'Awards Chatter' Podcast — Tony Shalhoub ('The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel')

Tony Shalhoub
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"There's something wrong with me," Tony Shalhoub, the beloved veteran character actor, says with a laugh as we record an episode of The Hollywood Reporter's Awards Chatter podcast. With four Emmys, three SAG Awards, a Golden Globe and a Tony on his mantelpiece, one could be forgiven for wondering what the 66-year-old — who is now nominated for an Emmy for the 11th time, this time for his supporting work on the comedy series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel — is referring to. "I have a kind of restless streak in me," he elaborates. "When things are going really well, I have to sort of change things so that things can go poorly again. It's a terrible habit." That may be, but 40 years into his career it seems to be working, since every time he has walked away from stability, he has, against all odds, wound up in an even better position than he was in before.

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Past guests include Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Lorne Michaels, Barbra Streisand, George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Jennifer Lawrence, Eddie Murphy, Gal Gadot, Warren Beatty, Angelina Jolie, Snoop Dogg, Jessica Chastain, Stephen Colbert, Reese Witherspoon, Aaron Sorkin, Margot Robbie, Ryan Reynolds, Nicole Kidman, Denzel Washington, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Matthew McConaughey, Kate Winslet, Jimmy Kimmel, Natalie Portman, Chadwick Boseman, Jennifer Lopez, Elton John, Judi Dench, Quincy Jones, Jane Fonda, Tom Hanks, Amy Schumer, Justin Timberlake, Elisabeth Moss, RuPaul, Rachel Brosnahan, Jimmy Fallon, Kris Jenner, Michael Moore, Emilia Clarke, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Helen Mirren, Tyler Perry, Sally Field, Spike Lee, Lady Gaga, J.J. Abrams, Emma Stone, Al Pacino, Julia Roberts, Jerry Seinfeld, Dolly Parton, Will Smith, Taraji P. Henson, Sacha Baron Cohen, Carol Burnett and Norman Lear.

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Hailing from Green Bay, Wis., the second-youngest of 10 kids born to Lebanese immigrants, Shalhoub first dabbled in acting as a six-year-old when one of his older sisters enlisted him to play the part of a Thai child in her high school production of The King and I. The acting bug never left him, and later led him to the University of Southern Maine's theater department; then to the prestigious Yale School of Drama; then to a repertory theater company in Cambridge, Mass. for a few years; and eventually to New York, where, just months after arriving, he made his Broadway debut in The Odd Couple.

But quick success on the Great White Way, as well as in small film and TV parts on the side, left him feeling too comfortable for his own liking, so he up and left for Los Angeles — where one of the first parts he landed was as a manic waiter-turned-cabbie Antonio Scarpacci on the hit TV show Wings. That series, which ran from 1990 through 1997, had a shooting schedule with hiatuses long enough to enable Shalhoub to return to Broadway (he received his first of four Tony noms for 1992's Conversations with My Father) and to make films (both indie, like Stanley Tucci's 1996 cult classic Big Night, and studio, such as a 1997's Men in Black).

Post-Wings, Shalhoub returned to series TV — initially for a heartbreakingly short run on an NBC sitcom called Stark Raving Mad, which only lasted from late 1999 into early 2000, and then for a career-defining eight-season run, beginning in 2002, as the title character — a detective with OCD — on USA Network's Monk, for which he won three Emmys, two SAG Awards and a Golden Globe for best actor in a comedy series. When Monk ended in 2009, he moved back to New York, and in 2010 he returned to Broadway for the first time in 17 years, giving a string of acclaimed performances which resulted in three more Tony nominations over the next decade — for Golden Boy (2013), Act One (2014) and The Band's Visit (2019), taking home the best actor in a musical prize for the most recent, even though it was the first musical he had ever starred in. ("It was terrifying and it was humbling," he acknowledges, "but it all turned out great.")

In the midst of the years-long Band's Visit run (initially off Broadway and then on), Shalhoub read the pilot for a show about a 1950s Jewish family written by the wife/husband team of Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino called The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. And though the character that he would theoretically play, Columbia mathematics professor Abe Weissman, didn't factor much into the pilot, he was enchanted. "I responded really to the tone of it, to the writing, the rhythm of it, the intelligence of it and also the fact that the main character, Midge, was around the age of my two daughters — she's kind of right in between their ages," he says. Plus, he was assured by the Palladinos that Abe — who he says reminds him of his own father "in a lot of ways" — would significantly evolve in subsequent episodes.

Maisel was ordered to series by Amazon, and three seasons later it is one of the most popular and acclaimed comedies on TV, with the show, titular star Rachel Brosnahan, supporting actress Alex Borstein and, yes, Shalhoub, all having won at least one Emmy. In season one, Abe's world was turned upside down when he realized his daughter was not who he thought she was; in season two, his marriage and job were on the rocks; and in season three, he got back in touch with his younger self. "It's so rare in a TV show you get to go through all of these changes," he reflects. "Oftentimes, if you're on series television, your character has a certain voice, serves a certain function in the story, and that very often does not change much, which can be frustrating for actors. Yes, you have job security, but you get sort of stuck playing two or three colors continually, and that can be frustrating. Whereas with these writers? Man, it's curveball after curveball, and you're never on sure footing, and it makes it really challenging and keeps it alive."