From Maine to Monk: USM Alumni Tony Shalhoub

Posted on September 09, 2002 in Arts & Culture
By Laurie S. Dell

Students who watch USA Network’s new hit television series Monk have something in common with the show’s leading man: matriculation at USM.

Tony Shalhoub played Antonio Scarpacci, the cab driver on NBC’s television series Wings, from 1991-1997. Now, Shalhoub stars as Adrian Monk, the obsessive-compulsive private detective solving San Francisco’s toughest crimes by noticing the smallest overlooked details.

One of the most talented character actors working today, the Lebanese-American from Green Bay, Wisconsin, got his start in acting at USM when he graduated as a Theater Major in 1977 before going on to obtain his MFA at Yale.

Today, Shalhoub is an experienced actor, director and producer of stage, screen and television. Shalhoub has appeared on stage in Boston as well as Broadway.

Shalhoub eventually moved from stage to network television as a regular cast member of Stark Raving Mad after Wings and has appeared in more than ten separate television appearances on shows such as Frasier, Ally McBeal, and the X-Files. Before starring in Monk, Shalhoub appeared in 40 films such as Galaxy Quest, Spy Kids I & II, Men In Black I & II, and The Siege.

While attending USM for three years, Shalhoub appeared on stage under the direction of theater Professor Thomas Power, in such productions as Desire Under the Elms, and The Burning of Falmouth.

“From an early age I always wanted to act,” Shalhoub recalled. “Acting in college theater cemented my desire.”

During our telephone conversation, Shalhoub was on the set of Monk, filming Episode Nine of 11. Tony recalled fond memories of attending what was then the theater group of the University of Maine at Portland-Gorham.

“USM is a good school. I had always had a desire to come to Maine,” Shalhoub said. “So, I transferred to USM as part of the National Student Exchange Program after being a freshman at the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay. I was quickly involved in theater at USM.”

Professor Thomas Power remembers Shalhoub as a student with “the talent and the drive to succeed, he clearly has done just that.” Similar to his character Adrian Monk, Power adds, “Tony had that critical inner eye.”

Shalhoub calls his time at USM “very valuable.”

“I always got a lot out of my classes,” Shalhoub continued. “I was fortunate enough to get work-study with the Profile Group in Portland which became the Portland Stage Company. Then I integrated into Children’s Theater with Tom Power.”

Shalhoub says his most favored role there was “the lead in Sitting Bull.”

Professor Power compares Shalhoub the student to other USM theater students. “Many of our students have talent, most lack discipline – the drive to work harder, get up earlier and bring something to rehearsal without complaint or expectation. Tony never accepted his last performance as the best but always sought to make it better.”

Shalhoub had returned to USM to appear in Power’s televised production of Kurt Vonnegut Jr’s, Make Up Your Mind. Power reminds his students that “[Shalhoub] is an excellent example of how attitude can affect success.”

Looking back to his days at USM, Shalhoub comments, “I think I have become a more detailed actor. I don’t adhere to any one method of acting. Today, I use combinations and new avenues.”

Offering advice to aspiring actors at USM, Shalhoub has the following suggestion: “Try and do less. Listening is a huge part. React and stay open to every nuance and the happy accidents you can never create.” And he cautions, “Steer clear of negativity and stay in a positive frame of mind. Keep your head clear: Negativity will consume you.”

When asked if he would consider giving a commencement address at USM, Shalhoub replied, “I would do it. I don’t think I have ever been asked, or I may have been busy at the time. But I think it would be a lot of fun and I would certainly love to get back to Portland again.”