Tony Shalhoub and Bitty Schram Dish on Monk
The star of the show and the returning Sharona talk about the final season
The USA Network is gearing up for the series finale of its beloved hit series Monk, which will air on Friday, December 4, and they're bringing back some beloved past characters from the series. Bitty Schram will make her return as Sharona Flemming on this week's episode on Friday, October 23 at 9 PM ET on the USA Network. Both Shalhoub and Schram participated in a conference call to discuss the series, and here's what they had to say.
To prepare for your role as Adrian Monk on the USA series, Monk, it's reported that you did a substantial amount of research with a Los Angeles psychotherapist specializing in obsessive-compulsive disorder. What was that experience like? Did you have to study someone with OCD?
Tony Shalhoub: Well, the psychologist that I spoke with and had sessions with just gave me a lot of information and a lot of reading material. And that combined with some videos that I was able to find, videos of people who suffer from OCD, I was able to kind of build the character off of that information. It was really kind of standard research that you would do for prepping for any role, really.
What can you tell us about the upcoming series finale?
Tony Shalhoub: Well, I can't tell you too much other than the writers have - they're going to solve the Trudy mystery and have ... resolution there. But I'm really not at liberty to give away too much of that information. And after eight years on Monk, it's had a devastating effect on my memory, so even if wanted to, I probably couldn't tell you because I really don't remember how it goes.
Tony, I was wondering, what was it like for you and Bitty to work together again?
Tony Shalhoub: Well, that was fantastic. It was great. It felt like we just picked up right where we left off and we didn't miss a beat. And the only difficulty for me was that I look a lot older and Bitty looks exactly the same.
Bitty Schram: Well I'm not sure about ... You're being too kind.
Was the chemistry that Adrian and Sharona always had easy to revive, Bitty?
Bitty Schram: Oh, yes, absolutely. It was honestly like I never left. I swear, it's exactly what he said. It's a bizarre phenomenon, but it's true. I mean I heard, I don't know why that Seinfeld thing on Curb Your Enthusiasm came out and I heard stuff like a remark that Jason Alexander said. Like they never, like riding a bike, and it's true. It's like you never leave. I don't know, it's like it's . . .
Tony Shalhoub: Bitty and I both looked at each other while we were doing the first scene, which is the scene - the first day was the scene where she returns. And we just looked at each other and laughed because it just felt like no time at all had passed.
Bitty Schram: It's very true. I mean honestly it felt like I never left. Even with the crew, with everyone. It was bizarre, but in a good way. You know, I mean it's good. It never leaves you, never.
I saw some pictures of a wedding taking place. I wonder, Tony, if you can give us any information on that.
Tony Shalhoub: No. Okay, yes. I'll give you some information. A wedding takes place on the show. A man and a woman become wed. That's about all I can tell you.
Playing the two characters over the years - and especially you, Tony. I know you said you studied the OCD and everything. What did you come away with, what lesson did you come away with about people dealing with mental health issues?
Tony Shalhoub: Well, I mean I think the biggest thing is that sometimes this is true I think for people who suffer from OCD but also just for everyone I think in our culture. Sometimes our neuroses or out idiosyncrasies or what we view as our shortcomings or our problems can actually be used as our strengths. And if you can figure out a way to turn your liabilities into assets, with Adrian Monk of course it was his obsessive attention to detail that drove him and others crazy, but also allowed him to be really good at his job. So that's what I came away with.
Is it difficult putting away the character that you've played now for so long and I mean, Bitty, you've left and come back. And is it, ... do the same thing?
Tony Shalhoub: Do you want me to go first? I really just finished shooting yesterday, so I don't really feel that it's left me yet. I don't know how long that is going to take, so I think I'd have to answer that question in a few weeks.
Bitty Schram: As for me, I think it's similar to the question I answered before. It never leaves, even though I came back for a brief moment. It was as if I never left and it's honestly it's not - what was the question again? I'm so sorry, what was . . . I knew the question but I kind of, I forgot it as I was answering it.
Was it difficult to put the character away?
Bitty Schram: To put it away, is that what you said? I get it. And does it come back. No, because it kind of like it just comes back. I can't explain it, but it just does. No, it wasn't and it wasn't hard . . .
Tony Shalhoub: I think it has a lot to do with the writing, the way these writers work, the language, the rhythm, the music of the dialog. It sort of, kind of infects you and lives inside of you and it's just, it really does become a part of you.
Bitty, did you give much thought to how the character of Sharona would react to the character of Natalie as you were going in?
Bitty Schram: Well, no. I didn't really know what the script, what they had planned until I got the script. I got it like a week before, then I thought about it once I got the script because I didn't really know what they wrote for me to come back and stuff like that and what they had the relationship thing. You know what I'm saying? But once I read the script and then I can make choices on how to play that and how to play my relationship with Natalie. But I didn't know until I had more information.
Did you watch the show much after you left?
Bitty Schram: No, I honestly I didn't but you know, that had nothing to do with me leaving because when I was on it, I didn't really watch it because it's hard for me to watch. Like it's just hard for me to watch anything. I honestly have never really even watched some other things I've done. I don't like doing that to be honest. So it has nothing to do with - it's just my neuroses.
