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Wallace Shawn Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (3) | Mini Bio (1) | Trade Mark (3) | Trivia (12) | Personal Quotes (65)

Overview (3)

Date of Birth 12 November 1943New York City, New York, USA
Birth NameWallace Michael Shawn
Height 5' 2" (1.57 m)

Mini Bio (1)

American character actor and writer Wallace Shawn has one of those fun, mischievously homely faces just made to entertain. Though he got out of the starting gate rather slowly, he has since excelled on stage, television and film while managing to turn himself into a winner with his loser-type looks. Woody Allen's character in the movie Manhattan (1979) amusingly describes Wallace's character as "a homunculus", which is a pretty fair description of this predominantly bald, wan, pucker-mouthed, butterball-framed, slightly lisping gent. Wallace made his movie debut in Allen's heralded classic playing Diane Keaton's ex-husband.

Born to privilege on November 12, 1943 in New York City, Wallace was the son of renowned editor William Shawn of "The New Yorker" fame and educated at both Harvard University, where he studied history, and Magdalen College, Oxford. Wallace initially taught English in India on a Fulbright scholarship, and then English, Latin and drama back in New York. However, a keen interest in writing and acting soon compelled him to leave his cushy position and pursue a stage career as both playwright and actor. During his distinguished career, Wallace turned out several plays. "Our Late Night", the first of his works to be performed, was awarded an off-Broadway Obie in 1975. "A Thought in Three Parts" (1976); "The Mandrake" (1977), which he translated from the original Italian and in which he made his acting debut; "Marie and Bruce" (1979); "Aunt Dan and Lemon" (1985) and "The Fever", for which he received his second Obie Award for "Best New Play" during the 1990-91 season, then followed. A popular support player in both comedy and occasional drama, his assorted kooks, creeps, eggheads and schmucks possessed both endearing and unappetizing qualities. He earned some of his best early notices partnered with theatre director/actor Andre Gregory in the unique Louis Malle-directed film My Dinner with Andre (1981). Shawn co-wrote the improvisatory, humanistic piece and his brother, Allen Shawn, was the composer. Shawn and Gregory would collaborate again for Malle in another superb, original-concept film Vanya on 42nd Street (1994). Among the quality offbeat filming involving has been Bruce Paltrow's A Little Sex (1982); James Ivory's The Bostonians (1984); Stephen Frears' Prick Up Your Ears (1987); Rob Reiner's The Princess Bride (1987); Alan Rudolph's The Moderns (1988) and Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994); Paul Bartel's Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills (1989); and several others for Woody Allen: Radio Days (1987), Shadows and Fog (1991), The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001) and Melinda and Melinda (2004). Of late, he has lent his vocal talents to a considerable number of animated pictures including A Goofy Movie (1995), Toy Story (1995) (and its sequel), The Jungle Book: Mowgli's Story (1998), The Incredibles (2004), Chicken Little (2005) and Happily N'Ever After (2006).

Over the decades, Shawn has scurried about effortlessly in a number of television guest appearances including Taxi (1978), Homicide: Life on the Street (1993), Ally McBeal (1997), Law & Order: Criminal Intent (2001) and Desperate Housewives (2004), and has drummed up a few recurring roles for himself in the process, including The Cosby Show (1984), Murphy Brown (1988), Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993) and Crossing Jordan (2001). In the series Clueless (1996), based on the highly successful of the same name Clueless (1995), Shawn revisited his role as the owlish high school teacher.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / gr-home@pacbell.net

Trade Mark (3)

Very elfin looks, enough to make Woody Allen look almost like a conventional leading man in Manhattan (1979)
Distinctive high, clipped, lisping speaking voice
Bald head and short stature

Trivia (12)

Brother is Allen Shawn, American composer
Sister-in-law is Jamaica Kincaid, West Indian author
Father was William Shawn, editor of The New Yorker, 1952-1987.
Does not own a television set.
He met Andre Gregory, his co-star in My Dinner with Andre (1981), by arranging to attend every performance of Gregory's New York staging of "Alice in Wonderland" in 1970 -- a run which lasted for a year. The two have been friends and occasional collaborators ever since.
In 2005, he received a career achievement award from the PEN/Laura Pels Foundation. The writers organizations gave him this honor for his work in the theater.
He wrote an adaptation of the "Threepenny Opera", which opened on Broadway on April 20, 2006 at Studio 54. Its many stars included Alan Cumming, Ana Gasteyer and Cyndi Lauper.
Is the longtime companion of Deborah Eisenberg.
Is afraid of heights.
Was considered for the role of Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988).
Has a younger sister named Mary who has been institutionalized since the mid-1950s, when she was six. Mary was diagnosed with what were then referred to as mental retardation and "infantile schizophrenia", the former term for the condition now diagnosed under the name "autism".
Did not start acting until he was age 36.

