An insightful encounter with Tony Shalhoub
An insightful encounter with Tony Shalhoub
Shalhoub talks life in Green Bay, a collaborative approach to acting and a potential ‘Monk’ return
By Freddy Moyano
Internationally-renowned award-winning actor and Green Bay native Tony Shalhoub stopped by The Tarlton Theatre during Memorial Day weekend for the MLC Awards, a Green Bay-based international indie film festival.
Green Bay City Pages had a chance to sit down with Shalhoub to talk more about his artistic origins and approach to his work.
The scream that put things in motion
The Green Bay East graduate said his childhood was similar to those of others who called Titletown home growing up.
“I grew up on the east side (of Green Bay),” Shalhoub said. “I started my scholastic career at Cathedral Parochial School. Then I went to Washington Junior High School for ninth grade. From Washington, I transferred to East High where I was fortunate enough to graduate.”
During his youth, Shalhoub said the Green Bay area he grew up in was much smaller than today and more “manageable” – with only a few places to hang out at.
He said he also spent many summers in Door County, where he often held summer jobs as a teenager.
Fast forward to his freshman year at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay (UWGB), Shalhoub said he found himself playing a small part in a theater department play that, little did he know, would ignite his passion for acting.
“While in college, as a freshman, the theater department at UWGB was quite vibrant,” he said. “They were doing a 1930s play, and the director gave everyone one line to say as actors pretending they were forming a union at a meeting. It was a rehearsal, so I stood up to say my line, and I screamed at this actor that was part of the meeting on stage. I sort of startled myself. I noticed the guy I was yelling at registered it differently. Then I said (to myself) I think I get it.”
Boston and New York
After spending two years at UWGB, Shalhoub transferred to the University of Southern Maine, where he obtained his bachelor’s degree in drama (1977), followed by his master’s degree in fine arts at Yale School of Drama in New Haven, Connecticut (1980).
“I spent six years in New York working on shows off-Broadway, Broadway, Shakespeare in the Park and off-off Broadway,” he said. “(At that time), I hadn’t quite dipped my toe into television and film work. We were just doing whatever we could to get by. I was a day player in soap operas a few times, hour-long episodics and things like that.”
Though making a livable wage that allowed him to not have to wait tables on the side to pay rent like many others in the industry, Shalhoub said the acting industry was competitive, but it’s how you persevere that counts.
“I auditioned for a million commercials, never got one,” he said. “You have to make peace with the fact that many are called, few are chosen. Often it’s not about you or your talent.”
Type-casting feedback was a common denominator in Shalhoub’s attempts to get a breakthrough moment in TV or film – at times receiving somewhat unproductive feedback, such as being “too ethnic, or not ethnic enough or too tall.”
After six years of booking gigs in New York, Shalhoub said in 1990 he decided to pack up and give Los Angeles a try, however, he ran into a steep reality check.
“I thought I was going there for six months to try it out,” Shalhoub said. “Back in New York, I knew all of the casting agencies. In L.A. it was like starting over. Rejection after rejection. Whatever I had done in Boston and New York for ten years seemed to count for nothing.”
In spite of defining the acting turf of Los Angeles as a “more unforgiving kind of a place” for many actors who wanted to break through in the film and television industry, Shalhoub said it took just one of his many auditions to change the landscape of his career.
In 1991, he said he landed a guest appearance in season two, episode 17 of Wings as a waiter at an Italian restaurant.
Shortly after filming, Shalhoub said he was offered a gig as a recurring role, which lasted six years.
He said Wings’ live audience made the transition from theater to TV easier for him, since performing to an audience was second nature.
Shalhoub said the cast members and director of the show were very welcoming and open to him adding his own creativity on set.
After Wings wrapped, Shalhoub landed significant roles in films like Men in Black, The Siege, A Civil Action, Galaxy Quest, and Spy Kids.
The ‘Monk’ tone
When Shalhoub’s manager approached him with the initial script for Monk (2002-09), he said he wasn’t sure if the role of detective Adrian Monk was a good fit.
“I did not think I was like the character,” he said. “I read it and didn’t really get it.”
However, after a reread, Shalhoub said he went to work doing what he could to bring the Adrian Monk character to life.
To help him get into the right mindset, Shalhoub said he reached out to Dean Parisot, his Galaxy Quest director.
“(Dean) was very helpful for us to achieve the right tone for the pilot, because we wanted to do comedy, but we did not want to make fun of this very serious disorder that causes so much disruption in people’s lives,” he said.
Faithfully playing the obsessive-compulsive police consultant for seven seasons, Shalhoub said he isn’t ruling out a potential return of Adrian Monk – noting conversations have been had about it happening, this time as a movie.
Shalhoub said over the years he’s learned showbiz should focus more on collaboration than advancing one’s own careers and ego.
“It’s sort of a balancing act,” he said. “How do I keep myself out there [in the spotlight] but make it not all about me?”
In his most recent role as Abe Weissman in the Amazon series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Shalhoub said the many layers of his character are the product of a truly collaborative effort between the actors and the writers.
Since each script is written before the recording of a new episode, Shalhoub said he never knows what comes next for his character, which he enjoys.
“We are interpreters of written material,” he said. “Monk was not a character I came up with. I spoke to the writers and made it clear to them as to what I could and wanted to do to steer the character I was playing in a certain direction. My choices grow out of what is being thrown at me. When writing is really, really good, the actor’s job should be stepping out of the way. This is about opening up to the other collaborators and serving the piece.”
Freddy Moyano is a film producer, entrepreneur, actor, critic and voice-over artist based in Green Bay. Follow Freddy on instagram.com/freddymoyanoofficial