By: Amrie Cunningham [My Take on TV]
We all have Upfronts on the brain this week, as we sit and get ready to hear what’s happening on some of our favorite networks. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend USA Network’s Upfront presentation in Chicago. The number one cable network last year, USA has plans to build on that, and only get better as the years continue. They are wisely bringing back their two breakout hits from last season – the charming miniseries THE STARTER WIFE (now a weekly series, airing in early fall) and BURN NOTICE (which starts season 2 in July). Network anchors MONK and PSYCH were no-brainer pickups, both coming back with new episodes in July. MONK will air its 100th episode this summer! I also had the chance to see some clips and previews from USA’s latest offering, IN PLANE SIGHT, starring Mary McCormack about Witness Protection Marshalls in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It fits the USA mold and I think it’s going to be another addicting show (look for an interview with creator and executive producers as we draw nearer to the premiere).
While at the intimate cocktail party that they threw for their advertisers, I had the chance to meet and chat with Corbin Bernsen from PSYCH, Tony Shalhoub from MONK, Gabrielle Anwar from BURN NOTICE (and most importantly from WILD HEARTS CAN’T BE BROKEN, the amazing movie from the early 90s), as well as recent Wrestelmania competitor Maria, one of the WWE’s DIVAS. Not only were they some of the most upbeat and friendliest celebrities that I’ve had the chance to meet, they all genuinely seem thrilled to be a part of this continually-growing network.
I know we have fans of MONK that visit this site (me being one of the most hardcore of them all), so imagine my delight at getting time to chat with Tony Shalhoub. He’s soft spoken and gracious, and probably everything you think he would be, and more. We got the chance to talk about MONK, what the future holds, the 100th episode, and who he still hasn’t had the chance to work with.
My dad calls me Monk, so this is a dream realized. Ha!
Tony Shalhoub: Does he really? [laughs]
After doing the show for so long, how do you keep the role fresh and interesting?
I have to say that it’s the writers that keep it new and fresh. They just keep throwing us curve balls and things that we never would have imagined. In a way, though, I think, it sort of becomes an exercise in rule-breaking. All TV shows have sort of what they call a “show bible” – certain things that you do or never do – and what we’ve learned to do now over 6 seasons, is to see that it isn’t really a bad thing to break your own rules. Somehow, the audience goes along with it. It’s risky at times but when it works, it works beautifully.
Have you found yourself become more aware of obsessive compulsions that you have? Or like fears or phobias?
I don’t really have huge phobias. Being in the mind set of Monk, I do start to think about things in my everyday life that could really trouble me. I was recently at a restaurant and it struck me that the menu was probably really filthy. They probably don’t really wash them and many, many people handle them and they’re like touching their mouths. Now, what I do is I look at the menu, and then I order, and THEN I go wash my hands. [Editor’s Note: Can anyone guess what my newest obsessive compulsion is? Thanks Tony!]
Do you get a lot of fan response when you’re out in public??People seem to really love it. What’s really gratifying about it is that it crosses a lot of demographics. Young people like it. Middle-aged people like it. Older people are always saying to me “I love the show because I can watch it with my grandchildren. We all enjoy it on our own level and it doesn’t talk down to kids or us.” That’s the best part of it.
Do you envision an endpoint??I had six years on my original contract, which we just finished. I re-upped for seven and there could be an eight but that’s really up to the network. It depends on a lot. I could definitely do one more after this one. If the writers can do it, I can do it. We’re coming up on our 100th show. We’re going to shoot that in July.
Do you ever have ideas for your character??One of my favorite episodes, not just because of that. I pitched an idea, and what they did was amazing, they really fleshed it out. It was an episode we did in Season Two, called “Mr. Monk Takes His Medicine,” where his shrink prescribes medication for his OCD. It’s the wrong prescription and it has a personality altering affect, but Monk feels better. But he’s unable to do his job as well as he could. That was my idea. I think I’m doing for another one, don’t you think? [laughs]
You have such a varied career. What makes you go back to theatre??I was trained in the theatre. It’s kind of how I always imagined, I always imagined I would have a life in the theatre. I never really set out to do film and television. It wasn’t part of the original half-baked plan. Also, I think it’s really good for actors to perform in a live venue. I think it’s a whole different discipline. I’ve been lucky. I’ve been able to do television, film, and theatre, alternately. I’m blessed.
