Tony Shalhoub (‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’) on how ‘it’s never smooth sailing for Abe’ [Complete Interview Transcript]

Tony Shalhoub just earned his 11th Emmy nomination, his third in a row for playing Abe Weissman in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” He won Best Comedy Supporting Actor last year for the show’s second season.

Shalhoub recently spoke with Gold Derby contributing writer Sam Eckmann about Abe’s growth throughout Season 3, the relationship between him and Rose (Marin Hinkle) and his feelings on his multiple Emmy wins. Watch the exclusive webchat above and read the complete transcript below.

Gold Derby: He is Emmy-nominated once again for playing the neurotic Abe Weissman on Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” after just winning the Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series award last year. … It’s a fantastic character, especially in Season 3, because the show throws a lot of changes at Abe this season. He loses his teaching job. He loses his apartment. He tries to make a newspaper with these beatniks that doesn’t really turn out that well and not all comedies really demand that type of change and growth of their characters. What was the most exciting part of that process for you, of having this character that actually grows and evolves throughout the season? 

Tony Shalhoub: Well, it is exciting. It’s a little daunting, too, and somewhat unsettling in a good way, because when you start a character on a series you really try to satisfy the writers and what the creator’s vision obviously and you kind of work to be more and more specific with what you’re doing, so that was really the case for the first two seasons and then all of the sudden, toward the end of Season 2, all of these curveballs started coming at us, which is great. I mean, I love that stuff. We all want to be on a series that runs a long time, of course, but one of the pitfalls of that is that if you’re playing a character, oftentimes you get kind of squeezed into a limited range. That one character is called on to play two or three colors and then you can sort of start to feel a little painted into a corner. But with Amy [Sherman-Palladino] and Dan [Palladino], it just doesn’t work that way. It’s not just for my character, not just for Abe, but for most of the characters in Season 3. They all are going through upheaval and changes in their lives. Joel is trying to figure out what his life and his future are going to be and certainly Marin’s character, Rose, is just set adrift, and Susie to a degree. So I guess to answer your question, it’s both daunting and kind of exhilarating at the same time. Although, when you introduced me and mention that Abe was neurotic, I mean… (Laughs.)

GD: I didn’t mean to pigeonhole you in! I’m sorry if I’m pigeonholing you in. 

TS: (Laughs.) It’s understandable. I suppose people see that. I don’t see Abe as neurotic, really. I mean, no more so than anybody else either in this story or in the world. He’s just trying to make his way and life is confusing and he’s a man of intellect, high intellect and so, I think maybe that’s part of his problem. He overworks and overanalyzes but it just strikes me as funny that you say he’s neurotic.

GD: I didn’t mean to give any sort of complex about what you’re being pigeonholed into so I hope I don’t contribute to that. But I think maybe the reason why that word comes up is because he finds himself in such heightened situations because he takes things very seriously. He writes this article about the character Jason Alexander plays as a blacklisted playwright, blacklisted for being a communist. And you write this whole manifesto about him that gets published in “The Times” and you’re sort of hawking it at your grandson’s bris and David Merrick throws a tomato at him for writing it. How is it on set trying to sell that kind of heightened, if not neurotic, what is it like trying to sell that type of really heightened scenario? 

TS: Abe is, I would say, he does get exasperated, certainly, but for him, he lives, I guess, in the world of his mind. It’s all high stakes for him. The fact that his daughter, her life gets derailed in Season 1, and then he discovers in Season 2 that she’s on this whole other track that he never would have anticipated or expected, everything is important and I think in his eyes, everything has the potential to go south in a big way. So that’s just how he lives. He’s not a casual, sort of complacent guy but you were asking what it’s like on set. I mean, it’s great because almost every day that I go into work on this show it’s never smooth sailing for Abe. There’s never time to just cruise. Something’s always happening to him and if it isn’t happening, he makes it happen and that’s fun because it’s a challenge almost every day. 

GD: And I imagine it feels always different, too, because the show never forgets what time period it’s in and it always takes that into account, even though it’s a comedy. Even in the episode you submitted for the Emmys, “Marvelous Radio,” you warn Midge about, “Don’t do this commercial for this woman. She’s racist. She doesn’t like us.” So I think that’s an important thing about the show, too, is that it really doesn’t forget the time period that it’s in. 

TS: Right. Obviously, it’s a comedy, but it’s a comedy of its time that tries to reach forward into our time to be somewhat relevant and it almost lives in two time periods. That’s how I see it, because of the modern sensibility that it strives to have.

GD: But one of the best comedy aspects of this season for me, which really showcases, I think, the rapid-pace dialogue that Amy and Dan create on this show is that Abe’s financial straits lead him and Rose to move in with Shirley and Moishe, which is just the best clashing combo of people you could imagine. So what was it like getting more scenes this season with Kevin Pollak and Caroline Aaron? Because it really, really sings onscreen. 

