“Yes, most people assume I really do have an accent - and that I’m Italian,” says Tony Shaloub 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,” Shaloub has just wound up an episode of Fox’s “The X-Files,” on which he guested last week as a man with a (literal) killer shadow. On “Wings” this week, in an episode titled “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,” Shaloub, 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 Shaloub, 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 jobs as well: a doctor in “Longtime Companion,” a cocky exec in “Barton Fink,” a concierge in “Honeymoon in Vegas” and a garage owner in “IQ.” He’s currently in “Stuart Saves the World.”
Shaloub, the second youngest of 10 children, grew up in a multicultural community ripe with accents in Green Bay, Wis. “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 Shaloub 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,” Shaloub recalls. “There was a lot of throwing hands up in the air. I had it a lot easier.”
While Shaloub’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 graduating Yale, Shaloub 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 Shaloub, 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.
Shaloub 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.