as Dr. Kroger, and we know how Monk is dealing with the loss of that character, but can you tell us a little bit about how Tony is dealing with the loss of Stanley?
TS - It’s been really tricky, and it’s almost as if he has never left us because his name comes up in stories, and anecdotes about him come up all the time on the set. So he’s missed, but we try to sort of keep him alive in our midst. Stanley was here from the very, very beginning, from the pilot episode, and I have to say that those Dr. Kroger scenes in the pilot were so important, just in terms of my process, my discovery of who Monk is. I think those scenes, in particular, were the most informative for me and the richest. They really, really helped me to define the parameters of this guy, my character. So yes, I carry that with me and have for all these seasons. And now, when I’m in these sessions, these scenes with Hector Elizondo, who plays Dr. Bell, I can’t even go into those scenes without this little internal toast if you will to Stanley Kamel because he was the original doctor. I like to think that he’s in those sessions with me. He is missed.
I was wondering if you have a favorite guest-star over the years on Monk and maybe a favorite who you’ve worked with so far this year?
TS - It’s so hard for me to pick a favorite because there have been so many great ones, and I’ve had the chance to bring friends of mine on the show. I mean, people who I’ve worked with in the past, like Stanley Tucci and John Tuturro, and people who I’ve always wanted to work with like Laurie Metcalf. But I have to say of all the seasons and all the guest-stars, the most thrilling for me was last season working with Gena Rowlands on Mr. Monk and the Lady Next Door. She was such a tremendous influence on me when I was a student and studying acting. I was a devotee of John Cassavetes movies and the movies she did separate from him. When we were casting that particular episode, The Lady Next Door, there were a number of names on the list, and I pitched Gena Rowlands. I was stunned and thrilled to find out that she wanted to do it. And then working those eight days with her was just, you know, when we finished that episode I felt like I could retire, that I had done everything I needed to do now. She was so gracious and so good, and, of course, she’s been nominated for an Emmy for that episode, too, so I will hopefully see her at the Emmys in September.
You talked about your favorite guest-stars, but I was wondering if you had a favorite episode of Monk?
TC - Man, this is so difficult because I have so many that are just near and dear to me. I will kind of re-frame the question in the answer, I think. I will say the ones where I think we’ve done the best. In other other words, those episodes where we did 100% of what we set out to do, or 100% of how we imagined the show should be in a perfect world where we’re doing our job to the best of our ability. Of those episodes, one would be the first John Tuturro episode where we meet the character of Ambrose. That was called Mr. Monk and the Three Pies. Another favorite of mine was Mr. Monk Takes His Medicine because it was a chance for me to play my character almost as a different one, or see a different part of him emerge. We just shot an episode this season called Mr. Monk is Someone Else, and it’s an episode where there’s this character who looks just like Monk and who happens to be a professional hit man for the Mafia. When he dies, Monk is asked to assume this guy’s personality and become him. So these opportunities to kind of transform within the character are really, really challenging and satisfying.
While it’s going to be addressed in the final season, do you think it should be solved or left for the audience as more of a McGuffin?
TS- I really think it should be solved. I know there are people who say that maybe it shouldn’t because that would mean there would be life for this character beyond the series, and that possibly the solving of Trudy’s murder would cure him in some way or take down his OCD symptoms. As a result, the character wouldn’t really be the character who we’ve come to recognize. I really feel, though, that we’ve worked this storyline so delicately and for so long that I think we owe it not just to the audience and ourselves, but to the characters of Monk and Trudy that we’ve created.
What’s the most memorable moment you’ve had filming the series?
TS - Probably when I was doing the episode with Stanley Tucci, Mr. Monk and the Actor, and the two of us were reunited having worked together a number of times. During the climax of the episode, I take the gun away from him and we’re sitting on the floor and leaning up against the counter with our arms over each other’s shoulders. That was reminiscent of a moment in [the feature film] Big Night, which was such a gigantic turning point for me, I think, in terms of my film career. So that moment in Monk reminded me of that moment and was a pretty emotional time for me.
Your fans want to know what’s up next for you. After you’re done with Monk, are you going to take a nice long vacation or will we get the pleasure of seeing you more on the big screen?
TS - Well, I don’t want to take too long a vacation, although I do think I need a break. Whenever I take too long a break or don’t work for a while, all my demons start to resurface and I go a little nuts. I did work on an independent feature this past winter, which I hope will be coming out soon called Feed the Fish, a movie that I acted in as well as co-produced. We’re looking for a distribution deal for this picture, so people should watch for it. Beyond that, I really want to take some time to decide which direction to go in next. I might do some theater for year before I do any more television. I think I need a break from hour-long episodic for a while.
What has made a career in this industry rewarding for you so far?
TS - Well, a number of things. Having the opportunity to work in all three different mediums: theater, film and television. Having the opportunity to work with people that I really respect and, most importantly, having longeity in the industry, which was my original objective from way, way back. It was never really one of my goals to gain tremendous amount of celebrity or make a tremendous amount of money necessarily, but it was very important to me when I set out that I would be able to do this [acting] for a long period of time and not burn out took quickly or necessarily paint myself into a corner by doing one thing. That’s another reason why I think it’s a healthy and perfect time to bring Monk to an end because there are other things I really want to do.
As noted above, photo is copyright of the USA Network, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!