BrainDead’s Tony Shalhoub talks playing a politician in an election year

This particular election cycle has felt like a TV show at times. One that Tony Shalhoub says “seems to have started in the Jurassic Period.” And he, like us, has become obsessed with the debate and the circus of the whole thing. After all, how many times can you say that reality is even stranger than fiction?

Welcome to the United States, circa 2016. This is the world we live in now.

BrainDead seems a particularly appropriate show to premiere under the current circumstances. It’s, after all, half entertainment, half social commentary. And what’s TV for if not to provide a “refreshing comedic spin on what’s going on”?

Shalhoub , however, admits that sometimes he isn’t even sure what the fiction is and what the reality. The three-time Emmy Award winner plays Republican Sen. Red Wheatus, a far cry from his eight years as obsessive-compulsive private eye Adrian Monk, and he seems to have warmed up to his character really, really fast.

It helps that the country is going through …well, what it’s going through. Shalhoub seems frankly surprised that the election cycle affords him the opportunity to make his character a mixture of Ted Cruz’s “smugness”, Rand Paul’s “coolness” and Donald Trump’s “fearlessness and belief in what he says and how he says it”, but not at all displeased by the fact.

The writers and creators, after all, seem to be leaning pretty heavily on the current “circus-like atmosphere” to come up with plot ideas. And, chances are, they’ll have many more opportunities to take inspiration from real life events. November is still a long ways away, and there is no compromise to be had.

On the show, specifically, Shalhoub sees the “the inability of both sides to compromise” as the main problem these fictional politicians face. After all “It’s one thing to be committed to your side, and another to demonize the opposition.”

Sound familiar? Because we can’t help but notice the parallels.

Tony Shalhoub seems pretty excited to be playing this character. The King’s previously tried to get him on The Good Wife plenty of times, but the schedules just didn’t work out, and the “war stories” he’d heard about working for them and the atmosphere had left him eager to try it out.


He hasn’t been disappointed. There’s a smile on his face, one of complicity, as he talks about how “smart”  and how “open to actor’s input and ideas” the show-runners are. He doesn’t come out and say it, but it feels like more of a rarity in Hollywood than the norm.

There’s actual laughter as he discusses some of the fun moments to shoot from the Pilot episode, in particular, a very, very gross scene that sets the tone for the rest of the season.  (You’ll know it when you see it – we promise). After all, this isn’t just a political drama. It’s half that, half sci-fi/horror that draws from the real world.

Because, bugs. That’s all you need to know. There are “bugs” infecting our politicians and changing their behavior. And though the bugs endgame (if there’s even one) is unclear at this point, the fact of the matter is – they’re here to stay.

In a way it’s like the creators are trying really, really hard to make something even more ridiculous than reality. You’ll be the judge of whether they manage it or not.

Not content to tease about his own character, Shalhoub also spent some time raving about Aaron Tveit’s character, Gareth, explaining that people “will really key into him,” particularly because “he’s the one who’s most conflicted” as he finds himself caught between his loyalty to Red, his boss, and his” developing feelings” for Laurel (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who works for her brother Luke (Danny Pino).

OTP alert! There are possibilities here. We’re not the ones who said “developing feelings” after all.

Shalhoub also teased his dynamic with Luke’s character (Danny Pino), describing it as a “chess game” that was really fun to play and that’ll continue to develop as the series progresses.

But, if Shalhoub is to be believed, they all will. That’s not just the way of politics, it’s the way of life, and if there’s one thing we know about Robert King and Michelle King is that they’re good at writing about both.

BrainDead premiers June 13  at 109c on CBS.

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