Tony, when you look at Monk now, what feelings do you have for the character as compared to day one?
Tony Shalhoub: Day one, yes. Well day one I was, I had no idea what I was doing and I didn't really have an understanding of where the writers and where I was going to take this character, how it was going to evolve. But now, of course, having done 124 episodes, I was really, really gratified to see that we made this character really multifaceted and full of contradictions and I think pretty well rounded. So, and as an actor, that's something that you really always look for.
Is it easier or more difficult going into a season knowing it's the last?
Tony Shalhoub: It's both. It sort of alternates back and forth. On the one hand, it's easier because you're just, you understand that there's going to be resolution and there's going to be a finish line, an end point. And then on the other hand, it just becomes such a family, you know, and you know you're going to miss these people, these relationships and this sort of collective creative energy.
My first question is are you satisfied with the way the series is ending and what's next for both of you?
Bitty Schram: I don't know how the series is ending with the last two, but from my experience, because I don't know the story lines. But for me being back on the show, I was really happy to do it and I thought it ended really, really well. I couldn't, I just thought it ended the way it should have and I was very, very pleased with it and very pleased to be working with everyone again on that show, I really was.
Tony Shalhoub: Do you want to talk about what you're going to do next?
Bitty Schram: Oh, thank you Tony. Next, well I wrote something. I'm in the process of - it's a long story. I don't know how to say it. I wrote a pilot myself, and we're in the middle of getting that off the ground. So it's like a series type thing.
Tony Shalhoub: Well, as far as the finale of the series, I'm very, very happy with how it's come out and in fact the last, not just the last two episodes, but the last five or six where there's a lot of things revealed. I just think it's some of the strongest stuff we've done in all this time. So yes, the answer is I'm very, very, very happy. It was incredibly satisfying for me and I know I'm guessing that it will be for the viewers. And as far as my, what's down the road for me, I guess I'll be stalking Bitty until she gives me a part in her pilot I guess.
Bitty Schram: I would be more than . . . Tony, I never thought of it. It's a good idea.
Tony Shalhoub: Well, you'd better start thinking about it.
Bitty Schram: Okay, so here we go.
Tony Shalhoub: It's really why I arranged this phone call. ...
Bitty Schram: And why we have 20 PR people here. This is very smart - very, very smart.
Tony Shalhoub: That's right. Because you're in such an awkward position. You can hardly say no.
Bitty Schram: I can't say - you have it all on tape.
Tony Shalhoub: Okay.
I think some of the more memorable episodes of the series have always been being kind of a bit of his background. Will we get a chance to see more of them return or perhaps even his mother?
Tony Shalhoub: Not really in the last - really, Trudy resurfaces in a big way. I mean, you know the memory of Trudy and that's kind of the way the writers have mapped it out.
Bitty, how will the story lines play out as far as her relationship with Monk and Natalie's relationship? Like how do you feel that she's going to kind of come across as?
Bitty Schram: How I'm going to come across as relating to Tony's and Natalie's relationship?
Yes, because the dynamics obviously between Natalie and Sharona have always been different. How do you feel she's going to kind of come back now that she's returned? Is it going to be the same dynamic, or is it going to be a little bit different?
Bitty Schram: Well, I think what me and Tony or Sharona and Adrian - I think it is the same dynamic. I just think there's a little Monk, like with Natalie added in there, I think there's, I mean I think it just, it may change the dynamic a little, but I think we still have the same relationship. But I'm very competitive with her. Like for vying for - because you know, I've always loved him no matter what. And I think that's the core of making it work. You know what I'm saying? Of all the humor and making the depth that we try to get within the humor. But I think my relationship with Natalie is a competitive one vying for his attention.
Tony Shalhoub: Loyalty, really, vying for Monk's loyalty I think.
Bitty Schram: Yes, or like who's more special.
Tony Shalhoub: His favorite.
Bitty Schram: Yes, exactly. Like his favorite. Because I think we both care about him. I think we're both coming from the same place, just a different approach. And so I think with her, with Natalie thrown into the mix, I think it's - our relationship is still the same, but I think it's just an added element to it. I thought it worked well, and I liked when we did fight a little. I liked that, the little cat fight.
Tony Shalhoub: Yes. They're fun to love. That was a nice conflict and where they've - but they do come together, the two characters do come together, Natalie and Sharona. Their common ground is that they have enormous affection for him, but they're also driven crazy by him. That's another thing that they share. Their approaches to taking care of him are what create the conflict.
What has been your favorite episode so far and why?
Bitty Schram: Oh God, that's always a tough one. I never know how to answer that. I liked a lot of them, I like the one with John Turturro. I always liked that one, with Tony and his brother.
Tony Shalhoub: Three pies.
Bitty Schram: I love that one. The three pies, yes. Because I love the dynamic with Tony and John Turturro in that. I love the brother, so that's my favorite because of that.
