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Golden Globe Nominee Tony Shalhoub Not Washing His Hands of ‘Monk’ Yet

Tony Shalhoub is celebrating the New Year with double award nominations, with Golden Globe and Screen Actor’s Guild nods for his portrayal of Adrien Monk on the USA Cable series Monk. The recognition comes with perfect timing, as USA is gearing up to air a new season of six new cases starting Jan. 19 at 9:00 pm. Shalhoub made time during his busy theater schedule, rehearsing for the opening night of The Scene on Broadway, to discuss the acclaim and new episodes.

Hollywood.com: Tony, congratulations. What’s your reaction to these nominations?
Tony Shalhoub:
Thank you. Yeah. It was great. I was kind of left out of the Golden Globe’s and the SAG Awards last year. And then this year it came around again. So it was kind of a surprise and kind of a relief. Unfortunately, I’m in New York doing this play so it’s very unlikely, well, it’s impossible really for me to go to the SAG Awards because they take place on a Sunday. And I have a matinee on that day. I might be able to go to the Golden Globe’s because they’re on a Monday so I could sort of theoretically fly back for, you know, maybe 18, 20 hours. But, you know, it would be a little bit of a push. We have, you know, we have shows on Sunday and on Tuesday of course but I’d love to attend. Especially those two award shows are really a lot of fun to go to.

HW: You’ve been in the awards circuit for a while though, do you have any special good luck rituals?
TS:
Usually what I do is I try, my ritual it’s kind of an involuntary ritual. I lie awake the night before, worrying about it. Try and think of something to write in case I actually get up there. I write it at the very last minute like either in the car on the way to the ceremony or in the bathroom before the show starts. It’s all of jumbled mess written on a napkin or a piece of toilet paper. That’s my good luck ritual. It’s just like being in college waiting for the last minute to do everything.

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HW: After three Emmy’s, one as best actor in a comedy series, what’s the challenge when you face a new season with the same character?
TS:
Well, you know, the challenge with all television, all series television is as you get into later seasons and now we’re in the middle of our fifth season right now and getting ready to start shooting our sixth. The challenge is always to give people what they’ve become familiar with and the qualities of the shows that they recognize without letting it get stale. You want to change it up but you don’t want to change it up too much because then people will go, “Oh, now that, that’s not what it used to be” or they jump the [shark] or whatever else. So it’s a very common problem. It’s a balancing act. Our writers are really, really good at changing it up for us. They develop a relationship, they’re really, really good at in some ways, breaking their own rules, breaking our own rules which we’ve established but never to the degree that the show becomes something else. We’re always in somewhat familiar territory but it always seems to be evolving in a way.

HW: Going into this new run of shows, what are you excited to do this time?
TS:
Well, we have so many good ones in the can for this winter season and some really, really great guest stars. Charles Durning is in an episode, Ricardo Chavira who’s from Desperate Housewives is a kind of a farmer who’s like growing pot and Monk stumbles on this big pot field. And we have Steven Weber, my old colleague from Wings. He played the shock jock in one episode and Sean Astin in another episode. We have some really, really nice things coming up.

HW: Do you think Monk now ranks among the top TV detectives like Colombo and Rockford?
TS:
That’s very flattering. I don’t quite think. Those shows have been around for so long and they just have such an enormous fan base, a huge following. I don’t know if we’re quite up to that level yet. I mean, we’re sort of humbly following the footsteps. But who knows, if Monk is around long enough and if Ted and I, if we’re alive long enough and our health stays good, then who knows, we may join those guys. But those are huge shoes to fill, thank you for that.

HW: Through the five seasons you’ve been doing Monk, have you learned any new aspects of him?
TS:
Well, that’s kind of the beauty of doing this part and doing this kind of material. Sometimes I open the script and I discover a thing about my reading that I hadn’t really thought of. This whole notion of Monk wanting and needing a best friend, it was something that hasn’t occurred to me that there wasn’t a friend from childhood that he’ll have a great memory of. I guess to answer your question, the writers are always helping me to, and I think all of the actors, to add to their back story.

HW: What will you do with Traylor Howard now that she’s a mom?
TS:
Well, I think we’re going to assume that that baby is going to be on the set with us probably a lot. The writers try to write in the Natalie character a little lighter, you know, during the later months of the pregnancy. But I don’t think that there’s any plan to continue that. I mean, I think we really need that character. And soI know Traylor is, as much as she loves being a mom, I know that I talked to her yesterday, and I think she’s anxious to get back to work.

