Tony Shalhoub discusses acting career
On Sunday, actor Tony Shalhoub came to Brandeis for a question and answer session in the Wasserman Cinematheque. Shalhoub has a prolific career in plays, movies and TV shows; he is well-known for his portrayal of troubled homicide detective Adrian Monk in the show “Monk” for which he received multiple awards, and he currently plays Abe Weissman, father of Miriam “Midge” Maisel in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
Eric Chasalow, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, began the event by mentioning his own “eerie” connection with “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” – Dean Chasalow’s father, like Weissman, was an applied mathematician who worked at Columbia.
Chasalow asked Shalhoub about what inspired his portrayal of Weissman, leading Shalhoub to talk about his mentor Robert Brunstein. Brunstein was Shalhoub’s teacher at Yale Drama School who was “almost like a second father” to him. After Brunstein founded the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge Massachusetts, Shalhoub followed him and spent four years there. In addition, he mentioned he was the father of two daughters around Midge’s age, so it was easy to relate to his character.
Shalhoub remarked that Abe Weissman’s clothes reminded him of Brunstein’s, bringing the conversation to the costume design of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” which Shalhoub praised, saying that the wardrobe, as well as the set and the props ,“make it very easy to be transported back into that decade.” A child of the 1950’s, he remarked on the authenticity of the parents’ leaving the kids to their own devices.
The conversation turned to the many different characters Shalhoub played over the years; he said he was lucky that his roles were often very different. He played both dramatic and comedic roles, each of which informed the other; to enrich his performance he would attempt to find the humor in a dramatic character and the drama in a comedic character.
Shalhoub worried sometimes about being typecast when one of his characters became popular, but he has played more than one well known character — from Monk, to Antonio Scarpacci in “Wings” to Weissman, which has diluted any potential typecasting.
When the audience was given the opportunity to ask questions, discussion continued of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Shalhoub talked about some of the most challenging aspects of the show: the fast-paced dialogue and long takes. Every actor was forced to be hyper-alert in every scene if they did not wish to make a mistake and exasperate their colleagues.
Filming has a different process from that of live theater, Shalhoub said. In theater, everything is generally practiced and performed linearly, allowing emotions to build upon each other. By contrast, film is almost always shot out of order based on location and availability of the actors. He gave an anecdote about having to take a red-eye flight to start filming a movie and having his first scene be his character’s most emotional scene of the movie.
Shalhoub finished off the session saying that “it’s all about the material and the people you’re working with. If you’re working with great material and people that you love and respect, that’s half the job really.”