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Interview: Tony Shalhoub Discusses Monk's Final Season
As the final season of Monk is set to premiere on USA next month, Tony Shalhoub was kind enough to take time out from his family reunion in Wisconsin to participate in a conference call with the press about the series. The interview is light on spoilers, though Shalhoub did discuss some of the things that are to come as the new season resumes.
Shalhoub also answered questions about his life as compared to his character Adrian Monk, his favorite episodes and memorable guest stars, being from Wisconsin, the Packers and his career beyond the show.
Below is the full transcript of the interview:
I was wondering, whatís the lasting impression you want audience members to take from watching your show and watching you?
T. Shalhoub Thatís a great question. I think, if I had to choose one thing, I would say that I would want people to take away this idea that sometimes peopleís problems or neuroses are really the things that are kind of a blessing in disguise, and even though thereís, you know, sometimes thereís pain associated with these things that sometimes in the face of adversity with obstacles to overcome, people can really kind of soar and find their higher selves and I think thatís what weíve tried to do on the show is weíve portrayed this character as someone who turns his liability, his liabilities into assets per his life. And that thereís Ė and I hope that when we get to the end Ė I donít know this for sure, but I hope when we get to the end of season eight that weíll 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 Ė they are just really, really key to all of our lives.
I wondered if you had any input into the new changes of Monk because, I mean, from the ads, it seems that heís sort of looser and more comedic, and I wondered, because you mentioned that you really wanted to do a Galaxy Quest II. Do you have a preference to comedy or drama or horror, because I know youíve done Thir13en Ghosts, and you had a big part in 1408 and suchÖ
T. Shalhoub: Well, I donít really have a preference, to be honest. In fact, my only preference is to have a lot of variety and diversity in the material that I work on. Iíve been so fortunate throughout my career, when I was doing theater, more theater than anything else, and when I was doing films that I got a chance just to do a broad range of things. In fact, a lot of my choices that I made were about that very thing. Every project that I had an opportunity to do or chose to do, I wanted it to be different from the last thing I did, and I think thatís why I have a good, you know, I had kind of a diverse kind of rťsumť. Iím really Ė itís what I set out to do as an actor originally.
You talked about the character and what he sort of means, but in terms of the pantheon of great television series, what sort of legacy do you think this show leaves, and what do you sort of take away from it in that regard?
T. Shalhoub: Well, I think one of the things that will be remembered about this show, I hope will be remembered, is that at a time when there was, in a lot of television, especially with the onslaught of cable and in a period where television is kind of redefining itself, that there were precious few shows on the air that were suitable for a wider audience, like a younger audience, you know, people in their 30ís and then people like elderly people in the 70ís and 80ís. That there was a show that all those different demographics could tune into and appreciate, and would appreciate on their own level.
And I think there arenít a lot of shows like that. There havenít been a lot of shows like that in the last decade. And I hope that thatís something that people will focus on and remember for a long time, you know, that itís still possible to do interesting stories and good comedy without having it have to be all exclusively adult themed kinds of things or super violent or with language that some people might feel is inappropriate for younger audiences, and that this show was kind of able to stand out and do that.
One time when I interviewed you, you mentioned that youíre the only one at your home who knows how to absolutely Ė the only right way to load the dishwasher, which struck me as a kind of Monk thing to say.
T. Shalhoub: Iím not the only one in my home. Iím the only one in my community, I think, my entire neighborhood, Iím pretty sure.
Who knows how to load the dishwasher right? My question is, have you found that the longer you play Monk, that the differences between you, Tony, and the character has eroded, which is to say, have you become more like him, and he more like you, over the years?
T. Shalhoub: 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, you know, there have been some Ė as I said, in interviews too. I feel like Iíve been infected in some way by this character. Tendencies, you know, minor tendencies that Iíve had in my life prior to Monk have just kind of ballooned and expanded and itís inevitably. I mean, I just, thereís no point in trying to Ė Iíve given up trying to resist it. Iíve had to just surrender to it. I mean, Iím hoping that when Monk is over that Iíll have some period of recovery, but Iím not holding my breath.
How is the final season 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?
T. Shalhoub: Excellent question. What the writers have in mind is to do, you know, as you said, our normal standalone episodes for the first, I would say, 11, because weíre doing 16, as usual. So the first 11, I would say, are going to be standalone, and then the last 5 is when weíll be kind of connected. Theyíll have a connected tissue, and weíll start to get into the wrap up, not just of Monk, but of some of the other characters as well. Then what they want to do is the final two episodes, number 15 and 16, itíll just be one story, a two-part, you know, aired in two segments. Just to follow Ė that episode, I mean that two-part will involve the wrap up of Trudyís murder, you know, the solving of Trudyís murder.
