Fans of the irresistible, obsessive-compulsive detective Adrian Monk were given an early Valentine’s Day present by his creator Tony Shalhoub and his talented wife, Brooke Adams in a staged reading of A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters.
Presented at the Brentwood Theatre as a benefit for the Westview School, a non-profit middle and high school for bright students with special needs, Adams and Shalhoub charmed the audience with their performance of this beautifully written piece that follows the 50-year relationship between a successful lawyer and his dear friend, an unfocused artist who has trouble navigating through life’s challenges.
Prior to the performance, The Santa Monica Mirror had an opportunity to interview Shalhoub, a graduate of The Yale School of Drama and former member of the very prestigious American Repertory Theatre.
Mirror: First, let me say that I’m a big fan of your work. Besides your fascinating Monk character, your performance as FBI agent Frank Haddad in The Siege was outstanding as you beautifully captured the frustration and poignancy of your character.
Shalhoub: Thank you so much. That’s very kind of you.
Mirror: Monk has brought you wonderful success which earned you four straight Emmy Award nominations for “Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series” with wins in 2003, 2005, and 2006. What attracted you to Adrian Monk and how have you managed to keep your character fresh all these years?
Shalhoub: I really like the fact that the character visits so many issues. The more obstacles the character has, the more juice for the actor. Monk is a drama/comedy. I had done a sitcom in the 90’s (Wings) and that was about telling jokes all the time. I enjoy the fact that the show is in the detective mystery genre, but it’s not too serious.
Mirror: Are there aspects in your personal life that mirror Adrian Monk’s obsessive-compulsive behavior?
Shalhoub: When I started working on the character, I found that there were aspects of my personality that overlapped. For example, when I open the refrigerator door, I want the butter in the butter dish so I don’t spend 90 seconds of my life looking for it. Developing the character became an exercise in self-awareness and I realized that I didn’t like it when things were out of order because it takes more time to find what you’re looking for. Having things orderly keeps my brain orderly.
Mirror: What is your shooting schedule like?
Shalhoub: We are on hiatus right now and will begin shooting again in mid-March. We shoot 16 episodes a year with our average days lasting at least 12 hours. By the way, we have come to an agreement with the network and season eight will be our last.
Mirror: I’m sure your fans will be devastated, but thank God for reruns as we cannot imagine not seeing Monk on a continuing basis. May we talk about how you got started?
Mirror: Your bio says that you got your start in “show business” when you were six by performing in a school production of The King and I in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Shalhoub: That’s right. I really enjoyed being in plays as a child, but never thought it possible that I could have a successful career in theatre. I did a little acting in college and some repertory work and then when I moved to New York, I started to put my toe in the water and started doing television and film.
Mirror: What were the biggest challenges you faced in becoming a successful actor?
Shalhoub: There are many land mines along the way. The biggest challenge is to try not to fall victim to the negativity of being rejected and don’t listen to the “don’ts.” You have to have a certain level of perseverance and clear out the negativity. You also have to keep yourself open to new ideas and new approaches. Walter Matthau said, “It takes 40 big breaks.”
Mirror: What attracted you to Love Letters?
Shalhoub: Wonderful writing. I have a big family and was big letter writer in the “olden” days. The truth is I wasn’t a great typist, so I handwrote letters. There is something about this play that puts you back in touch with that lost art.
Mirror: Does working with your wife pose any particular challenges?
Shalhoub: It’s the most delightful experience as the whole genesis of our relationship is theatrical because that’s how we met. The relationship of the two characters in the play, in some ways mirrors our own – frustration, longing, love, bitterness – all part and parcel of every intimate relationship.
Mirror: Do you have any projects in the works?
Shalhoub: Yes. In February, I start shooting an independent film in Wisconsin and that’s all I can say about it at this time.
Mirror: Do you spend time in Santa Monica?
Shalhoub: Brooke and I love Santa Monica and are part owners of a gallery on Ocean Avenue where Brooke exhibits her art.
Mirror: Thank you so much Tony. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.
Shalhoub: You’re very welcome indeed. And do say “hello” to me after the performance.