Friday, August 7, 2009

Last week I had the tremendous pleasure of taking part in a conference interview with the wonderful Tony Shaloub. He shared a lot about his experience playing Adrian Monk and how he's become like Monk himself. He also shared his thoughts on how this final season would play out. Tony was an amazing guest and it was wonderful to just listen to him speak, as he's an articulate and kind man. Today of course brings us the premiere of the finale season, and so without ado here is some excerpts from that interview.

Q: I was wondering, what’s the lasting impression you want audience members to take from watching your show and watching you?

T. Shalhoub: That’s 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 people’s problems or neuroses are really the things that are kind of a blessing in disguise, and even though there’s, you know, sometimes there’s 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 that’s what we’ve tried to do on the show is we’ve portrayed this character as someone who turns his liability, his liabilities into assets per his life. And that there’s – and I hope that when we get to the end – I don’t know this for sure, but I hope when we get to the end of season eight that 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 – they are just really, really key to all of our lives.

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 30’s and then people like elderly people in the 70’s and 80’s. 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 aren’t a lot of shows like that. There haven’t been a lot of shows like that in the last decade. And I hope that that’s something that people will focus on and remember for a long time, you know, that it’s 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.

Q: One time when I interviewed you, you mentioned that you’re the only one at your home who knows how to absolutely – the only right way to load the dishwasher, which struck me as a kind of Monk thing to say.

T. Shalhoub I’m not the only one in my home. I’m the only one in my community, I think, my entire neighborhood, I’m pretty sure.

Q: 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 – you know, as I said, in interviews too. I feel like I’ve been infected in some way by this character. Tendencies, you know, minor tendencies that I’ve had in my life prior to Monk have just kind of ballooned and expanded and it’s inevitably. I mean, I just, there’s no point in trying to – I’ve given up trying to resist it. I’ve had to just surrender to it. I mean, I’m hoping that when Monk is over that I’ll have some period of recovery, but I’m not holding my breath.

Q: You’ve already talked about how, through the years, you’ve 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 – there are moments when I feel like I’m just nothing like the character. But then something will happen, and I’ll just realize that I’m rearranging something on a table at a restaurant, which seems that in 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 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.

Q: The die hard fans don’t 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, that’s 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 we’ve 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 isn’t 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 … Johnny Cochran super lawyer who never lost a case. And it’s 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.

Q: I wanted to know, you know, 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 we’re doing 16, as usual. So the first 11, I would say, are going to be standalone, and then the last 5 is when we’ll be kind of connected. They’ll have a connected tissue, and we’ll 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, it’ll just be one story, a two-part, you know, aired in two segments. Just to follow – that episode, I mean that two-part will involve the wrap up of Trudy’s murder, you know, the solving of Trudy’s murder.

Q: A number of seasons ago, it looked like Monk could actually solve Trudy’s 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 Breckman’s 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 he’s just too close to, to figure out. And so I think it was always part of his plan.

Q: Trudy’s murder has been one of the most successful narrative arcs in television history, rivaling even Mulder’s sister Samantha on the X-Files.

T. Shalhoub Wow.

Q: So what do you think – 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?

T. Shalhoub I really think it should be solved. I know there are people who say that maybe it shouldn’t because that would mean that 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, and then the character wouldn’t really be the character that we’ve come to recognize. But I really feel that we’ve 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 we’ve created. I think we should solve it.

Q: 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 won’t be that big goal?

T. Shalhoub No, I think it will give him some – I think it will actually help him, and it will give him some kind of peace and some kind of – and in that peace, his OCD symptoms will begin to, you know, significantly drop away. And when that happens, I think he’ll be able to move forward in his life. You know, he won’t feel so paralyzed. He won’t feel so – he won’t have such an aversion to being with other people. He might even, who knows – I don’t know because the writers haven’t 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.

Q: Over the years you have had a lot of guest stars on the show.

T. Shalhoub Yes.

Q: I was wondering if you had a favorite over the years and maybe a favorite you’ve worked with so far this year.

T. Shalhoub 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 that I’ve worked with in the past like Stanley Tucci and John Turturro and people that I’ve 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 she’s been nominated for an Emmy for that episode too, so I will hopefully see her at the Emmys in September.

Q: I wanted to know 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, we’ll certainly, I’m sure you’ve probably read because there’s been a lot of publicity about Sharona coming back. Bitty Schram is going to come back for episode – I believe it’s 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 we’re all looking forward to that.

Of course, we’ll see Harold Krenshaw comes back, one of my favorites. He’s the other OCD patient who is always kind of in competition with Monk, played so brilliantly by Tim Bagley. He’s going to return for at least a couple of episodes.

And well, that’s it. I mean, of course, Dr. Bell, the psychiatrist will be in a number of episodes. I don’t think – people have asked if we’re going to see Ambrose. I don’t really think that's in the cards simply because that’s … John is so busy. It’s difficult to schedule him in. 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.

Q: A big loss for your show throughout these years was the loss of Stanley Kamel as Dr. Kroger.

T. Shalhoub Yes.

Q: 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, it’s been really tricky, and we all speak … it’s 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 he’s missed, but we try to sort of keep him alive in our – 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 I’m in these sessions, these scenes with Hector Elizondo, who plays Dr. Bell, I can’t even go into these scenes without just this little – 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 he’s kind of there in those sessions with me. He is missed.

Q: 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?

T. Shalhoub Well, I don’t want to take too long a vacation, although I do think I need a break. I start to – whenever I take too long a break or don’t 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 … so we’re 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.


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