What was the deciding factor to make this season the final season?
T. Shalhoub: Well, I think there were a lot of things at play there. I mean, long conversations that I had with Andy Breckman, you know, one of the co-creators and the main writer. Weíve been talking all along about how many seasons to do, how many episodes that he had in him, you know, as the writer. He, at one point, said that he didnít think really he had more than six seasons, and then he kind of got a gigantic second wind, and we did the seventh, and we werenít sure when we were doing the seventh if the network was going to go with us on the eighth. But to make a long story short, we all kind of agreed that the eighth season would be it for all of us.
I think it will have 124 episodes by the end of the eighth season, and I think weíre all ready to resolve the storyline and move on to other things. We certainly donít 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 weíre still really, we feel really that weíre doing great work and delivering really strong episodes. We want to go out on a high.
How many of the old faces for past episodes are we going to see as a way of saying good-bye this last season?
T. Shalhoub: Well, weíll certainly, Iím sure youíve probably read because thereís been a lot of publicity about Sharona coming back. Bitty Schram is going to come back for episode Ė I believe itís episode number 12, which will start shooting in September. And they want to bring that character back and kind of wrap it up and kind of give that a good send off. A lot of people really missed that character and the dynamic between Monk and Sharona. And so weíre all looking forward to that.
Of course, weíll see Harold Krenshaw comes back, one of my favorites. Heís the other OCD patient who is always kind of in competition with Monk, played so brilliantly by Tim Bagley. Heís going to return for at least a couple of episodes.
And well, thatís it. I mean, of course, Dr. Bell, the psychiatrist will be in a number of episodes. I donít think Ė people have asked if weíre going to see Ambrose. I donít really think that's in the cards simply because thatís Ö John is so busy. Itís difficult to schedule him in. I mean, if I had my way, weíd 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 Wisconsin to Hollywood, and do your Midwestern roots impact your acting at all and how?
T. Shalhoub: Boy, I think so. I think they do. I went to college on the East Coast in Portland, Maine. I went to graduate school at Yale Drama School. I worked in the theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts for years, and moved to New York, and then to Los Angeles. I mean, thatís kind of the Ė that was kind of the roadmap of it.
But I also come back to Wisconsin every year, and I have family here, of course, and I donít know. I just think thereís a Ė you know, this place kind of was a fantastic place to grow up and kind of keeps me kind of grounded and keeps me somewhat humble just to kind of return to it. Yes, I think it just keeps me balanced. I still have great, great friends and feel like itís home.
Just to reflect on some of the earlier questions somewhat, but itís a little more specific. Have you, Tony, learned anything from your years with the character of Adrian Monk, and do you think Adrian has learned anything from Tony?
T. Shalhoub: Well, I think yes. I think I have learned something from Adrian. I think Iíve learned to Ė sometimes, you know, hyper-focusing on things is actually a good thing to do. Not all the time, and I wouldnít want to be as kind of fixed Ė you know, get as fixated and as obsessed as Adrian, but sometimes, you know, Iíve found that itís really helpful to look at things in my own life with the same kind of sort of relentlessness that Monk does, just turning something over and 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 Iíve gained a little real life wisdom.
What has Monk gotten from me? Boy, I donít know. Thatís a really good question. I feel like Monk has maybe become a little more Ė because I was playing the role, maybe Monk has become a little more open to others and embraces to the level, to the degree that he can, embraces other peopleís point of view. I feel like Iíve been that kind of a person in my life, open-minded.
How involved were you with the development of the character of Monk, and are there any clues that point to the potential killer for Trudy besides the garage?
T. Shalhoub: Well, I wasnít 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 Iíve had some significant input. When I came to the project, the script and the character was 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 read was somewhat more Ė was a little more slap sticky, and I wanted to emphasize the kind of darker aspects of this character and more Ö and so that was a conversation that a lot of the producers had in the beginning. And I think Andy did such a great job morphing what he had originally written to fit me and what I wanted to do.
As far as the other clues, well, I donít want to give away too much before these episodes air because I think itís going to be a lot more interesting for people to discover things as we go along.
Youíve already talked about how, through the years, youíve become more similar to Monk, and I was just wondering if, in your own life, you found some of his compulsions entering your life in small ways and, if so, kind of what they were.
