Pic­ture per­fect

Tony Shal­houb’s per­fec­tion­ist streak has paid off as the ob­ses­sive Monk

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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.’’

Fas­tid­i­ous:

Tony Shal­houb as ob­ses­sive-com­pul­sive de­tec­tive Monk.

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