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Tony Shalhoub on going dark for “Mr. Monk's Last Case” and that surprising ending

Here's what happened...

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Mr. Monk's Last Case.

Mr. Monk is back and it's all gift. No curse.

Though the defective detective might say otherwise, considering the series goes darker than ever before, thrusting Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub) into the throes of suicidal ideation in Mr. Monk's Last Case, a new movie now streaming on Peacock. Creator Andy Breckman has likened the movie's storytelling to It's a Wonderful Life and that film's ability to turn darkness into a moving holiday classic.

"When Andy first pitched the idea, I thought, 'Wow, that's not something I would've anticipated,'" Shalhoub tells EW. "But it didn't take long for it to lock in. I thought, 'You know what? This is really right because we want it to be different.' Why do this at all? Why revisit these characters unless we're treading on new ground? It's very real. The biggest challenge in my mind was, 'Can we pull this off and do it justice while balancing the comedic elements?'"

<p>Peter Stranks/PEACOCK</p> Tony Shalhoub in 'Mr. Monk's Last Case'

Peter Stranks/PEACOCK

Tony Shalhoub in 'Mr. Monk's Last Case'

"We want to go dark," he continues. "But we don't want the darkness to undercut the comedy we need in there. We've always done a balancing act. We've always walked the tightrope. This was a higher rope, and it's a lot thinner, and there's a volcano beneath us."

Mr. Monk's Last Case follows Monk as his life is thrown into upheaval when Trudy's (Melora Hardin) daughter Molly (Caitlin McGee) loses her fiancé, Griffin (Austin Scott), in a suspicious accident and asks Monk to investigate. Surrounded once again by old pals Natalie (Traylor Howard), Randy (Jason Gray-Stanford), and Leland Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine), Monk reluctantly agrees, postponing his plan to take his own life.

The parallels to It's a Wonderful Life are even stronger in the movie's conclusion, in which Monk sits in the park preparing to take a lethal dose of pills. But he is saved by a reminder of how many people he's helped — in the form of the spirits of Trudy, Griffin, and countless other victims of the crimes he solved.

"I always loved the idea," Shalhoub says of the ending. "There's a certain surreal element to it. It's taking place all in Monk's head. Trudy represents to him a tiny, tiny intestinal glimmer of hope that exists way in the recesses of his mind that he's not even aware of. That leads him to conjuring Griffin, who talks about closure and is grateful. That triggers this idea that possibly it was not for naught and that the others got some benefit from it too."

We caught up with Shalhoub to get all the OCDetails on returning to the role, including how hilarious it was filming a scene in which he steps in dog poop, his absurd mustache disguise, and whether he'd come back for more.

<p>Steve Wilkie/PEACOCK</p> Tony Shalhoub and Melora Hardin in 'Mr. Monk's Last Case'

Steve Wilkie/PEACOCK

Tony Shalhoub and Melora Hardin in 'Mr. Monk's Last Case'

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It's been a long time since we have seen Monk back in detective mode. The original series ended in 2009. Was it easy for you to slip back into the brown suit, or did it take a second? 

TONY SHALHOUB: It was easier than I anticipated. The first day was a little daunting. How do I physically get back into this? What's the voice? It's been so many years. But by the end of the first day, we just fell right back into it. Having all the ensemble back together with such commitment and enthusiasm, and everyone bringing their A-game, we clicked in pretty quickly.

We saw him, if not healed, at least on a good path to healing in the series finale. Was it hard for you to return to him in a place where he's regressed so much?

In some ways it was challenging. I tried to keep in the forefront of my mind all of the devastation and difficulty with COVID and how impactful that was; how much illness and loss there was during that time and challenges for people's jobs and their economic situation. We're all in a different place now than we were back in '08 or '09 when we finished the show. I tried to hold onto that and bring that to it.

<p>Steve Wilkie/PEACOCK</p> Tony Shalhoub in 'Mr. Monk's Last Case'

Steve Wilkie/PEACOCK

Tony Shalhoub in 'Mr. Monk's Last Case'

We get these glimpses that all of us have a little bit of Monk in us now with everyone wanting some of his hand sanitizer. Did you find that ironically or darkly humorous, that we've all trended in that direction? 

