It’s been fourteen years since Monk ended its eight-season run on USA, although the character of obsessive-compulsive detective Adrian Monk remains an enduring staple of television history. After a brief reunion with Monk and the team for an early pandemic special on Peacock, Monk is officially back in Mr. Monk’s Last Case: A Monk Movie, which finds Monk (Tony Shalhoub) investigating a murder involving his stepdaughter Molly (Caitlin McGee) and a powerful tech mogul (James Purefoy).
Above the Line had the chance to speak with Shalhoub about how it feels to be getting back into character and what he remembers of the many episodes and cases he’s filmed in the past. He discussed working with Melora Hardin, who plays Monk’s late wife, Trudy, and reuniting with the rest of the cast, which includes Traylor Howard, Ted Levine, and Jason Gray-Stanford.
Shalhoub reflected on another long-running role he’s had in the interim, patriarch Abe Maisel on Prime Video’s recently-wrapped The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and portraying PepsiCo CEO Roger Enrico in Searchlight’s Flamin’ Hot. He also touched on his big breakthrough with Big Night and whether he has plans to return to the stage.
Above the Line: What was it like coming back to revisit this iconic role of yours after so many years?
Tony Shalhoub: It was a little daunting at first, because I wasn’t convinced that I could remember or recapture the physical life of the character, or even the voice. Perhaps in fourteen years, my voice has changed somewhat. It was a little bit scary in the early going, but it didn’t take long once we got the old team back together, the old cast and the director and writer. It fell into place fairly seamlessly, I would say.
ATL: There was a COVID special that aired a couple of years ago, a short little video Zoom meeting. Was there a knowledge that this would be happening when you got together to do that?
Shalhoub: No, but that spurred this idea. We did that as a lark, as a one-off for Peacock, and then the response was so favorable, so overwhelming, really, that we all looked at each other and went, “Hey, maybe there’s a shot here to come back.” Having the pandemic to work off of as a launchpad for this character, Andy Breckman got to work on it and came up with a really, really good idea.
ATL: I love the COVID pieces of this new movie, particularly that he has his own hand sanitizer that’s labeled.
Shalhoub: On wheels, no less. I love that it’s on wheels, so it’s portable.
ATL: Are you able to get through scenes like that, or do they sometimes trip you up?
Shalhoub: I really did love that. There were a couple of takes where I lost it, when the camera was on my back, I would just start laughing. There was something about the sound of wheeling that device on a marble floor that just struck me as funny. The other one I had a really hard time keeping a straight face on was Disher with the Legos explaining what happened with the lowering of the bridge. Jason just was on fire that day, and I couldn’t hold it together. I’m the worst when it comes to that.
ATL: I remember an episode years back where Monk was sick, and he started explaining, here’s what happened, and it wasn’t anything close to what would have happened.
Shalhoub: Oh, that was the garbage truck, wasn’t it? Where he starts going into Alice Cooper, and I don’t think Alice Cooper is really even his real name. I love that stuff. Yeah, that was fun.
ATL: It seems like you have a pretty good memory of all the cases and episodes, too.
Shalhoub: You know, I have a memory of some of them. Occasionally, I’ll see one in a rerun, and I’ll go, “Geez, I don’t remember doing this and I don’t even remember the crime! I don’t remember how this worked.” We did 125, that’s just a lot of clues and a lot of different ways of people getting murdered, and a lot of suspects or potential suspects. I couldn’t hold them all in my head.
ATL: Unlike Monk, who is able to do that.
Shalhoub: Yeah, Monk could!
ATL: How much of Monk is also part of you? How much are you like this character in real life?
Shalhoub: I would say thirty-five to thirty-seven percent.
ATL: That’s suspiciously specific.
Shalhoub: Maybe when I started the show, I was more like fifteen percent, but over the course of those eight years, some of it may have rubbed off on me, and so I would bump it up to the thirty-seven percent range.
ATL: Do you have a favorite case of Monk’s?
Shalhoub: Oh boy. I’ve been asked that often. I have my top four or five, I guess. I thought we did really well with the finale, the two-parter. I felt like the writers really delivered on that one. Monk got very sick and we couldn’t figure out why he was sick. It looked like he was maybe going to die, and then he figures out the thing with Trudy’s murderer. So there was a lot of story jam-packed into two hours. He meets Molly, his stepdaughter, and that’s another huge, seismic shift in his world. That one’s way up there.
ATL: It’s interesting to see the role that Trudy plays in the finale. Melora Hardin is probably more known now for The Office, which is an entirely different role. What was it like working with her again and having that be an anchor of this movie?
Shalhoub: Oh, she’s always a dream to work with, and she so wanted to be a part of it. We were shooting up in Toronto, and sometimes we would have an opportunity for all of us to go out and grab a meal or whatever. She was the one who was always getting recognized from The Office. I was invisible most of the time. The rest of us were just kind of like wallpaper. And with her: “Can I get a selfie? Can I get an autograph? I love this episode.” She was the rock star. She is the rock star.