Personal Quotes (65)

I don't happen to have a sense of humor personally, so I don't know what's funny about a character... This happens to be a feature of my life generally. I do things, and other people laugh at them. I rarely know what the joke is supposed to be or why they're laughing.
Interestingly, the actress who, in her own persona, may be gentle, shy, and socially awkward, someone whose hand trembles when pouring a cup of tea for a visiting friend, can convincingly portray an elegant, cruel aristocrat tossing off malicious epigrams in an eighteenth-century chocolate house.
We're in an emergency situation. The United States has become an absolutely terrifying country, and I would hope that I could participate in some way in stopping the horror and the brutality.
I have more free time than a lot of individuals, so, instead of talking, I sometimes write.
Contrary to the popular misconception, the actor is not necessarily a specialist in imitating or portraying what he knows about other people. On the contrary, the actor may simply be a person who's more willing than others to reveal some truths about himself.
'The Princess Bride' is by far the most popular film I've ever done. I don't think I'll ever top it.
From being a writer of plays, it was not that surprising that somebody thought of giving me a job as an actor. After I played one part, others came along.
I am recognized a lot for 'Clueless,' but I am recognized a great deal for 'The Princess Bride.' I don't know... maybe everybody who has seen that movie just goes out on the street.
I was making my living from a joke about my appearance that I didn't understand, and in a way still don't, because when I look in a mirror it doesn't seem funny to me.
It is hard enough to make a plan for how you are going to spend an evening with somebody else. So to make a plan for how you are going to behave in 25 years seems based on a view of life that is incomprehensible to me.
'The Fever' is a one-person play. I decided I would perform it myself, and I decided I would not perform it in theaters, because the character in the play says certain things that I meant.
I don't happen to have a sense of humor personally, so I don't know what's funny about a character... This happens to be a feature of my life generally.
My father was a jazz listener, and I think, at least before I was 5, I was not so into that. Although there were records that emphasized percussion that I liked, like Baby Dodds.
I have been vain since birth.
Acting is trying to be absolutely truthful; to get audiences to believe that you are a dean, when, actually, not only are you not the dean, but if you walked into the building they'd probably throw you out. That's very hard.
In real life, every person is the leading man or woman. We don't think of ourselves as supporting or character actors.
We are not what we seem. We are more than what we seem. The actor knows that. And because the actor knows that hidden inside himself there's a wizard and a king, he also knows that when he's playing himself in his daily life, he's playing a part, he's performing, just as he's performing when he plays a part on stage.
In an amusement park, you can go on a roller coaster that carries you up and down, or you can go on another kind of ride that whirls you around in a circle. Similarly, there are different sorts of entertaining experiences in the theater.
I see myself as a citizen of the planet. Even as a child, I always found it mindless to root for your own team. I was puzzled by the fact that people said their own team was better than other teams simply because it was theirs.
I choose parts because I don't want to be embarrassed when the movie comes out. What if my friends were to see the movie? What if my niece or nephew wandered into the theater and saw the movie? I don't want to be too ashamed of it.
I probably have a higher opinion of my writing than the average person, at least when I'm in a good mood, but I don't really think of my plays as only being relevant to a particular month or year.
Even with my wife, I find sharing soup is hard.
As writers, we can't predict who might come along who might find our offerings valuable.
And my singing, I don't think I could sing Wagner or opera, but I could probably carry a tune. I was in a musical once, but it was never performed.
Acting is an escape from the boring person that I am in real life.
I do things, and other people laugh at them. I rarely know what the joke is supposed to be or why they're laughing.
I spend most of my time thinking about things like laundry and buying stationery supplies.
I never grew up thinking, 'One day I will play so and so' because I wasn't expecting to be an actor at all.
I'm being mocked because I don't live up to a socially determined view of what other people think a person should look like.
I'm a very lucky man. It's a beautiful thing for a writer, to see people allowing your words to enter their own unconscious and their souls.
I never planned to be an actor. It turned out I could make a living doing it.
I don't see that many plays, and for me, musicals are rarely pleasing.
I know that I am one and I've made a living as an actor and I enjoy being an actor, but when I'm not actually doing it, I forget that I do it.
I don't have a television, and I'm just not too up on television.
I have been vain since birth. I expected other people to like what I did, although my vanity has definitely diminished over the years.
I have an enormous appetite to see life as I know it presented in front of my eyes.
