It's tough to get attention let alone laughs when you're playing second (or technically third, after Ted Levine's Capt. Stottlemeyer) banana to a lead character who's completely nuts. But as the perpetually goofy brownnoser Lt. Randall Disher on USA Network's Monk, Jason Gray-Stanford manages to do just that... maybe because he's Canadian. (Those Canucks are funny.) Although he's been working consistently in TV and film for over a decade, Disher is the role that got the wide-eyed actor noticed. With Monk in repeats until March 3, Gray-Stanford had time to chat with TVGuide.com about his costars, their deteriorating mental health and that elusive six-fingered man.
TVGuide.com: Were you a big TV-mystery fan before you signed on to do Monk?
Jason Gray-Stanford: I used to watch Perry Mason and Columbo when I was home sick from school. Not Murder, She Wrote, though; that was a little soft. It didn't have the edge of Matlock.
TVGuide.com: How did you land the role of Disher?
Gray-Stanford: My agent called and said that the producers wanted me to read for a guest spot as a bad deputy mayor in the pilot, and I was like, "Yuck, I'm not doing it. It sounds stupid and it's on [cable]." [Laughs] Then I found out that Tony Shalhoub was attached to [the project] and that Dean Parisot was directing. I'd done my second job ever for Dean, so I came in and read, and Dean said, "You know what? There's this other role that they're writing that I think you'd be better for." That was Disher.
TVGuide.com: Although you've done a lot of other work, is Monk what you're best known for?
Gray-Stanford: That's the power of being on a decent television show. But because of Monk, people now place me in everything else I've ever done. They'll walk up and say, "Oh, I love you on Monk. Hey wait... weren't you in A Beautiful Mind, too?"
TVGuide.com: Didn't you do another movie with Russell Crowe?
Gray-Stanford: Yep, a hockey film called Mystery, Alaska. It tanked at the box office but it's kind of turned into a cult movie.
TVGuide.com: Did you and Crowe become friendly?
Gray-Stanford: We totally hit it off. I even sang backup on his first album, Gaslight, with his band [30 Odd Foot of Grunts]. We went into the studio and I wailed away on a few songs. I think it's since been rerecorded, though. He's got real singers now.
TVGuide.com: Will you ever get a chance to show off your vocal chops on Monk?
Gray-Stanford: Funnily enough, in the second episode after the break [airing March 10], "Mr. Monk Goes to the Dentist," Disher questions whether or not he wants to remain on the force. He's feeling a little underappreciated as a police officer so he decides to get his high-school rock band, the Randy Disher Project, back together.
TVGuide.com: Can you do a few bars for us?
Gray-Stanford: The song itself is too relevant to the story line for me to blurt it out. You'll just have to wait.
TVGuide.com: Maybe you'd instead like to share some info about that six-fingered guy who supposedly killed Monk's wife?
Gray-Stanford: As our creator Andy Breckman says, the day you find out about the six-fingered man is the day the show ends. We're not quite there yet. I know that Andy has a design, but we don't know what it is. When we get a script with a clue about her killer, we're just as excited as the fans are when they see the episode.
TVGuide.com: I may have no idea who killed Trudy, but I am able to solve each week's mystery pretty quickly.
Gray-Stanford: Well, there's an old saying in the business that you can always tell the bad guy because it's one of the big guest stars. But on Monk we pride ourselves on making howdunits instead of whodunits. We run the gamut of different types of mystery-solving because Monk's talents spread far and wide.
TVGuide.com: But his "talents" have a dark side. As hilarious as his tics are, Monk's obsessive-compulsive disorder looks pretty paralyzing.
Gray-Stanford: It is. I actually think we've all developed OCD since we've been on the show and every year it gets worse. It started with Tony. We'll be about to start a scene and he'll be flicking lint off someone's jacket or straightening someone's tie. Maybe he's getting into character... but maybe he's not. And now I've caught myself doing the exact same thing. The other day, I went to Starbucks and there were these two stacks of cards on a table. One was shorter than the other so while I was waiting for my coffee, I absentmindedly evened them out. My girlfriend looked at me and was like, "What are you doing?" I immediately stopped and ran out of the store, panicked.
TVGuide.com: Even though it's been two years since Bitty Schram left the show, some fans like me are still mourning her departure.
Gray-Stanford: I think it was sad for everyone because we all had to take a really deep breath and say, "OK, we need to refocus and start again." At the same time we were going into the third season and change sometimes forces you to raise the bar. Traylor Howard's character, Natalie, is now complementing the three boys very well. It just took time. I always say that we had a great Shelley Long; now we have a great Kirstie Alley.