Tony Shalhoub: Yes, that's one of my favorites, too, I'd have to say. Although I have to - all told, though, I think down the road if you were to ask me this question in a month or two, I'd have to say the last. The finale is going to become my favorite because it's been such an enormous - as I said, it's a two-parter and it's a big, big story and so much is really up there. I think that's going to be a good one.
Bitty, what were the similarities between you and Sharona and what were the differences?
Bitty Schram: I guess the similarities would be, well she kind of is feisty, you know. I guess I could get that way. I guess I could get that way and she, I think she could have a tough exterior, but she's kind of mush inside. And I think that's more me, I do. I mean I do, like I just think her strength or whatever just comes from survival mechanisms. It's not really like what she is if she didn't have to be. You know what I'm saying? And I think the differences - I think I have more culture than her. I'm a lot smarter than she is. She doesn't go to New York and see plays, you know what I'm saying? She's just stuck in Jersey, you know. Even though I am from Jersey. Not to put Jersey down, I like Jersey, but I think I'm more cultured. How about that?
Tony Shalhoub: I'd have to agree with that.
Aside from Bitty, tell me who was your favorite eighth season guest star?
Tony Shalhoub: Aside from Bitty, I can't think of anybody who even comes close. We had Daniel Stern in the UFO episode, and he was terrific to work with. I had never worked with him before, and he was delightful and really, really helped to ground an episode that could have gone a little too goofy. So he was really important to that show.
Bitty Schram: He's a good actor.
When you both saw the script and idea for the show for the first time, did you ever think that eight seasons later this is where it would be and this is how huge it would be?
Tony Shalhoub: You mean when we started, is that what you're talking about?
Yes. When you first saw it, did you ever grasp how large this show could grow and the fan base and the awards?
Tony Shalhoub: No. The answer for me is you just never know in TV these days. Sometimes you can do something that you feel is really good and worthwhile and it just for some reason it doesn't translate or it's the wrong, it's ahead of its time or behind its time or whatever and the television landscape is very, very tricky and unstable. So you, when you try to be a realist about it, you just, you have to remain just cautiously optimistic at best.
Bitty Schram: I would never have thought this. I just thought it was going to be a TV - remember, Tony, a TV movie. It was supposed to just be that.
Tony Shalhoub: Exactly. There was talk of, because it was a two-hour pilot there was some talk of it just being a one-off or there was some talk that maybe they would do one of these kinds of TV movies a year or we just, we didn't really know if it was going to turn into a series.
Bitty Schram: Yes, we really had no idea.
What would you like to say to everyone who's a fan and supporter of Sharona?
Bitty Schram: Oh, I would first of all like to thank them so much for their support and for watching and actually liking - it makes me feel like I do my job, so I thank them for that. And I wouldn't be here without them, so it's all about the audience that we're trying to - it's all about the audience because without them we're nothing, right? So I'm just very thankful for their support.
Tony Shalhoub: I think they're going to really like this episode this week. Especially the Sharona fans, the hard core Sharona fans. But I think everybody's really going to like this one. It's got a lot of juice.
Tony, do you have a sense that you made an impact in the OCD community?
Tony Shalhoub: You know, based on mail that we've received from people who suffer from this disorder and from various other people like doctors and people in academia, impact is kind of a big word. But I definitely think that it's, they seem to have embraced this character and maybe in some ways Monk has kind of become a poster boy for those who suffer. But it's, the feedback has all been so positive. I hope that it's had some effect in maybe destigmatizing the disorder and allowing people to see it as something not as just a mental, debilitating mental illness. But this character suffers but still can do his job well and still contributes and is sort of a contributing member to society. And I hope that people can see other sufferers in the same way.
Well what has Monk taught you on a personal level?
Tony Shalhoub: I guess it's made me a little bit more - I tend to take my time with examining certain things or I feel like it's made me somewhat more observant and less quick to jump to conclusions or to make snap judgments. It's kind of slowed down my processes in that way, just allowing me to kind of pore over something a little for longer periods. And I think that seems to have been, be of some value.
Tony, what will you miss most about Monk?
Tony Shalhoub: I miss the people. It's always about the people -- the crew and the production team and the directors and of course the cast. It's just, we've just all gotten very close and love spending time together. And that's kind of what gets you out of bed really early in the morning and putting up with these long, long days. You just do it because of the people and for the people and it's been a great way to keep all these people working. But I just have one - I do have one question, if I may, before we finish. Bitty, where do you think that pilot will shoot? I mean where will the show shoot in case that would be a factor as to whether I'd be able to. You know, would it be Canada or would it be . . .
Bitty Schram: In New York City. Yes, but you know what, though, Tony. Just so you know, I just want to make clear to everyone this is not like signed, sealed and delivered. I'm in a process, right in the middle of a process of making that. So I just want everyone to know like this isn't like signed, sealed and delivered. I would be humiliated, but we're in a process right now if that makes sense.
Tony Shalhoub: Well, I'm a very patient person.
Bitty Schram: Just so you know, Tony. I mean, it would be shot in New York City. Just so you know.
Tony Shalhoub: Just putting out the feelers
You can watch Tony Shalhoub and guest star Bitty Schram on this week's episode of Monk, which airs on Friday, October 23 at 9 PM ET on the USA Network.