Primetime Pulse Exclusive Interview: Tony Shalhoub Talks About Monk's Final Season

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I was invited to participate in a press conference call with Tony Shalhoub, the star of USA Network’s hit series Monk. Emmy, Golden Globe and SAG Award winner Tony Shalhoub not only stars as Adrian Monk, a brilliant detective who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, he also serves as executive producer on the eighth and final season of the series, which premieres Friday, August 7, 2009 at 9/8c.

Tony did seem completely at ease. No surprise, since he’s done this many times before. He was gracious, patient and excited about the final season. Here are some of the highlights from the Q&A.


What is the lasting impression you want audience members to take from watching your show and watching you?

Tony Shalhoub: I think if I had to choose one thing I would say that I would want people to take away the idea that sometimes people’s problems or neuroses are really the things that are kind of a blessing in disguise. Even though sometimes there’s 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 that’s what we’ve tried to do on this show. We’ve portrayed this character as someone who turns his liabilities into assets for his life. I hope that when we get to the end, I don’t know this for sure, but I hope that when we get to the end of season eight that we’ll have seen some real healing for Monk. I believe in that now. I believe that there is healing and that there is change and that all those things are really key to all of our lives.

What sort of legacy do you think this show will leave and what do you sort of take away from it in that regard?

TS: I think one of the things that will be remembered about this show, I hope it will be remembered, is that at a time when there was a lot of television, – especially with the onslaught of cable and in a period where television is kind of redefining itself – there were precious few shows on the air that were suitable for a wider audience: like a younger audience, people in their 30s and elderly people in their 70s and 80s. But here was a show that all those different demographics could tune into and appreciate on their own level. There haven’t been a lot of shows like that in the last decade. I hope that that’s something people will focus on and remember for a long time: 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. This show was kind of able to stand out and do that.

You mentioned once that you’re the only one at your home who knows absolutely the only right way how to load the dishwasher which struck me as a kind of Monk thing to say.

TS: I’m not the only one in my home; I’m the only one in my community, I think. In my entire neighborhood, I’m pretty sure.

My question is have you found the longer that you’ve played Monk the differences between you, Tony and the character have eroded? Which is to say have you become more like him and he more like you over the years?

TS: I would say yes, absolutely. I resisted it for a long time. I’ve 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 way by this character. Minor tendencies that I’ve had in my life prior to Monk, have just kind of ballooned and it’s inevitable. I’ve given up trying to resist it. I’m hoping that when Monk is over I’ll have some period of recovery, but I’m not holding my breath.

How is the final season structured? The season premiere seems like the standard great hilarious episode, but when do we kind of get into the wrapping of things up?

TS: What the writers have in mind is to do is our normal stand alone episodes for the first I would say eleven, because we’re doing 16 as usual. So the first eleven I would say are going to be stand alone and the last five will be kind of connected. They’ll have a connective 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, will be just one story, a two parter. It will air in two segments. The episode, that two parter, will involve the wrap up of Trudy’s murder, you know, the solving of Trudy’s murder.

What was the deciding factor to make this season the final season?

TS: I think there were a lot of things at play there. I mean, long conversations that I had with Andy Breckman, one of the co-creators and the main writer. We’d been talking all along about how many seasons to do, how many episodes that he had in him as a writer. He at one point said that he didn’t think he had more than six seasons and then he got a gigantic second wind and we did the seventh. We weren’t sure when we were doing the seventh if the network was going to go with us on the eighth, but a long story short, we all kind of agreed that the eighth season would be it for all of us.

I think we’ll have 124 episodes by the end of the eighth season. I think we’re all ready to resolve the story line 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 still feel we’re doing great work, delivering strong episodes. We want to go out on a high.

How many of the old faces from past episodes are we going to see as a way of saying goodbye this last season?

TS: 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 an episode, I believe it’s episode #12, which we’ll start shooting in September. They want to bring that character back and kind of wrap it up and give that a good send off. A lot of people really missed that character and the dynamic between Monk and Sharona. 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’s 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. That’s it. Of course Dr. Bell [Hector Elizondo], the psychiatrist, will be in a number of episodes. People have asked if we’re going to see Ambrose. I don’t really think that’s in the cards, simply because John [Turturro] is so busy. It’s difficult to schedule him. If I had my way we’d do kind of what Seinfeld did and bring back almost every guest star there 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 mid-western roots impact your acting at all?

TS: How? 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 the Yale Drama School, worked in the theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts for years and then went to New York and then to Los Angeles. That was kind of the road map of it, but I always come back to Wisconsin every year. I have family here, of course. I don’t know. This place was kind of a fantastic place to grow up and kind of keeps me grounded and keeps me somewhat humble. Just to kind of return to it, I think it keeps me balanced. I still have great friends here and I feel like it’s home.

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?

TS: I wasn’t really there when this character was created. The script was around for a number of years before it came to me. Although I do feel I’ve 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 what I wanted to do, more to my strengths. The original script that I read was a little more slapstick-y and I wanted to emphasize the darker aspects of this character, more of the pain. So that was a conversation a lot of the producers had in the beginning. I think Andy did such a great job of morphing what he had originally written to fit me and what I wanted to do.