T. Shalhoub: Well, you know, they take so many different forms and kind of crop up at the oddest times really. Sometimes I feel like Ė there are moments when I feel like Iím just nothing like the character. But then something will happen, and Iíll just realize that Iím rearranging something on a table at a restaurant, which seems that in that particular moment, seems like itís 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? Iím channeling the character again. So it would take me about an hour and a half to describe all of 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 and pull myself out of these things.
Listen, the question I have for you is that of course a big loss for your show throughout these years was the loss of Stanley Kamel as Dr. Kroger.And we know kind of how Monk is dealing with the loss of the character, but can you tell us a little bit about Tony dealing with the loss of Stanley?
T. Shalhoub: You know, itís been really tricky, and we all speak Ö itís almost as if he has never left us because his name comes up in stories, and anecdotes come up about him all the time on the set. And heís missed, but we try to sort of keep him alive in our Ė you know, keep in our midst. He was there from the very, very beginning, from the pilot episode, and I have to say, you know, those scenes, those Dr. Kroger scenes in the pilot were so important, just in terms of my process, my discovery of who Monk was.
I think those scenes in particular were the most informative for me and the richest. They really, really helped me to kind of define the parameters of this guy, of my character. So, yes, I kind of carry that with me and have for all these seasons. And now, when Iím in these sessions, these scenes with Hector Elizondo, who plays Dr. Bell, I canít even go into these scenes without just this little Ė I sort of do this little internal toast, as it were, to Stanley Kamel because he was the original doctor. I like to think that heís kind of there in those sessions with me. He is missed.
Over the years, you guys, as youíve discussed, have had a lot of guest stars on the show. I was wondering if you had a favorite over the years and maybe a favorite youíve worked with so far this year.
T. Shalhoub: Itís so hard for me to pick a favorite because there have been so many great ones, and Iíve had the chance to bring friends of mine on the show, I mean, people that Iíve worked with in the past like Stanley Tucci and John Turturro and people that Iíve always wanted to work with like Laurie Metcalf. But I have to say, of all of the seasons, and of all of 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 even separate from him.
I was the one who actually when we were casting that particular episode, The Lady Next Door, there were a number of names on the list, and I pitched her name. And 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, I felt really, 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 sheís been nominated for an Emmy for that episode too, so I will hopefully see her at the Emmys in September.
I think the character of Monk has been portrayed very respectful. What was the process you went into in the research to try to make sure you didnít go over the top and play it maybe possibly offensive?
T. Shalhoub: The process was really one of - itís a process that I use and have used in approaching other characters, which is to find out Ė you know, knowing that itís a comedy and to find out what Ė in any comedy, what I try to do is I try and find out what are the more serious aspects of the character. And, conversely, when I do a serious role, I try and find out whatís funny about the character. And the beauty of this particular character is that Iíve had the opportunity to do both comedy and drama within one series, one character.
So I guess to answer your question, itís really digging out the Ė when youíre doing the comedic moments, digging out whatís really, really at stake and what is the most important and most serious thing to the character, which I believe informs the comedy. And then conversely, you know, when the moments are really dark and poignant, trying to infuse those with an unexpected and sometimes inappropriate or seemingly inappropriate comedic flash, you know, a little spark of something absurd or comedic. Thatís been my approach.
I know you talked about your favorite guest stars, but I was wondering if you had a particular favorite episode of Monk.
T. Shalhoub: Man. This is so difficult because I have so many that are just so near and dear to me. I kind of will reframe the question in the answer, I think. The ones that Ė I will say the ones where I think we did, where weíve done the best, in 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 when weíre doing our job Ė just the best. Those episodes would be, I would say, the first John Turturro episode where we meet the character of Ambrose. That was called ďMr. Monk and the Three PiesĒ.
Another favorite of mine was ďMr. Monk Takes His MedicineĒ because it was a chance for me to do this character almost as a different character Ė see a different part of him emerge. We did an episode that we just shot in the first part of season eight, which will be airing in about a month. Itís called Mr. Monk is Someone Else, and itís an episode where itís basically Ö assume this character of a man who looks just like him, but the character happens to be a professional hit man for the mafia, and this character dies, and Monk is asked to take on, you know, to take this guy on and become him. And so those opportunities to kind of transform within the character are really, really challenging and satisfying.
Trudyís murder has been one of the most successful narrative arcs in television history, rivaling even Mulderís sister Samantha on the X-Files.
T. Shalhoub: Wow.
So what do you think Ė while itís 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?
