Ted Levine thought playing the voice of reason to Monk was just as complex as portraying Buffalo Bill
He wanted the friendship between Monk and the captain to grow organically.
The central premise of Monk develops from the unique friendship between the retired detective Adrian Monk and his former commanding officer Captain Leland Stottlemeyer.
In early episodes of the show like "Mr. Monk and the Billionaire Mugger," audiences watched as Stottlemeyer encountered unusual cases – like a billionaire who puzzles everyone when he decides to throw it all away by mugging someone – and used these cases as an excuse to call in his old friend Monk as a consultant.
"Stottlemeyer is a tough man doing a tough job in a tough profession," actor Ted Levine, who played Stottlemeyer, told The Times in 2004. "His personal feelings are supposed to be kept to himself. He undoubtedly sympathized with Monk over the murder of his wife. And he didn’t want Monk to be taken off the force because of his psychological problems following her death. But there was very little he could do about it. But what he could do is get Monk hired as a consultant on the department’s most difficult cases. This way, Stottlemeyer gets the use of Monk’s remarkable brain."
Levine is an actor perhaps best known for portraying complex characters, most notably playing the killer Buffalo Bill in the iconic thriller The Silence of the Lambs.
He said playing Stottlemeyer was just as challenging a role as Buffalo Bill, though, because Monk’s writers were just that good.
"Good guys can be very complex characters," Levine said. "It depends on how they’re written. And Leland Stottlemeyer is very well-written. As with any of us, he reacts (to where and with whom) he is. He’s one person when he’s working, and another when he’s with his wife."
He continued, "As far as which characters are more challenging, I would say that I’ve enjoyed playing both bad guys and good guys. And I’ve found that each one presents its own challenge, and that’s what makes acting so rewarding."
Levine was glad to break free from the psychokiller mold after wrapping The Silence of the Lambs. When he first read the script, he wasn’t even interested in the Buffalo Bill part. He wanted to play the cannibal.
"It was obvious to me right from the get-go which role was the showstopper," Levine told The Canadian Press in 1997. "Yeah, it’s a drag. I would have preferred to have done Lector [sic]. It’s got a lot more going on."
In that interview, Levine also revealed how his nerves actually ended up giving him an edge during auditions that led him to be cast in roles like Buffalo Bill.
"The nervousness would translate into this kind of intensity, and I was born with this mug anyway," Levine explained.
After playing Buffalo Bill, Levine said all he got were endless offers to play psychokiller parts.
"It was ridiculous," he said.
Perhaps even more ridiculous, Levine said he never got stopped by fans on the street, but said that police "often stop him, convinced they’ve seen his mug shot somewhere."
Little did he know then that one of his next juicy characters would be a police officer who partners with the kind of detective who’s extremely good at contextualizing things. Monk would’ve picked up on Levine’s harmlessness.
"As Stottlemeyer has pointed out many times, Monk sees clues that no one else sees and makes connections that no one else can," Levine told The Times.
For Levine, becoming Stottlemeyer required intimately understanding the specific bond that the commanding officer shared with Monk.
He said what many viewers felt was a coldness toward Monk in the early episodes of the show was designed to reflect a much more organic evolution of their friendship, based on their long history working together.
Their affection for each other brews over time.
"Remember that distance Stottlemeyer maintained from Monk was also part of the job," Levine said. "He had once been Monk’s commanding officer. But as he got to know Monk more as a person – beyond his peculiarities, I might add – he could allow himself to show some affection for this strange, often exasperating, but brilliant guy."