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Monday, February 11th 2008

Actor-singer-songwriter John Bobek guest stars in "Mr. Monk Joins a Cult" as Brother Zack.

In 2004, after earning a B.A. in Theatre Arts from Marquette University, John left his home in Milwaukee to try his luck in Hollywood. So far, so good. John has guest-starred in some of the best shows on television including Without a Trace, Criminal Minds, House, The West Wing, Deperate Housewives, Bones, Chuck, Numb3rs and of course Monk. Besides acting. He also writes and performs his own original songs.

John agreed to take on a bunch of my questions and he emailed back some terrific answers. Not included however was my favorite John Bobek quote. So I swiped it from his MySpace page and here it is:

I'm from Wisconsin. I've cow-tipped. Now I'm in California. The cows here don't interest me. —John Bobek


How did you learn about the role on Monk and was there anything in particular about it which made you want to try for it? Were they specifically looking for a singer?

My agents at The Gage Group here in LA put me up for the role. The breakdown (the character description that the casting director released to the agencies) stated that they wanted someone who could play guitar, so, yeah, they were looking for that. Other than that simple fact, though, it wasn't really stated who they were "looking" for, and I saw all types at the auditions. Sometimes you just do a good job, and your look "clicks" with what they're looking for, and boom! That's it. You've got it. Other times you think you've given a killer performance and you lose it because you're too tall. You never know.

Were you familiar with Monk before you got the role?

Totally. Tony Shalhoub is one of my favorite actors, and Monk is a show that ingeniously rides the line between dramatic police procedural and dark comedy. I love it.

What was the audition process like?

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Like most, went in the room, did my scene, and that was it. I got a callback for the producers, and you do the scene again, hoping they like it as much as the casting director did. Corbin Bronson's office and the producers were very welcoming and made it easier to audition than usual. You go in prepared with the choices you make for the character, and hope and pray that you've made exciting and correct choices. And you never know unless you book it. Or don't, I suppose.

What do you think made them choose you?

My dashing good looks? Kidding, of course. One can never know, I suppose. Strangely, the melody I sang in the audition for the "father" song became the same melody on the day of shooting. So maybe it was that. Also, being pale and having crazy smile lines set me apart from your average LA actor, I think. I have my parents to thank for that, I suppose. :) So, yeah, my parents, and a silly melody.

What was your concept of the character?

I think like anyone who has joined a cult-ish setting, Brother Zack's a lonely kid desperately seeking acceptance and self-validation. Every character can be boiled down to simple needs, and that's a pretty powerful one.

What do you think you may have brought to it that wasn’t in the script?

Well, the script's awfully well done. I think I found a proud sweetness in Zack, not totally stuck in the "meekness" of the character that "Father" talks about in the episode, but finding the things he was proud of in his experiences with Father, and that was an interesting layer. I think when you're presented with a "cult member" the obvious choice is to make him a wide-eyed sheep of a person, and I think that's too easy. I think you have to find deeper things, something to be happy about, otherwise you're stuck with a cookie-cutter kid who drank too much of the punch.

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John and Tony Shalhoub in
Mr. Monk Joins a Cult

Since your scenes were mainly with Tony Shalhoub, what was he like to work with?

Tony's a consummate professional. I'm from Milwaukee, WI, and he's from Green Bay, WI, so I knew we'd have things to talk about if we had to search, but I never had to search for conversation.

He made everything on set comfortable and friendly. It was a real pleasure being able to "play" on set with him, and it never felt like "work." It was cool watching him work from a double perspective, too —he's an executive producer on the show too— so he had a lot of input on how scenes worked and didn't. He took very good care of us.

Where were your scenes filmed?

Most of my scenes were filmed at Descanso Gardens, near LA. If you live in the LA area and you haven't been there, it's wonderful. I go there sometimes to just walk around and relax. Another was filmed near UCLA, faking San Francisco, though I know they do film up there, just not for the scenes I was in.

Was the “Father Song” you sang in Mr. Monk Joins a Cult recorded? Was there anymore to it? Do you know who wrote it?

Nope, it wasn't recorded or ADR'ed (voiced-over afterwards in a studio.) They put a lapel microphone on me while we shot, and that's what you heard! I feel like I should get some sort of payment or something...they stole my melody and used it throughout the episode! I'm totally kidding, of course. I was flattered that the melody I made up worked (the words were written by the writers on the episode) and, though we did it many different ways on set (for example, there was a totally awful tone-deaf version), I’m glad they stuck with the cute, earnest one. So I suppose the music was written by me, the words by the writers. I'm just excited my melody worked. I hear it got in people's heads. :)

What did you think of your performance and the episode as a whole when you finally saw it on television?

Oh, Lordy. I get queasy every time I see myself on screen. I'm happy to be there, but it's always so very strange. I tend to just go off of the reactions of my friends and family...and they were happy, so I was. :)

What was your Monk experience like compared with other acting experiences?

