"Yes, most people assume I really do have an accent--and that I'm Italian," says Tony Shalhoub with a chuckle.
But in real life, the classically trained actor speaks with no trace of an accent, Italian or otherwise. On hiatus after winding up his fourth season as the endearingly gullible Antonio Scarpaci on NBC's popular 'Wings," Shalhoub has just wound up an episode of Fox's "The X-Files," on which he guested last week (May 2) as a man with a (literal) killer shadow. On "Wings" this week, in an episode entitled "Et tu, Antonio?," the cabbie is attracted to his visiting cousin Dominic's (Maurice Godin) fiancee.
"Someone said, 'He's sort of clueless, isn't he?' and I guess you could say that," Shalhoub, 41, says of his "Wings" character. "He wants to be cool and hip and to live in the world of Joe (Tim Daly) and Brian (Steven Weber), but never quite makes it. I think he points out to the others their lives aren't too bad," he adds with a laugh.
"Wings" is not the first time Shalhoub, who is of Lebanese descent, has sported an accent. He played a cabbie who spoke an indefinable language in the feature "Quick Change." And he's taken on other occupations as well: a doctor in "Longtime Companion," a cocky exec in "Barton Fink," a concierge in "Honeymoon in Vegas" and a garage owner in last year's "IQ." He's currently in "Stuart Saves the World."
He second youngest of 10 children, Shalhoub grew up in a multicultural community ripe with accents in Green Bay, Wisc. "I think we were exotic to my friends," he says. "They got food they couldn't get anywhere else."
His older sister, Broadway actress Susan Larkin, set the acting wheel in motion, getting Shalhoub child roles in her high-school productions. She helped pave the way for him to follow his muse. "She got a lot more (family) resistance," Shalhoub recalls. "There was a lot of throwing hands up in the air. I had it a lot easier."
While Shalhoub's interest in acting continued to develop in high school, "it wasn't easy," he says. "My friends were cool . They weren't interested in anything to do with school."
College was a different story. He became immersed in theater and joined a local theater company after graduation. Looking for a challenge, he applied and was accepted to the Yale School of Drama. "I'd never been in a competitive environment! It was very exciting and a little scary," he says. At Yale, he realized he could "compete on this level and I got to know what life was going to be like as an actor."
After Yale, Shalhoub toured the United States, Europe and the Middle East with the Cambridge, Mass.-based Equity American Repertory Theatre for four seasons. "It was a very satisfying time." He left in 1984 to try his luck in the Big Apple. "Eventually, I hoped to work in all three mediums'--theater, film and television. "It's doable and I managed to eventually do it somehow."
"There's a saying among actors: 'People do movies for prestige, television for money and theater for work,' " says Shalhoub, who received a Tony nomination in 1992 for Herb Gardner's "Conversations With My Father," with Judd Hirsch. "In most cases, I think that's true. For me, there's nothing more special than theater. That's the most rewarding for me, but I still love television. The work is perfect right now. It's a terrific, very fun, easy work situation, and I see my kids," he adds.
Shalhoub lives in Los Angeles with wife Brooke Adams ('Days of Heaven') whom he met six years ago on Broadway in "The Heidi Chronicles." The couple--along with daughters, Josie, 6, and Sophie, 19 months--try to be together as often as possible, despite busy work schedules. Currently, Shalhoub's producing the play "Two Faced," at the Hudson Theater in Hollywood. Adams is directing and her sister, Lynne Adams, is the star and writer.
With yet another feature possibility this summer, Shalhoub keeps busy. Although his siblings are scattered around the country, they always get together for a week during the summer, where they go to a lake resort. 'It's become the most important time of the year for a lot of us."
In between, he and Adams try to balance their work schedules. "We try not to overlap, but it's not easy. I just love having children. I feel like my life has begun. It's just wonderful, and I need that balance."
"Wings" airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on NBC; repeats air Mondays through Thursdays at 7, 7:30 and 11 p.m. and Fridays at 7 and 7:30 p.m. on USA. "Two Faced" plays Sundays through May 14 at the Hudson Theater in Hollywood. Information: (213) 660-TKTS.