Q&A: Tony Shalhoub

The actor wraps up 'Monk' and eyes his next challenge

Hard to imagine that a dramedy about a detective with OCD could become a powerhouse. But since 2002, Tony Shalhoub's indelible Adrian Monk has helped turn the USA Network into a ratings player (not to mention his own three Emmys, with a fourth possible this year). As the series returns for its eighth and final season Friday, Shalhoub discusses getting on with his career and maybe making off with a few of the show's props.

The Hollywood Reporter: Show creator Andy Breckman told me he compares your portrayal to a jazz performance, always looking for variations on your scenes. Is that accurate?

Tony Shalhoub: I like that description. We make an effort not to repeat ourselves too much. I was trained in the theater, and the emphasis was always on transforming, not playing things too close to yourself. Monk is a culmination of that training and theater work: More than other TV characters, there's a real physical life to him. We tend to shoot the show a little wider, it's not all close-ups, so characters have more of a chance to do physical comedy.

THR: You've had loads of bit parts, but you didn't land a regular role (on "Wings") until you were in your late 30s. Was TV ever a real goal of yours as an actor?

Shalhoub: I was trying to work steady, I wanted longevity in the business and always to have growth. Television was just another learning experience -- it's never been this sense of arrival like, "Here I am, here's where I've always wanted to be." Success is a word that has bothered me; I never felt I was a failure because I hadn't done a sitcom. The goal was to keep acting and not have too much downtime. All of it seemed part of the same journey.

THR: Were you always this sanguine about your career trajectory?

Shalhoub: God, no! I drove myself nuts about it. I can only say these things looking back calmly on it. It all started to settle for me, and I was able to put it into perspective when I met (future wife, actress) Brooke (Adams), got married and had balance in my life. It wasn't just about work and the next job and clawing upward or sideways.

THR: You've produced the show since it debuted. What does that part of the job entail?

Shalhoub: I wanted to have at least a voice in overall tone and casting choices. There were times I worked on sitcoms and was frustrated with the way shows were edited. I had it in my mind how I wanted a joke to play out, and when I saw it I'd say, "That wasn't the pause I was taking." For "Monk," I'm in the editing room for every episode. It takes a little longer this way, and it's all done joyfully, but I think it helps the show.

THR: So is producing for you mainly a matter of control?

Shalhoub: I feel like I have so much experience in front of the camera, and I work with so many good people and directors that you just pick things up, you develop skills you didn't even know you had. Ultimately, it's about problem solving and everybody getting really creative. I've been able to develop and learn that on "Monk" over the past eight years, and now I'd like to use that knowledge going forward.

THR: You're also producing an indie film "Feed the Fish." Will you focus on acting or producing in the future?

Shalhoub: I know I don't want to quit acting. But I would like to do more producing. I want to be in the position where I'm pulling things together. But in the short term, I need to take some time after "Monk" and clear my head and figure out what I want to focus on next. I might do a play. That would be a really good way to flush eight years of "Monk" out of my system.

THR: Are you planning to take home any souvenirs on the last day of shooting?

Shalhoub: I hope they'll let me steal a few props. I'll just clean out Monk's apartment and throw it all in the back of my car.

THR: Adrian Monk is such a fearful guy. What's your greatest fear?

Shalhoub: That I wake up one day and all the creative juices are gone. My greatest fear is that drying up.