As far as the other clues: I don’t want to give away too much before these episodes air, because I think it will be a lot more interesting for people to discover things as we go along.

I was just wondering if in your own life you found some of Monk’s compulsions entering your life in small ways and if so kind of what they were?

TS: 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 in that particular moment seems like it’s absolutely essential that the sugar packets are facing one way and then everything else has to stop until this particular task is completed. Then I realize, you know, 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 trust me, it just kind of comes over me in waves. I have to really, really check myself and try and pull myself out of these things.

It was a big loss for you on the show this year with the loss of Stanley Kamel as Dr. Kroger. We know kind of how Monk is dealing with the loss of the character, but can you tell us a little bit about how you’re dealing with the loss of Stanley?

TS: It’s been really tricky and we all speak of him and it’s almost as if he has never left us, because his name comes up and stories and anecdotes come up about him all the time on the set. And you know he’s missed, but we try and sort of keep him alive and keep him in our midst. He was there from the very, very beginning, from the pilot episode. I have to say 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 and the richest. They really, really helped me to define the parameters of my character. So I kind of carried that with me through all these seasons. Then 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.… I sort of do this internal toast, as it were to Stanley Kamel, because he was the original doctor and I like to think that he’s kind of there in those sessions with me. He is missed.

You’ve had a lot of guest stars on the show. I was wondering if you had a favorite you’ve worked with over the years and then a favorite you’ve worked with so far this year?

TS: It’s so hard for me to pick a favorite because there were so many great ones and I got the chance to bring friends of mine on the show, 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 that of all the seasons and of all of the guest stars the most thrilling for me was the 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.

So I was the one who 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. I was stunned and thrilled to find out that she wanted to do it. Then working those eight days with her was so…. I felt really, when we finished that episode, I felt like I could retire. 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 hopefully will see her at the Emmy’s in September.

I was wondering if you had a particular favorite episode of Monk?

TS: 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. I will say the ones that I think we did where we’ve done the best — 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 we’re doing our jobs, 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 “Mr. Monk and the Three Pies”. Another favorite of mine was “Mr. Monk Takes His Medicine” because it was a chance for me to do this character almost as a different character, 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. It’s called “Mr. Monk is Someone Else.” It’s basically a doppelganger episode, where Monk assumes the character of this man who looks just like him, but the character happens to be a professional hit man for the mafia. So this character dies and Monk is asked to take this guy on and become him. So those opportunities to kind of transform within the character are really, really challenging and satisfying.

Trudy’s murder has been one of the most successful narrative arcs in television history. So do you think it should be solved or left for the audience as more of a MacGuffin?

TS: 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 a 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 really wouldn’t 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 to 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.

What’s the most memorable moment you’ve had from filming Monk?

TS: The most memorable moment? [long pause] I can’t remember my most memorable. No, I think I would have to say the most memorable moment would be when I was doing the episode with Stanley Tucci, “Mr. Monk and the Actor”.

He and I were — you know, having been reunited from working together a number of times — he and I, in the climax of the episode where I take the gun away from him and we’re kind of sitting on the floor leaning up against this counter our arms over each others shoulders, because it was reminiscent of a moment in Big Night, which was such a gigantic turning point for me in terms of film and my career. So that moment in Monk kind of reminded me of that moment in the movie. It was pretty emotional. It was a pretty emotional time.

Do you ever foresee maybe doing specials in the future?

TS: I assume you’re talking about like a TV movie or something with the character, the way Columbo did. I don’t really see that being so likely, just because I think I’m going to be busy with other things. Maybe I’m deluding 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 Christine Rapp?

TS: Yes. I have to say that I have, actually. It’s kind of a disturbing notion, but that’s kind of been part of what’s 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 that’s good on the one hand. I just hope that those people keep a nice, healthy distance in the future: a nice, healthy, respectful distance.

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 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, but also co-produced, and a really nice indie. So we’re looking for distribution to sell this picture. So people should look for that.

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.

You played so many varied characters over the years, and I’m looking forward to many more. Do you have any interest to do more work behind the scenes?

TS: Yes, actually, because I’ve been a producer on Monk from the very start, and that’s been such a great education for me, I have a couple things in mind that I want to produce that aren’t necessarily vehicles for me.

I think it’s time for me to branch out into producing. And then I would also like to do some directing. I’ve done a little of that in the past, but it’s something I’d 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 I’ve gained and the contacts that I’ve made now, I think producing is definitely in my future.

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 like the obvious things, is there anything you can give us about maybe why we really need to tune in to the new season?

TS: 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 Mohr coming in an upcoming episode that we shot recently. He plays a sort of super lawyer, a kind of Johnny Cochran super lawyer who’s never lost a case. And it’s really an interesting turn by Jay Mohr. I think we keep it kind of just off center enough to make it interesting. I hope we do.

How do you figure the season will find him in terms of the OCD, solving the case with Trudy will that give him a little more control, or will he spin further out because there won’t be that big goal?

TS: No, I think it will actually help him, and it will give him some kind of peace and in that peace, his OCD symptoms will begin to significantly drop away. When that happens, I think he’ll be able to move forward in his life. He won’t feel so paralyzed. 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 on the table and are good possibilities.

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