T. Shalhoub: I really think it should be solved. I know there are people who say that maybe it shouldnít because that would mean that there would be life for this character beyond the series and that possibly the solving of Trudyís murder would cure him in some way or take down his OCD symptoms, and then the character wouldnít really be the character that weíve come to recognize. But I really feel that weíve worked this storyline so delicately and for so long that I think we owe it to not just the audience and to ourselves, but to the character of Monk and to the character of Trudy that weíve created. I think we should solve it.
Whatís the most memorable moment youíve had filming the series?
T. Shalhoub: The most memorable moment? I canít remember my most memorable. I think I would have to say the most memorable moment would be when I was doing the episode with Stanley Tucci, ďMr. Monk and the ActorĒ, and he and I were, you know, having been reunited from having worked together for a number of times, he and I sort of, in the climax of the episode where I take the gun away from him, and weíre kind of sitting on the floor leaning up against this counter thing, you know, kind of our arms over each otherís shoulders because it was reminiscent of a moment in Big Night, which was such a gigantic turning point for me, I think, in terms of film of my career. So in that moment in Monk kind of reminded me of the moment in the movie was pretty emotional, a pretty emotional time.
Now just because USA is bringing the series to an end because of their choice and collectively yours, as weíve heard, it doesnít mean another network down the line, a couple of years or so, wouldnít pick it up, following, of course, on from the reveal of who the killer was. Now is this a choice that youíve thought about that maybe you would contemplate a return to the character down the line in a couple, three years perhaps?
T. Shalhoub: You know, Iíveiven that a lot of thought. I feel like Iím ready to put this character to rest, but by the same token, I never say never, and circumstances could change, and I could change my mind. Certainly Iíve been known to change my mind. I just think time will tell. I would never ever rule something like that out. I hope that answers your question.
Do you ever foresee maybe doing specials in the future? And also, what are you going to miss the most about playing this character that youíve played for so long?
T. Shalhoub: Well, to answer your first question, I assume youíre talking about like a TV movie or something of the character the way Colombo did. I donít really see that being so likely just because I think Iím going to be Ė Iím hoping that Iím going to be busy with other things. Maybe Iím diluting myself.
I just watched the season premier, and this question is sort of specific to that. Have you ever run across any people who are as passionate about Adrian Monk as Adrian was about ChristineÖ?
T. Shalhoub: Yes. I have to say that I have, actually, and itís kind of a disturbing notion. But thatís kind of, you know, itís kind of been part of whatís been interesting about this character is that being an obsessive character, I find that there are obsessive fans. There are people who know way too much about the details of the character and way too much about various moments in different episodes, things that I, frankly, have long forgotten, small, small details. I suppose thatís good on the one hand. You know, I just Ė itís Ė I just hope that those people keep a nice, healthy distance in the future, a nice, healthy, respectful distance.
Your fans want to know whatís up next for you. After youíre 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?
T. Shalhoub: Well, I donít want to take too long a vacation, although I do think I need a break. I start to Ė whenever I take too long a break or donít work a while, all my demons start to resurface, and I go a little nuts. And 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, but also co-produced, and a really nice Ö so weíre looking for distribution to sell this picture, so people should look for that.
But beyond that, I want to really, really take some time for myself to decide which direction to go next. I might do some theater for a year before I do any more television. I think I need a break from hour long episodic for a while.
I have a question about the character and how much freedom you have to kind of riff on the OCD? It seems like there are moments in different episodes are just complete adlib where youíre just playing that personality trait more for the comedic effect. How much freedom do you have to just kind of take an idea and run with it?
T. Shalhoub: Well, I have an enormous amount of freedom. In terms of dialog, I try to stay really close to the script. We all do, but we do have a writer with us on the set every moment, and weíre always pitching ideas to this writer/producer and seeing what we can get away with. But as far as physical behavior and things that I discover that may not be in the script, but are, but we discover in whatever environment weíre in, whether itís somewhere outdoors or somewhere in an office or wherever the setting may be. Iíve been able to kind of just find things and work with them. Thatís whatís really been so exciting because itís kind of, thereís an endless, believe me, playing an OCD character with some of those tendencies myself, thereís an endless, endless array of stuff to become preoccupied with out there in the world, whether itís intentioned by the script or completely unintentional.
To be honest, most of my questions I was hoping to ask you have been asked, so on a lighter note, knowing youíre a Packer fan, and me being from Green Bay, Wisconsin myself, I was hoping to actually maybe get your feelings on the possibility of Bret Favre playing for the Vikings. Does that upset you, like it upsets most of us?
