Even though Tony Shalhoub has been in a wide variety of film and television projects since the late 1980s, the prolific actor admits he's never been involved in something as wildly original as director Michael Bay's "Pain & Gain," a darkly comic crime caper that seems too bizarre to be true.
"That's what drew me to the material -- I just have never read anything like this before," Shalhoub told me in a recent interview. "First of all, I didn't believe honestly it was a true story when I read it, and then I met with Michael, and he was telling me that all of this stuff happened, even the crazier stuff in the movie. There was stuff that they weren't even able to put in the movie because it seemed completely preposterous."
New on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download Tuesday (Paramount Home Media Distribution), "Pain & Gain" tells the incredibly odd but true story from 1995 about Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), an enterprising bodybuilder who will go to unimaginable lengths to get a big piece of the American Dream. While Daniel's hard work and ingenuity moves him forward, he realizes he's just pushing dead weight when he meets Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), a very successful and brutally arrogant Miami businessman.
Figuring his quickest way to the top is by rolling Kershaw, Daniel plans an elaborate scheme to kidnap the businessman and get him to sign over all his assets. Enlisting the help of fellow bodybuilder Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and muscle-bound ex-con Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) to execute the plan, the Kershaw kidnapping takes an unexpected turn, leading to a set of some very bizarre circumstances. Worse yet, once Daniel and his buddies get a taste of the big time, they go to even greater, deadlier lengths to get more money to keep up with their lavish lifestyle.
Shalhoub's portrayal is pivotal to the execution of "Pain & Gain," since Kershaw refuses to give in to his captor's demands, even though they'll go so far as torture him to get the ever-so-important signature from him that will make them all very wealthy men.
The actor says a certain amount of movie magic went into the film sessions, but there's no getting around his fellow actors' miscues to feel some of the pain for real.
"There's just no way you can do a physical movie like this where you don't get kind of beat-up on," Shalhoub, 59, said with a laugh. "You can choreograph certain things where everybody pulls their punches, but it's impossible not to connect, unless you're going to make it look really fake."
On top of that, Shalhoub was blindfolded for the interrogation scenes, much of the time with duct tape. And while the actor was in a safe and controlled environment, he said being blindfolded couldn't keep dreadful thoughts of out of his mind -- especially when he imagined what his real-life counterpart, Marc Schiller, went through.
"It was kind of unsettling. I really struggled to get myself into the right frame of mind," Shalhoub said. "It's one thing to be beat-up on, but it's another thing to get into the mode of terror and dread, especially when I had the blindfold on, the tape."
The interesting thing is, Shalhoub purposefully kept the blindfold on during breaks in shooting to help further inform his performance.
"When we'd finish a take, we'd have 10 minutes where the crew would come over and said, 'Let's remove that tape,' but I'd just say, 'I'm just sitting here, tied up already, just leave the tape on.' That way, I could just stay inside my head," Shalhoub recalled. "All sorts of things start happening in the dark in your head, and there's a real sense of isolation and disorientation that way. It was an interesting exercise for me. When it got to be too much I'd take breaks, but it was very helpful to keep the blindfold on, especially in the beginning."
It certainly made Shalhoub respect Schiller's plight more.
"At least I got a little bit of a taste of what this guy must have been experiencing," Shalhoub added. "What was most important was that I got a sense of how resilient he was, and how great his inner-strength was."
The only flaw of the character in the movie -- and it's a big one -- is that Kershaw is a monstrous jerk. That's not to say that his real-life counterpart was.
In fact, Kershaw's sense of character is so questionable in "Pain & Gain" that the authorities think he made up the whole kidnapping and torture scenario.
"Perhaps he was just a big A-hole in my hands and Michael Bay's hands," Shalhoub said, laughing. "I'm sure the guy wasn't that bad."
"Pain & Gain" marks yet another departure in Shalhoub's illustrious career, where he's earned several awards including three wins and six more nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for "Monk."
The acting great said he loves the variety his career has brought him, from drama in movies like "The Siege," and comedy and sci-fi together like his turns in "Galaxy Quest" and the first two "Men in Black" films. This fall he'll be back on TV with the CBS sitcom "We Are Men."
Shalhoub said his diverse choices have partly by been by accident and partly by design.
"I've been very fortunate in my career in a lot of ways," Shalhoub said. "As things come along, I try to look for things that are different from what I've done before. I like to change it up."
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