A version of this story about Tony Shalhoub first appeared in the Down to the Wire issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.
Actor Tony Shalhoub has been acting on stage and on screen for more than three decades, starring in the hits shows “Wings” and “Monk” and winning three Emmys and a Tony along the way.
But his role in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” for which he received an Emmy nomination eight years after the last of his eight consecutive noms for “Monk,” forced him to do something he was not used to doing: Talk really fast.
Speed, after all, has been a trademark for creator Amy Sherman-Palladino since her days on “Gilmore Girls,” and she hasn’t slowed down on “Mrs. Maisel,” in which Shalhoub plays Abe Weissman, the math-professor father of “Midge” Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan).
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“The biggest challenge is the speed at which these characters converse,” Shalhoub said. “You don’t have a lot of time for psychology and reflection. You just go. It was a bit of a learning curve to get up to that speed.
“And also, it’s not just speaking at that pace, it’s a way of listening at a high speed, if that makes sense. You have to really keep up and focus on what’s coming at you.”
In the role, Shalhoub quietly (but quickly) sketches a portrait of a man who finds himself in a time and place (late ’50s New York City) where his ironclad sense of how men and women behave is starting to fracture.
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“I’m drawn to that period, the ’50s,” he said. “I’ve done other projects from that period, and it always seems like a good fit for me. And I liked the idea that he was an unconventional TV father. Not the buffoon, not the put-upon guy — he’s a guy with a sense of himself and a sense of authority, who just happens to be going through a time when his family and the culture is changing.
“When we find him, he’s a self-assured man, but even in the pilot the wheels start to fall off.”
That pilot was the only script that Shalhoub saw when he agreed to take the role, but he believed showrunners Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino when they said his character would have more to do in subsequent shows.
“We had conversations about that,” he said. “They said that all the characters were going to be evolving, and the relationships were going to be more and more complex. Whenever you take a project there’s a certain level of trust, but I really based my decision on the high quality of the writing.”
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The Amazon show’s schedule also builds in more rehearsal time than the usual sitcom, which theater veteran Shalhoub (a Tony winner this year for the musical “The Band’s Visit”) appreciates. But Sherman-Palladino also relies on long, uninterrupted takes (“oners”), which means the extra time is necessary to work out the blocking and movement.
“There are a lot of oners, a lot of long steadicam shots that go on without any cuts, and sometimes we’re moving through two or three rooms,” he said. “That stuff has to be choreographed really well. Oners look fantastic and feel great, but in those long uncut sequences, there can be no mistakes. So we’re allowed to rehearse almost like a play, which is rare in television.”
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One of the scenes that took the most rehearsal, he added, was a scene in the the Season 1 finale featuring an uproarious confrontation between Midge and an apoplectic Abe in an impossibly cluttered room full of books and furniture.
“That scene took a bit of rehearsal just to figure out what book I was going to step on and what furniture I was going to crawl over so that I didn’t break my neck,” he said. “I had to make sure there wasn’t hazard pay involved.”
Read more from the Down to the Wire issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.