Is there anyone that you’re dying to work with that you haven’t worked with yet?
A million people. Martin Scorsese, I would love to work with. Meryl Streep, I would love to work with. Al Pacino, I would love to work with. I met him a few times and I’ve done table reads with him. Oh my God. There are so many great people that I probably will never get to all of them.
I’m curious to hear what you think about how cable has changed since [your last long running series] WINGS?
It’s really all about cable and the onslaught started by networks like HBO and Showtime, original series giving people an alternative to what sort of became in a way predictable. Because they were allowed to do edgier and riskier things on cable, they really started to give the networks a run for their money. They became kind of an equalizer. At first, nobody took cable that seriously, and now networks are starting to fear the onslaught. But it’s good. It’s healthy. It’s also been good for a lot of people like writers, directors, and actors who worked exclusively in features because the feature market has started to dwindle a little in terms of the number of large films made. A lot of those people have gravitated towards TV and cable has absorbed a lot of those people. It’s been healthy. It’s created more of a competitive environment all around.
Do watch TV in your downtime?
Not much. Not because I don’t like it but because I’m busy. When I watch something, I have a hard time watching it and just enjoying it. I’m looking at is a producer. I’ve been a producer on Monk for six years and I’m always thinking to myself, why did they use that cut? What’s with this angle, or oh, I wish I thought of that. I’m not really following much. I’m kind of watching it with a different set of eyes.
Do you think there’s a bit more creative freedom with USA? Would MONK have been different on another network?
Yeah, I think it would have been different. You know, Monk was at ABC for years, in semi-development. I think if it had been on a network, it would have had a different gloss and the emphasis would have been somewhat different. At the time MONK started, USA was in the process of reinventing itself. A lot of executives were leaving and new people were coming in and they were trying to find their new identity. So, we were very fortunate that they decided to do Monk and promote it really well and market it really well and give it time to build.
In the coming season, are we going to see more of what happened to Trudy, or why it happened to Trudy? Or will it always be something that sort of comes up here and there?
I think we will try to start. Everyone has the sense that we’re approaching the end, whether it’s this season or season eight, we definitely, we gotta wind it down. And I think the writers, in their heads, are starting to move towards that.
Do you have any film projects coming up?
I have a film in the can that I co-produced and also acted in. It’s a story of Arab Americans, Muslim-Americans post 9-11. Arab-American community in LA. I play a Jewish American business man, partnering up in business with a Muslim man. It’s kind of like, for lack of a better parallel, sort of like a “Do the Right Thing” sort of movie. We’re very, very proud of it. It has distribution for cable.
What would you be doing if you weren’t acting?
I’d be homeless.
Did you have that moment, “I knew I wanted to be an actor?” type place?
Yeah, when I was very young, I was watching television. This is at a time when there weren’t VCRs and if a movie came up on TV, it came up once every two or three years. And I saw a film version of a play called A Thousand Clowns. The play was written by Herb Gardner and the actor who did it on stage, on Broadway, did the film, too. It was Jason Robards. I saw this movie and I knew that it was a play, it was shot like a play. It had such a tremendous impact on me. I was such a gigantic fan of Jason Robards. And I ended up actually…I did a movie, my first movie, called Quick Change and he was in that. A few years later I got a call from Herb Gardner, who I didn’t know, to do a play called Conversations With My Father. I got to work with my heroes.
What is your advice to young actors?
I would say that theatre is a great place to start. Do as much as you can. Try to vary your roles as much as you can. The best advice I ever got when I was a student was one word from an acting teacher – persevere. It’s really about showing up. You got to keep showing up. And you got to stay positive.