I do. Misery loves company. The character is still out there. He's still more odd than many, but he's more relatable. We find out that he's not as neurotic and hopeless as we thought. He's not an alien being, he's just a guy who was ahead of his time.

In the scene where Randy is playing with the Lego Bridge and giving you his theories, there's one shot of you where I feel like a little bit of Tony comes through. It looks like you've got a smile on your face and are holding in a laugh.

I could not do that scene without cracking up. I'm the worst. He was so funny in that scene, and every time he did it, he did it slightly differently and surprisingly, and I could not get through it. Ted and Traylor, they were fine. We all were into it, but I was losing it. I don't know if I was extra punchy that day, but I thought Jason just killed it. Just absolutely crushed it. I had to cover my mouth at one point because it was too much. I've said it. I'm an amateur, what can I tell you?

<p>Steve Wilkie/PEACOCK</p> Jason Gray-Stanford, Traylor Howard and Tony Shalhoub in 'Mr. Monk's Last Case'

Steve Wilkie/PEACOCK

Jason Gray-Stanford, Traylor Howard and Tony Shalhoub in 'Mr. Monk's Last Case'

We learn that Dr. Bell (Hector Elizondo) has retired but has still been seeing Adrian. For you, what did that say about their relationship as therapist and patient? 

They're so invested in each other and they have such a, I don't want to say love-hate relationship, but they have a complicated relationship. It's almost like a marriage. These two, they struggle, and yet they're devoted to each other. It's coincidental in a way because Hector, the actor, has retired, and we begged him to come out of retirement, and we promised him we could do it all in one day. Of course, he had to fly from L.A., where he lives, to Toronto, where we shot. But once we sent him the scenes and we assured him that it was still sitting in a chair talking to Tony, he took the bait. Those are a couple of my favorite scenes in the movie.

Monk has an absolute meltdown when he steps in dog poop. Did you just give yourself over to reveling in the abandon of that moment?

I did. Andy gave me some lines, and then I took the liberty of embellishing and adding certain things, some of which never made the cut.

Like what?

"Semi-retired officer down" — I really wanted that to stay in. They let me play on a number of things like that — where I'm giving the tip to the pharmacy delivery kid and the bartending scene, they gave me carte blanche there.

<p>Steve Wilkie/PEACOCK</p> Ted Levine in 'Mr. Monk's Last Case'

Steve Wilkie/PEACOCK

Ted Levine in 'Mr. Monk's Last Case'

Speaking of the bartending scene, it's hilarious to me that Monk's idea of going undercover is wearing a fake mustache. Particularly because Monk is famously clean-shaven and on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Abe had a mustache. Was it confusing to be Monk with Abe's mustache?

A little bit. It was a little jarring. And then I didn't realize until I saw the dailies that I looked like Geraldo Rivera. I asked the writers if we could have one of the party guests at the bar there loop in some ADR referring to me sardonically as Geraldo, because I just thought, "There's no way people are not going to see Geraldo."

Natalie leaves Monk with rescue dog Watson, his kindred spirit. How is Monk going to cope with having a dog? That feels like a lot for him to manage.

I think it's going to be good for Monk because it's going to get him out in the world more. He's going to have to be on the move several times a day, and it's slowly, I imagine, very incrementally going to get him out of himself more, I hope.

<p>PEACOCK</p> Austin Scott in 'Mr. Monk's Last Case'

PEACOCK

Austin Scott in 'Mr. Monk's Last Case'

Actors hope for one memorable television role. You've had three with Wings, Monk, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Where does Monk stand in your career given that?

Monk was a bit of a game-changer. It was the first and only time that I was the title character. I was also a producer on Monk, which I was not on Wings and not on Maisel. So I had duties other than just acting. I was involved in discussions with the writers of the story. I was involved in guest casting. I was involved in the editing. So I got to wear a producer's hat for eight years, and that taught me a lot. It's a bit of a standalone thing.

The movie's called Mr. Monk's Last Case, but it left us very open-ended with Monk being offered a spot as a consulting detective for the SFPD. Would you want to return again, maybe make a movie like this every few years or something? 

I never say never. I would not be opposed to that, if that's a possibility. But you'd have to ask the writers and the network. That's not up to me.

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