Before I was 5, I did have a lot of time on my hands. I had no job and really no career, and I spent an awful lot of time listening to records. It was more the classical ones, really - Prokofiev, and I think there was some Mozart in there, and more impressionistic composers like Delius.
After being in one movie, it didn't seem like that would be my life. I had done several jobs, briefly. I'd been a shipping clerk, I worked in a copy shop, I didn't think the acting was going to go on and on.
Children, I always think, are just putting on a performance of being naive and not understanding anything. I have worked with children in films, and they're treated as adults and they just drop the pretense of being children.
When I was a child, I did always feel that people were hiding things, and that they weren't expressing their true feelings. When adults are too complicated, and cover their emotions with layers of well-intentioned subterfuge, the child isn't seeing reality clearly enough and gets upset.
But because we've all been readers, we know what the experience is like, and we hope that what certain writers have given to us, we will give to someone.
There's nothing regular about my life at all, really. I don't keep a regular schedule and every day is different. It's all rather chaotic.
You know, I haven't written as much as most other writers. Certainly maybe those who keep a more regular schedule accomplish more.
For some reason, people find me funny. It's quite hard to define why a thought is funny. It's even harder to define why a person would be funny. It's a word that I can't define at all. But whether I know quite what it is or not, I seem to be it.
I'm afraid that the passage of time is mostly lost on me. If you were to open up my head you would see that I'm still brooding about statements, songs and issues from the third grade. The years between 1980 and today went by very, very quickly.
If I had even the tiniest scrap of advice to give to a young actor who was figuring out how to audition, I would say don't memorize the script... The reality about auditions is that 98 percent of the results has to do with what you are, not with what you did in the audition.
In my early 20s, I studied history and politics, and I really thought that perhaps I would devote my life to that.
Patriotism is considered to be an emotion a person ought to feel. But why? Why is it nobler to love your own country than to love someone else's?
In terms of number of movies, I've been in an extraordinary amount. If you count only the minutes I'm onscreen, it's not so long.
The life of an actor can be very enviable.
My plays have been strange from the beginning, and they never got unstrange.
I started writing plays in around 1967, and at a certain point, I thought, 'I'm writing plays, I should learn about acting and what it is.' So I went to the HB Studio in New York, and I was there for about nine months.
For me, a play is a form of writing which isn't complete until it is interpreted by actors. But it's still a form of writing. And so most of my time is spent thinking about how to write a sentence.
I grew up. I began to think the United States had some problems that really required the help of artistic people to solve. And I gave myself permission to be a writer instead of a civil servant.
I sincerely believe that if Bush and Cheney recognized the full humanity of other people's mothers around the world, they wouldn't commit the crimes they commit.
I led the life of an intellectual up until a certain age. I remember Freud's 'Interpretation of Dreams' was a big favorite when I was 11. It sounded so interesting. And it really was!
I think the whole system of education would change if I were in charge and had the ability to make changes. I don't think I would keep Princeton exactly being Princeton.
I wrote my first play at the age of 10, 55 years ago, and I've always found it a fantastic relief to imagine I know what things would be like from the point of view of other individuals and to send out signals from where I actually am not. Playwrights never need to write from the place where they are.
I'm not proud to be me, I'm not excited to be me, but I find that I am me, and like most other individuals, I send out little signals; I tell everyone else how everything looks from where I am.
In my mind, the plays I was writing were extreme examples of art for art's sake. I didn't necessarily think that other people would love them, though I thought they probably would.
My personal life is lived as 'me,' but my professional life is lived as other people. In other words, when I go to the office, I lie down, dream, and become 'someone else.' That's my job.
You can go to a play that is enjoyable because it's funny, and then on the next night you can go to a play that's enjoyable because it's 'disturbing.'
When I was first exposed to the films of Ingmar Bergman, I found them frank and disturbing portraits of the world we live in, but that was not something that displeased me. They were beautiful. I thought people would respond to my plays the way I responded to Bergman's films.
When I was first starting to write plays, I quite literally had never heard of the idea of studying playwriting. I wouldn't have studied it even if I had heard of it.
The actor's role in the community is quite unlike anyone else's. Businessmen, for example, don't take their clothes off or cry in front of strangers in the course of their work. Actors do.

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