After three decades as a steadily employed but no-name actor, Stanley Kamel has found his dream role on USA's Monk as the title character's dedicated shrink, Dr. Charles Kroger. Mind you, Kamel has played a therapist before — prior to Monk he was best known for his villainous turn as an ethically challenged psychiatrist on ABC's Murder One — but as Kroger, he gets to show that despite his wild blue eyes and intense persona, he can still play a good guy, and a pretty funny one at that. Kamel talked (at length) to TVGuide.com about his long career and the second half of Monk's fifth season, which kicks off tonight at 9 pm/ET.
TVGuide.com: I love interviewing character actors. You guys always say the best stuff. Like I recently talked to Dan Hedaya, and he was such a sweet, articulate guy.
Stanley Kamel: Now you've set the bar too high. I'm sorry.
TVGuide.com: What? You're not sweet or articulate?
Kamel: I can be one or the other, but not both. You'll have to choose.
TVGuide.com: Hmmm, I'm going to pick articulate. Keeping that in mind, tell me a little bit about your showbiz background.
Kamel: I studied acting with Sandy Meisner in New York, and then got an opportunity to get steady work out [on the West Coast] on Days of our Lives. I was very young — I always say that I was listed as "Baby Stanley." But my recurring part as an AIDS activist lawyer on L.A. Law [in the mid-'80s] was my breakout role. At that point, no one on TV had ever been seen with AIDS. I had to lose weight, and they put Kaposi's Sarcoma on me.... I literally couldn't go to the commissary. Do you know what I mean? Before that role, I was "one of the group," some kid they could put in for the bad guy or the psycho or the spoiled kid. L.A. Law changed my career. It made people see me as an actor.
TVGuide.com: I remember watching that character waste away. It was a really powerful story line. After that, you seemed to appear on, like, every show, ever: Melrose Place, Beverly Hills, 90210, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Cagney & Lacey....
Kamel: It felt like I was on every show! That's one of the reasons why, from a professional point of view, my role on Monk has been so important. For years, my agents would tell casting directors, "You know Stanley. He's on everything. When I send you a picture, you'll recognize his face." Now I have what every actor dreams of: a hook. I'm the psychiatrist on Monk. Everyone knows who that is.
TVGuide.com: Kroger's a really fun character. I was happy when we got to see more of his home life in "Mr. Monk Gets a New Shrink" earlier this season.
Kamel: I felt fortunate to have a whole episode of my own. I knew when I signed on to the show that it was called Monk and that I was there to support Tony [Shalhoub]. They don't call the show "Dr. Kroger," at least not yet. Occasionally the writers joke about a Kroger spin-off: psychiatrist by day solves crimes at night.
TVGuide.com: Hey, why not? USA can extend its Friday crime-comedy lineup to three hours. Will we be seeing Kroger's family again?
Kamel: There's definitely talk about bringing my rebellious son [played by Cody McMains] back again. He really made an impression. Sometimes I log on to the show's official website and read the viewers' questions. A few people asked, "How could a psychiatrist of your caliber have a son like that?"
TVGuide.com: They really bought into your acting, huh?
Kamel: Yeah, but you have to be careful. I couldn't just say, "It's a television show!" because they might get offended. So I said, "He's 17 years old, how do you want him to act? That's what kids do at that age!"
TVGuide.com: It's bad enough that you have to deal with Monk's madness, now you're treating the show's fans, too. I thought it was important for Monk to see that Kroger's life wasn't perfect, that even he has problems.
Kamel: It was a wonderful episode. The guys who write this show are really good. I'm always surprised that they don't get nominated for awards. [Creator] Andy Breckman comes from Saturday Night Live and [consulting producer] Jonathan Collier comes from The Simpsons. These guys are really sharp and on the cutting edge of comedy, and they never get recognized.
TVGuide.com: Aside from Shalhoub, no one involved with the show is acknowledged. Ted Levine is hilarious as Stottlemeyer, as is Jason Gray-Stanford as his sidekick.
Kamel: It's true, as an ensemble I think we work together like clockwork. But awards are all about popularity. Still, I'm really happy every time Tony gets acknowledged because he deserves it. And in a sense, when he wins, we do, too.
TVGuide.com: Is there anything you can share about the rest of the season?
Kamel: I'm going to be singing on one of the episodes. I serenade Monk in my office, and it's very, very funny. It's the only time I've ever seen Tony biting his lip to keep from laughing. And Andy Richter guest-stars [tonight] in "Mr. Monk Makes a Friend."
TVGuide.com: I saw the episode, and it's very funny, particularly when Monk asks you when he should "pop the question" to Richter, about being his best friend.
Kamel: Yeah, I just kind of look at him like, "Wait, is there something else going on here? Maybe Monk's gay.... "
TVGuide.com: Even with all the progress Monk has made, he's still damaged goods. Do you think Monk will ever get well?
Kamel: I don't know, but if anyone can help him, Kroger can. He's a very sympathetic person. Frustrated at times, but caring. But maybe he needs to start yelling at Monk a little bit. Having been in therapy, I know I've had days when my therapist and I scream at each other. I guess that's growth.
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