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Tony Shalhoub Reveals The Biggest Challenge to Playing Adrian Monk

Tony Shalhoub will return in Mr. Monk's Last Case: A Monk Movie after many years. Here's what the actor says is the hardest part about dusting off the character.

By Cassidy Ward
Tony Shalhoub sits on a couch on the set of The Kelly Clarkson Show

Andy Breckman’s comedy police procedural Monk aired from 2002 to 2009 and was so popular that the series finale broke the record for the most watched episodic drama when it aired. The show starred Tony Shalhoub as the titular Adrian Monk, a police detective turned private investigator dealing with the untimely death of his spouse. While Monk is especially talented at solving mysteries, he has more than a few idiosyncrasies which make him difficult to work with.

RELATED: Mr. Monk's Last Case: A Monk Movie Trailer Sees the Gang Back in Action One More Time

Writers succeeded in striking a balance between tense, dramatic moments and comedy well enough to make the character believable and likeable and keep viewers coming back for eight seasons. Mr. Monk will be making a triumphant return to our screens after a significant hiatus with the release of Mr. Monk’s Last Case: A Monk Movie, premiering on Peacock December 8, 2023. But before that, Shalhoub sat down virtually with former Monk producer and writer Tom Scharpling to discuss the challenges of creating the iconic character.

Tony Shalhoub Figured Out Adrian Monk Early On

Scharpling, who hosted the interview on his radio show and podcast The Best Show with Tom Scharpling, described Shalhoub’s willingness to try just about anything with the character. The actor's one rule was that anything was fair game, as long as it made sense in reality. In a newly released clip from an interview they did during a 24-hour livestream, Scharpling recounted Shalhoub telling the writers, “I will try anything you guys want me to try, I just have to have a way into it. I have to be able to perform it authentically and honestly.”

Grounding the story in reality, even if that reality is somewhat exaggerated for comedic or dramatic effect, allowed the team behind Monk to tread in wackier waters without losing the audience.

“The challenges you were giving me were, here is a dark moment, a serious, emotional moment for Monk and yet there’s something in the story that’s really kind of out there and funky and off-center… goofy. Goofy!” Shalhoub said. “I saw early on you were giving me the dare or the challenge of butting these moments right up next to each other.”

With a show like Monk you almost needed something totally unexpected, maybe even a little bit improbable, to happen every once in a while just to keep the mood from circling the drain. But there was always the risk of jumping the shark, of pushing Monk too far and losing the suspension of disbelief needed to make Monk and his world work. Shalhoub’s unwillingness to let the character do anything unless it was something Monk would do as an actual person, and the writing team’s willingness to follow that lead, kept the show from going off the rails. More than that, it allowed for the crafting of a character and a story with as much heart as hijinks.

“There were times in the show when we went balls out and it really kind of worked. And it was refreshing, and it was liberating, and we found out that we could repeat it. We could do it again and again if we were doing it in a smart way, respectful to the character,” Shalhoub concluded.

Scharpling agreed, while noting that the success of the show wasn’t just about balance, it was also about being respectful of the audience and their time. 

“People watching TV, they’re letting Monk into their house. They’re inviting him in every week to hang out with them for an hour and he’s a good guest,” Scharpling said. “He’s a fun guest. He’s a seriously flawed person and he’s struggling with his issues. But the code is there, the morality of the character is there, the heart is there. You can keep believing in this character.”

Mr. Monk might need all of the belief he can get when he returns in Mr. Monk’s Last Case: A Monk Movie, premiering on Peacock December 8, 2023. Catch up on past episodes streaming now.

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