Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Q&A: Tony Shalhoub Discusses the Final Season of USA Network's Award-Winning "Monk"

The Eighth and Final Season of
USA Network's
Kicks off on Friday August 7

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Before he bids farewell to his most famous role which has garnered him countless awards as one of America's favorite contemporary detectives, actor Tony Shalhoub was kind enough to take part in an informative and in-depth Q&A session by phone.

Although he's most likely been asked these questions several times before and after eight seasons, he may have preferred to wait for the final episodes to get well underway, Mr. Shalhoub was so generous with his time that we even discovered he was volunteering to speak with us while at a family reunion set in Door County, Wisconsin.

And his ability to put a unique and thoughtful spin on answers that derived from some similarly phrased inquiries to ensure that readers would be able to fully understand just how proud he is of the hit series Monk was incredibly inspiring. Trying to weave back and forth to piece together those threads Shalhoub was able to drop and pick up effortlessly (and leaving off all of the readily available information you can find on Google)--when I began reading the mini book-length transcript, ultimately I felt that it was best to just piece together his responses to the topics that as a fellow viewer I had the most interest in myself.

So without further ado, I'm honored to share with you:

Tony Shalhoub's Thoughts
On Life As, On, & After

Lessons from Monk

Tony Shalhoub: 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.

The Legacy of the Series

Tony 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 30s and then people like elderly people in the 70s and 80s. 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: Why is This the Final Season?

Tony Shalhoub: Well, I think there were a lot of things at play there... long conversations that I had with Andy Breckman, you know-- one of the co-creators and the main writer. We’ve 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 didn’t 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 weren’t 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 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’re still really, we feel really that we’re doing great work and delivering really strong episodes. We want to go out on a high.

Qs: How Will it Be Structured?
Thoughts on Solving Trudy's Murder?

Tony Shalhoub: What the writers have in mind is to do 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.

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.

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: Are There Any Surprises in Store?

Tony Shalhoub: Sharona [is] 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.

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 [Turturro] 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.

Qs: What Have You Learned from Adrian Monk?
What Has Adrian Monk Learned from Tony Shalhoub? 
How Have the Two of You Changed (the character and the actor)?

Tony Shalhoub: From Adrian... I think I’ve learned sometimes, you know, hyper-focusing on things is actually a good thing to do. Not all the time, and I wouldn’t want to be as kind of fixed – you know, get as fixated and as obsessed as Adrian, but sometimes, you know, I’ve found that it’s 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 I’ve gained a little real life wisdom.

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.” 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.

What has Monk gotten from me? I feel like Monk has maybe become a little more – 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 people’s point of view. I feel like I’ve been that kind of a person in my life, open-minded.

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 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 – was a little more slapsticky-- and I wanted to emphasize the kind of darker aspects of this character and more … 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.

Digging Past the Laughs --
Comedy Plus Drama: An Actor's Approach

Tony Shalhoub: The process was really one of - it’s a process that I use and have used in approaching other characters, which is to find out – you know, knowing that it’s a comedy and to find out what – 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 what’s funny about the character.And the beauty of this particular character is that I’ve had the opportunity to do both comedy and drama within one series, one character.

So it’s really digging out the – when you’re doing the comedic moments-- digging out what’s 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. That’s been my approach.

Favorite Episodes?

Tony Shalhoub: 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 – I will say the ones where I think we did, where we’ve 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 we’re doing our job – 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," and it’s an episode where it’s basically … 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.

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