HW: Will Monk ever meet a woman he can fall in love with, even though he’s still in love with his late wife?
TS:
I would not rule it out. We’ve had conversations, the writers and the actors, they had conversations about this. I don’t think it would be a permanent situation because I think we like to keep Monk in that sort of that sad, lonely kind of mode. But it’s possible that he would become attracted. We have done episodes where he is attracted to different women because maybe they remind him of Trudy.

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HW: Does it seem like the show has turned away from the mysteries and more towards the characters’ lives?
TS:
Yeah, I like the way the show is evolving. I don’t really sense from my point of view that there’s been an enormous shift. There’s always a murder, mystery, there’s always something for Monk to solve. We do like to develop the back story, we do like to see the character in different situations. We like to develop the relationships between main characters on the show. So it all feels like it’s moving in the right direction for me. I think the thing that sets Monk apart from shows like Colombo or things like that, because we’ve been compared to Colombo a lot, the thing that sets us apart is that we do go home with the characters. Colombo was always a show about the workplace and the relationship between Colombo and his prime suspect. And our show tends to have I think a lot more kind of character development. It’s part and parcel to the way the humor in the show factors in. So I think it’s kind of a unique characteristic of the show overall.

HW: As time goes on, do you think maybe Monk’s OCD isn’t so crazy, with everyone now obsessing about dirty food, hand washing, etc?
TS:
Well, yeah. I think you’re right. I mean, I certainly, in the five years that I’ve spent living with the character, I certainly see him as more and more normal. At first, I think I thought of him as a bizarre outsider sort of character. But, the more time I spent with him and the more I think about his problem, which are now becoming my problems frankly, the more normal he seems. I mean, I just had a revelation the other day living in New York. I’ve been going out to eat a lot and it just struck me. I was in a restaurant, and it just struck me, something I’d never thought of before. And it’s menus in the restaurant, you know, it just hit me. I was ordering and I thought, “God, think of all the people who handle these meals day in and day out.” You’re going to a restaurant, you can feel secure that they wash the silverware in the kitchen and the linens and all that stuff, but they don’t wash their menus. Who washes menus? Now, I’ve got to worry about that for the rest of my life.

HW: Are you really picking up Monk’s habits?
TS:
Well, I would be lying if I said that it hasn’t kind of affected me in some way because I’m sort of in the mindset of the character so much of the time. It does tend to make you think about things that never bothered me before, like shaking someone’s hand. I have to have that horrible thought now, you know. I mean, I still do it. I haven’t become completely neurotic about it, but just those thoughts are just rolling around in my head. Like I said the other day, I was thinking about these menus in these restaurants, and things like that just start occurring to me. And then I have to worry about it’s not just my hands, I have to worry about children’s hands and everybody. I don’t know, it’s just more a heightened awareness I guess.

HW: Does your wife ever notice it when you do that? Something like that she’ll say, “Now you’re being Monk?”
TS:
I think she would. If you ask my wife this question, she would say that she noticed it even before I did Monk.

HW: Aside from Monk-like qualities, what is your home life like?
TS:
You wouldn’t know it by this year because I did come to New York to do a play, but I really do like to take downtime, just kind of be with my family and just try and focus really on the lives of my children and my wife and try to give them a lot of time and attention. We have a pretty, I think, a pretty calm [life]. We try to. I mean life is hectic. But in the summer, we get away, we have a cottage on the East Coast that we like to go to. I’m kind of big beach person.

HW: You’re also doing a film about 9/11 and the American Arab community?
TS:
It’s actually called American East. I’m from a Lebanese-American family and I’ve had lot of contacts with the Arab-American community, especially Arab-American filmmakers and actors and so forth. In fact, last year I started something called an American Filmmakers Award, which was soliciting short screenplays from Arab-American filmmakers. And, we gave a cash prize and everything and can help the winner get their film made. It’s a community, a minority that really hasn’t been heard from enough. And so many of the stories that are told about Arab-Americans these days are just negative portrayals in the news, but also in television and film. So we set out to try and offset some of those stereotypes. That’s what this movie American East is dealing with.

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HW: Your character is a Jewish-Egyptian-American. Will you pull any of the instincts that you had from Conversations with my Father for that?
TS:
Well, I don’t know. I’m not really one to focus on and dwell on our differences. I’ve always tried to prefer to look at the commonalities, the common ground. And that’s kind of how I’ve tried to implement that into my work and I hope that that comes true.

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