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Acting's always a wonderful experience for me. I've been on some strange sets, crazy sets, but anytime I have the opportunity to work, I'm just so happy to be there. Someone asked me once during a 14-hour shoot for a 2-page scene (not on monk, another show, but it's apropos) if I was angry that it was taking so long, and I had to steal the great Michael Caine quote "I get paid to wait, I act for free." I think I'm quoting that right. Monk, though, was a great experience for me because i love the work that Tony does, and I got to work with Howie Mandel, which was a fantastic experience as well. Time seemed to fly on set, and it was a lot of fun being there with a cast and crew who obviously loved the show, and loved working on it.

Do you have any anecdotes about the filming?

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Father and his children in
Mr. Monk Joins a Cult
Well, it was amazing watching how Howie Mandel worked on set. He was so open and honest about the fact that he suffers from OCD (which the character of Monk suffers from) and it was neat seeing how excited Tony was to talk to him about that. Here were two great actors talking about how to delve deeper into their characters and make them more real.

I mean, let's be honest, if Tony Shalhoub and Howie Mandel wanted to phone performances in, they could, and they're so good, that they could get away with it. They never did. They were talking about character stuff the whole time, and I think that's really reflected in the show, the episode, and the work that they always put forth.

You’re also a singer/songwriter/musician. Which career do you find most rewarding and why?

Tough call. Acting pays a whole heck of a lot better. Music was always my first love, and I love writing songs, but I'm not sure if I have the wherewithal to deal with the ever-changing music industry. I'd much rather write songs for myself and whoever listens, and be happy with that. If someone shoved a million dollar contract in my face...well, we could talk about it. Ha-ha. Acting, though...I've gotten to work with incredible people, and watching the masters at work has always been the most rewarding experience for me. I've learned so much.

Do you have a CD of music available yet?

I'm working on it. I have had CDs available to purchase, but not in a mass-market, yet. Mostly demos and stuff I've sold at shows or given to friends. I'm working on it, though; hopefully over the summer I'll record and get something I really love out there. I'm on MySpace, though, so people can hear stuff there.

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John Bobek with his guitar

What led you to acting?

A dare. Seriously. My friends and I dared each other to audition for the 7th grade musical, and we did. And that first night, I was hooked. After that, it was knowing that I had the ability to affect people emotionally in a way that most other people couldn't by becoming a character that they connected with. What a strange, wonderful gift it is to perform for people. I'm totally addicted.

What was your best acting experience? Your worst?

Oh, jeez. So many to talk about. I'll start with the worst, I suppose. And it wasn't because it was a bad show, but I was on an episode of Criminal Minds where I had to drown and then be a dead body in the water...and right as the director yelled "action" I could feel a water-spider crawling up my arm. Now, I’m terribly that didn't go over well. I stayed absolutely still, and as soon as he yelled "cut", I was flailing about like a mad man. Embarrassing and awful. But I survived it. :)

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As far as the best, that's a very hard situation. Monk was a wonderful experience because Tony's such a humble star, and Howie was a blast to work with. I suppose, also, I did an episode of "The West Wing” and got to sit in on a table read with the whole cast...all actors who I love and respect, and it was my first TV gig ever. That was pretty stellar, but I'd say that any situation I’ve had acting professionally has been an amazing one. I'm just glad to be here.

Who are your role models?

There are so many. I really love the actors that have been doing this for a very long time and don't end up as tabloid fodder, you know? I mean you never see, like, "Tom Hanks sex tape!" Or "Meryl Streep's nanny tells all!" There's just something so great about the people who always do fantastic work and simply let the work speak for itself. That's the kind of actor I want to be, and the kind of respect that I hope I demand someday.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

Well, the writer's strike hit like the atom bomb, and it slowed everything down for me pretty quickly, seeing as most of the work that I do has been on Television. I support the writers 100%, but it'll be awfully nice to get back to work. I think the last thing I shot, which was a guest spot on FOX's "Bones" airs in May. So you can see me there! Other than that, I’ll be knocking on wood for work to open up when the strike lifts.

So what’s Howie Mandel really like?

Sort of exactly how I expected him to be, given his persona in stand-up and on "Deal or No Deal." He's really charismatic, and a treat to work with. Like I mentioned before, it was fascinating to watch him work as a real person with OCD while opposite an actor playing a character that has OCD.

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He never let it get in the way, though, and he was a trooper for dealing with all of the people wanting to shake his hand on set. Nobody makes that "fist bump" cooler than Howie.

Please feel free to add anything else you'd like to say even if I didn’t ask about it.

I'm really flattered that you thought I'd be interesting enough! Thanks for watching and for taking the time to notice me! I hope I answered everything you wanted, and if there's anything else I can do, please let me know. I like helping people out.

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