ATL: There’s a real melancholy to this movie. How did you balance that with the comedy of his character?
Shalhoub: We liked the idea that Andy had, that we were going to go dark, darker than we typically would. The challenge was to not undercut the comedic elements of this script. But I like the fact that it gets a little unsettling. Monk is in trouble when we first find him here. In prior seasons, in prior episodes, all through the eight seasons, he always had his work to revive him or buoy him, at least keep his head slightly above water when he was falling into despair. But now, when we see him, he’s not really working as a consultant. He doesn’t have Stottlemeyer. He doesn’t have Disher. He doesn’t have Natalie. He has Molly, but not in the work mode, so he’s got very little keeping him afloat.
ATL: This movie has its title, but is this really the end? Would you be open to returning if there was more Monk sometime in the future?
Shalhoub: I could be talked into that, possibly. I would be open to that conversation, certainly, because it just made so much sense and it was really just so interesting to revisit and joyful. Super emotionally charged as well, as we go into the dark stuff.
ATL: Right around the time Monk started, you had just done something new with The Man Who Wasn’t There from the Coen Brothers. Do you remember how you felt stepping into this role, and how your career changed twenty-something years ago?
Shalhoub: Oh, sure, I remember quite well. The reason it was a bit of a game changer was because I had never been the title character of a series, and haven’t since. From the very beginning of Monk, I was an executive producer, which meant that I was wearing more than one hat. I was involved in guest casting. I was involved in editing. I was in constant contact with the writers and weighing in on that stuff. So there was a learning curve to that and it was a bit of an education. In that sense, it was very, very different, very new.
ATL: While he’s able to function a little bit better in society, Abe from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel does share some traits with Monk. Do you feel like those characters are similar at all?
Shalhoub: I think there’s an intersect there somewhere. Yeah, sure. They’re certainly very different men of different times, of a different era. They intersect at me, I suppose.
ATL: Do you have any other reflections about the joy of working on that show now that it’s come to an end?
Shalhoub: Maisel? Every minute was a joy. Oh my god, it was such a fantastic project to work on. I miss it a lot. I miss the people. I miss the writers. I miss the writing and I miss Abe and Rose. That whole family dynamic. I miss that period. I love working in that period. It’s a good slot for me.
ATL: You were also in a major movie this year, Flamin’ Hot, which is quite a change of pace. What was it like being part of that, and do you really like Flamin’ Hot Cheetos?
Shalhoub: I like anything that’s salty. I ate a lot of them, actually on the set. That was a really good project, and I really only was out there for about three or four days. We shot in New Mexico. Eva Longoria and I had never worked together. I may have met her once before, but man, she was so good. She was so on top of the material, and she had a terrific crew out there. I just love that story. I love the fact that I could play a real guy, Roger Enrico. I hadn’t been familiar with that character, so it involved a lot of exploration and research. It was a good one.
ATL: I also associate you with another food movie, Big Night. Does that play a strong role in your memory and your career?
Shalhoub: Oh, absolutely. Big Night was another game-changer in terms of film, because it was certainly the largest role that I had done in a feature up to that date. Working with friends, working with Stanley Tucci. I had done a play with Stanley, so I knew him and other people that I had worked with over the years. That’s a story that would be interesting to revisit, I think! Those characters, how many years later, Jesus, many, many, many years later. Twenty-seven. That changed the landscape for me quite a bit in terms of my career.
ATL: You’ve also spent time on Broadway, including starring in The Band’s Visit. Do you have plans in the future to do more theater?
Shalhoub: Oh, I hope so. Yes, it’s been too long now. The Band’s Visit was probably about six years ago that I finished that. I’ve been doing a lot of readings of plays lately and hoping that one of those takes off. I would love to get back into theater again.
ATL: Do you have other projects, whether it’s TV, film or Broadway, something that people don’t ask you about enough?
Shalhoub: I did a movie that I really liked during COVID. It was before I did Flamin’ Hot. It’s called Linoleum, with Jim Gaffigan – Colin West was the writer-director on that. A really interesting, outside-the-box picture. I’ve been actually talking to Colin about his next project, which is in the works. I’d like people to see Linoleum, just because I think he’s a really interesting up-and-coming filmmaker. [Linoleum is streaming on Hulu.]
ATL: You’ve done so much over the course of your career. What do you want to do next? What haven’t you tried yet?
Shalhoub: I don’t know. I feel like there are many, many more dragons to slay, as they say. I had tried my hand at directing. I did an indie movie that I directed that my wife and her sister wrote called Made-Up. I would like to revisit directing. It’s too many years and I really enjoyed that. It brought out the Monk in me.
ATL: Do you have a preference between TV, film and the stage for where you like to work best?
Shalhoub: No, I don’t. I like moving through all three if possible. It’s really the material that I focus on more than the venue. If the material is good and the material is right and the collaborators feel good and challenging, that’s where I want to be. I’m not particular. I like all three venues a lot.
Mr. Monk’s Last Case: A Monk Movie premieres on Peacock on Friday, December 8.