Tony Shalhoub’s perfectionist streak has paid off as the obsessive Monk
Monk, M Channel 10, Monday, 11.45pm Offbeat mystery Duration: 1 hour
BEFORE he got work as an actor, Tony Shalhoub was — what else? — a waiter, many times over.
‘‘I was always on the verge of being fired. The manager kept saying, ‘You have to go faster’. I wanted to make sure everything was right. And you didn’t want to throw food at these people.
‘‘I would say, ‘Are the people complaining?’ They’d say, ‘No, we just see you’re not working fast enough.’ I just wanted to make sure I had it all right . . .’’
His precision often cost him his job, but not the most important one of his life. As the obsessivecompulsive detective on Monk, Shalhoub is allowed to indulge his penchant for perfectionism without retribution.
He doesn’t confess to having many of Monk’s finicky quirks, but he does admit he tries to ‘‘be loose’’.
‘‘But I’m told on a regular basis by my kids and my wife to lighten up a little, let it go,’’ he says.
Now, with Monk in its seventh year and three Emmys in his custody, it would seem Shalhoub can at last relax.
Not so. Throughout his career he has been the hardest on himself.
‘‘I can’t explain it, but I’ve always wanted to move out of complacency and into the unknown,’’ he says over a lunch of salmon and steamed vegetables.
‘‘I left Boston — I was doing great roles and loved the people I was working for and had worked my way up to lead parts — but I felt I had to go start over again. And I don’t know why.
‘‘I went to New York and worked my way up, and I was really feeling pretty confident. Then I came out here to Los Angeles and it was like hitting a brick wall. Everything I’d done in New York and Boston for 10 years seemed to count for nothing here.
‘‘I thought I had a pretty impressive resume´ . I’d done two Broadway plays and a Coen Brothers movie, but it hadn’t come out yet. And they said, ‘Do you have anything on tape?’
‘‘ ‘Tape? What’s tape? I have a resume´ ’. It was crazy. I felt like I had to start over.’’
Shalhoub was doing a twocharacter play in Los Angeles that had been praised in Boston and New York.
‘‘We brought it out here and it died,’’ he sighs. ‘‘I was working for $5 a performance — I’m not kidding. I did it basically for petrol money. We had nice reviews from New York and Boston but it didn’t stir any interest.
‘‘I was auditioning and not doing well, getting no call-backs let alone jobs. I thought, where am I? Have I come to a foreign country? I thought I knew what I was doing.’’ Finally, all that work paid off. ‘‘I had an audition for a couple of days on a sitcom called The show had been on for a year or so and I hadn’t seen it. The writing was pretty good. I got the job and did a couple of days, and I liked it because it was in front of a live audience. I thought, I can do this! The people — the producers and cast — were very warm. A couple of months later they asked me back to be a recurring character.
‘‘Really, a sitcom was the last thing I’d had in mind. Not that I was pooh-poohing it. I just couldn’t imagine how I would’ve landed there. But I did, and it was for six years.’’
Shalhoub has continued to costar in films such as the Spy Kids franchise, Men in Black, The Man Who Wasn’t There and Primary Colors.
One advantage of Monk is he works only six months a year.
‘‘I get a chance to do film and theatre projects. It doesn’t burn up all my time,’’ Shalhoub says.
He is also an executive producer on the show, which means he has his hands in casting, editing and working with the writers and other producers.
‘‘You’re always making deals . . . ‘Well, I’ll give you this if you give me that’ and ‘This is more important to me and I’ll trade you two of these jokes for this moment over here’. We all negotiate and have a really great collaborative team.’’
Shalhoub has been married for 16 years to actor Brooke Adams, who occasionally guest-stars on Monk. They have two adopted daughters: Josie, 19, and Sophie, 14.
He admits that, as with Monk, he likes to work in a clean kitchen and is the ‘‘breakfast man’’ for the family.
‘‘I’m making crepes. I say, ‘Oh, we don’t have a crepe pan’. ‘You don’t need a crepe pan. Make it on the griddle on the stove’.
‘‘I’m good at that.’’
Tony Shalhoub as obsessive-compulsive detective Monk.