T. Shalhoub: Well, it doesnít really upset me, but it does Ė you know, I think if someone Ė this guy, that someone like him who is so passionate about his work and just cannot give it up, thinks he can give it up, and then discovers that itís impossible to give it up, I think in some ways I would be like him. I would retire and then come out of retirement 17 times. But I think whatís really, whatís a little bit unsettling to me is this idea of being at Lambeau Field on that day when the Packers are playing the Vikings, and he trots out through the tunnel wearing the wrong uniform. I donít really have any desire to be at that game. Itíll be all I can do to Ė you know, Iíll be watching it on television with my remote getting ready to just flick it off really quickly. Iíve lost a little sleep over that, but hey, the guy is just trying to make a buck, you know.
This is a bit of a follow-up on a previous question. A number of seasons ago, it looked like Monk could actually solve Trudyís murder. Has it always been the plan to wait until the final season to possibly solve it, or were there ideas along the way to solve it, and then continue on in a different plot angle? T. Shalhoub: No, I think from as far back as I can recall, it was always part of Andy Breckmanís agenda to save the wrap-up until the end, I think the biggest reason being that it keeps Monk in a bit of a fog, and it keeps him on his heels, this unresolved, this one case that he just cannot figure out, and that heís just too close to, to figure out. And so I think it was always part of his plan.
You played so many varying characters over the years, and Iím looking forward to many more. Do you have any interest to do more work behind the scenes?
T. Shalhoub: Yes, actually, because Iíve been a producer on Monk from the very start, and thatís been such a great education for me, I have a couple things in mind that I want to produce that arenít necessarily vehicles for me. But I think itís time for me to branch out into producing. And then I would also like to do some directing. Iíve done a little of that in the past, but itís something Iíd like to do more of. But, of course, I would never consider giving up acting. I still want to keep that alive. But because of the experience that Iíve gained and the contacts that Iíve made now, I think producing is definitely in my future.
I wonder maybe if you could tell us what so far has made a career in this industry rewarding for you, would you say?
T. Shalhoub: 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 having, most importantly, which was my original objective from way, way back was to have longevity in the industry. 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 it for a long period of time and not burn out too quickly or not paint myself into a corner necessarily by doing one thing, which is another reason why I think itís a healthy and a perfect time to bring Monk to an end because there are other things that I really want to do.
The diehard fans donít really need to be convinced to tune in to the new season, but for those who maybe know the show, but are not quite addicted yet, apart from the obvious things, is there anything you can give us about maybe why we really need to tune in to the new season?
T. Shalhoub: Well, yes, thatís a really good question. I think people will be really gratified and startled maybe to see that the quality remains really, really high, that the stories are interesting, that we do a bit of what weíve tried to do every season, which is kind of break our own rules and do some unexpected things. We always have interesting guest stars. We try to bring in people to do things that they may not be necessarily known for. We try to do our guest casting so that it isnít completely on the nose. For example, we have Jay Moore coming in an upcoming episode that we shot recently. He plays a sort of super lawyer, a super kind of Ö Johnny Cochran super lawyer who never lost a case. And itís really an interesting turn by Jay Moore. I think we keep it kind of just off center enough to make it interesting. I hope we do.
Something that Iíve always liked about the series is that Monkís OCD may be the source of some comedic moments, but itís never been treated as a gimmick. Itís never been played that way. And every year, Monk has to do something large like Iím thinking of the scene where, the sequence where he was in the sewer.
T. Shalhoub: Yes.
Sometimes when itís life and death, he can overcome the OCD, but we know heíll never be completely without it. How do you figure the season will find him in terms of the OCD, solving the case with Trudy will give him a little more control, or will he spin further out because there wonít be that big goal?
T. Shalhoub: No, I think it will give him some Ė I think it will actually help him, and it will give him some kind of peace and some kind of Ė and in that peace, his OCD symptoms will begin to, you know, significantly drop away. And when that happens, I think heíll be able to move forward in his life. You know, he wonít feel so paralyzed. He wonít feel so Ė he wonít have such an aversion to being with other people. He might even, who knows Ė I donít know because the writers havenít revealed this to me, but he might even be able to find love and romance in his life again. All those things, I think, remain, you know, all those things are on the table and are good possibilities.
The final season of Monk premieres FRIDAY, AUGUST 7, 2009 AT 9/8C on USA . For video clips and photos from the season premiere, CLICK HERE.
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