He’s well known as the germaphobic TV detective Monk, but Tony Shalhoub will soon be seen in the germ-rich environs of the locker room. In director Michael Bay’s action-comedy Pain & Gain (out April 26), the 59-year-old plays a wealthy gymgoer kidnapped by a gang of thuggish bodybuilders. He spoke with TIME about the actual story and people behind the movie, lifting weights and avoiding the emergency room.
Pain & Gain is based on a true story, right?
The story itself is so outrageous and so preposterous. It’s kind of beyond fiction. But given that, we were able to do some research on the actual events, on the actual players, the people involved. We would have to remind ourselves to play the truth of it. As is often the case, truth is so much more bizarre than what we can make up.
How do you make a comedy about real-life criminals?
I would qualify that. It’s a dark comedy. It’s full of laugh, but people actually get hurt and die in this movie — in very gruesome ways and very unlikely ways. To me, it has almost a Coen Brothers quality, in that you watch these movies and they’re disturbing, but you’re also laughing. We’re asking ourselves, “Why are we laughing?”
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Did you get to meet any of the people who lived through it?
The perpetrators are in prison. They’re on death row. And I didn’t get a chance to meet my character. My character is one of the only characters whose name was changed, because he didn’t want it used. He’s in that community, he’s a family guy, and he just wanted his name left out of it. We did meet Ed Harris’ character, a guy named Du Bois, the private investigator. That was interesting. The story all turns on this man believing the victim’s story, because the police were not on top of it, or chose to ignore it.
Did you have to bulk up before shooting?
While we were shooting, I was lifting stuff. But my character’s not supposed to be in great shape, anyway. The more physically demanding part was getting thrown around and beat up by Dwayne Johnson and Mark Wahlberg and Anthony Mackie.
How was that?
They were being very careful and restrained. They weren’t really trying to pummel me to death, but even while trying to be restrained they really don’t know the extent of their power.
Were there any injuries?
None that required visits to the emergency room.
Mostly just fear?
Yeah. Panic. And dread.
What was it like working with Michael Bay?
When he’s doing movies like Transformers and things like that, I imagine his budgets to be around the $200 million range. This movie was a different kind of economic model. We did this for, like, $26 million or something. So there was a certain amount of pressure on him in terms of the time constraints, budget constraints. Given all of that, Michael’s real skill is that this movie is going to look like it cost $100 million, when it really cost a quarter of that.
I saw some pictures from the set of you in a skimpy bathing suit. How does it feel to be a paparazzi target?
We were at this rooftop pool, which was supposed to be part of the gym. And there was a guy who was across the street in an apartment building — on a balcony, with a telephoto lens, shooting everything. There’s only so much you can do to limit access. A day or two later, all of these pictures of us came out. I didn’t feel terrible until I read some of the comments on the Web.
There’s no profit in that for a man who’s in his 50s. And here I was, thinking I’m not so terrible for my age!
We saw recently that a beloved show like Veronica Mars can generate enough fan excitement to make a movie happen. Any chance of that happening with Monk?
Funny you should ask. Some of us from Wings, for April Fools’ Day, were asked by Funny or Die to do a spoof on that, talking about a Wings reunion TV movie, looking for $87 million. But I don’t know. I wouldn’t mind revisiting Monk in a TV movie or something like that, but so far we haven’t gone the Kickstarter route.
But it’s not out of the question?
Nothing is out of the question these days.