TS: It’s thrilling. I love those two and I love working with them. The thing is, we don’t really see or we’re not privy to a lot of these story arcs prior to getting each script. You get a script a day or two before the table read, which is a few days before we actually start shooting any given episode. So for us to be sitting at a table read with everyone and realizing that we are going not into the lion’s den, but into the lion’s mouth with Shirley and Moishe, it’s titillating. It’s fraught with potential. The thing about those days, those scenes in the house with them is that it’s almost as if there’s never one second of comfort. There’s just tension. It’s just tension every time you turn, every line you say. And just when you think that tension is released or relieved for a moment, you walk through a doorway or turn a corner and there’s a whole bunch more tension coming at you. So that’s great because the scenes, they’re joyous and I have such high regard for these actors. 

GD: And you mentioned Rose, played by Marin Hinkle, and the two of you have a really fascinating trajectory, too, if we’re talking about character arcs, because whereas Abe really has an upheaval this season in a lot of ways, I think that happened really especially heavily for Rose last season where she has to escape to Paris. She can’t be there anymore. So you’re both kind of going through this difficult change. How do you see their relationship dynamic now? 

TS: Well yeah, it’s interesting that you mention that, because in Season 2, when we go to Paris and we follow to bring her back, I think early on, we established these characters as Abe kind of being in the driver’s seat and being in a kind of patriarchal or in control of his home and his world, his family, and then, what we really discover in Season 2 is that he’s not complete without Rose. He’s not going to be able to navigate the world well without his partner. I think that really hits him, that realization hits him hard in Season 2. So they’re very much dependent on each other. And I think that that gets cemented even more when they move in with Moishe and Shirley because they have to cling to each other to survive and then ultimately escape. She helps him to escape. But she’s the motor behind that. I think Abe just would have felt stuck and long-suffering and he just wouldn’t have had the presence of mind to actually get the hell out. She does. She says, “We gotta go. Get in the car. We’re going.” That’s a kind of codependent and interdependent relationship which gets more and more so as we move through Season 3, and I think that’s going to be true in Season 4, although, again, I don’t know what’s coming down the pike. 

GD: We’ll see. And that relationship, one of the things that grows in Season 3, as well is the production of the show. I’ve talked to a few people from the season already, and many people have described every episode as an MGM musical, because it’s always been grand but Season 3, they’re really pulling out all the stops. Is it more difficult for you to stay grounded in your character and grounded in your job when there’s these sweeping, epic long shots that are happening and scenes based in music? Is it difficult with all that going on to look at yourself and the character? 

TS: You would think that, but it’s actually quite the contrary. It’s easier, in a way, because we feel like we’re in this environment. We feel by everything we see, by everything we wear and touch. We are transported into that period. So in a way, you don’t have to pretend to be in that era and the truth is, the world is large and New York is massive, the country is massive, Florida is massive, Miami. So to be actually working in that exact scale and not having to imagine it is, I think, quite helpful, productive. 

GD: And I should say you’re, I guess, kind of used to being in a production with lots of moving parts because I’ve had the pleasure of seeing you on Broadway recently. You’ve had a pretty steady period of going back and forth between film or TV work and Broadway. You just won your first Tony Award two years ago for “The Band’s Visit.” Is that sort of the ideal situation for you to be able to oscillate between stage and screen often like that? 

TS: For me, it is. I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, it’s when I feel the most healthy in many ways, mentally and creatively, I guess. There have been periods, for example, when I first moved out to Los Angeles after having lived in New York and done primarily theater for lots of years. First going out to Los Angeles, then I sort of got into TV work, which was great, too. But I woke up one day and realized, “Oh, my God, I’ve been working, but I haven’t done a play in maybe nine years or something, seven or eight years.” And I just felt like something was out of balance and then when I did go back to do a play, finally, oh, my God, I just felt centered again. So for me, moving from one to the other is a great thing and I really hope that I’ll be able to continue that. I mean, obviously, we don’t know when theater is coming back, but we’re all hopeful that we’ll be able to get to it. 

GD: And I should say too, some people who watch the Tonys were surprised it took you that long to get a Tony Award for “The Band’s Visit” because you had such great performances before. But you also have a great track record at the Emmys from “Monk” and “Mrs. Maisel,” winning four out of 11 nominations and also, our readers nominated you for the Gold Derby Award again this year. So you have that as well. If you look back at your first win for “Monk,” how does the most recent win for “Mrs. Maisel” compare? How do those two experiences compare when you look back at your first experience at the Emmys?

TS: Oh boy, yeah. Well, in the sense that they both seemed so unlikely, I guess the first time, when we were in the early days of “Monk,” we were like a little basic cable show. That’s how we felt and kind of like the little engine that could and I was up against heavy, heavy hitters on major network shows. That was way prior to a lot of streaming things but network and premium cable shows, they were the heavy hitters. So that’s why it just felt somewhat unlikely. And then cutting to the last one last year, you just feel like, “OK, well there’s my time. ‘Monk’ was kind of my time in the sun, so to speak and that’s great and then that ends and then it’s someone else’s time and that’s fine.” But then to come around again and get it last year, it was kind of better in a way, because you just feel like, “Oh, I’m still in the game,” and it’s a different character and different challenges with this character, and so, to answer your question in short, it never gets old. 

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