In a rehearsal space near Times Square, Ian Shaw was speaking about the strange and solemn task of playing his father in a Broadway play he co-wrote.
“You spend most of your life running away from your father,” he explained. “Now I hit the jaws of things here.” He paused, and he realized what he had said. “I’m not kidding,” he added.
Ian Shaw’s father is Robert Shaw, a famous British actor, writer and Oscar-nominated film star. “Man of All Seasons” who went on to play the steel villain in “Sting” and “Taking Pelham One Two Three” Before Died in 1978.
Perhaps his best-known film role is Quint, an expert shark hunter in the 1975 blockbuster Jaws. Its hardened face alludes to the harrowing experiences of his lifetime and his mission. memorable monologue About surviving a shark attack during World War II.
Ian Shaw was nearly invisible if he was clean shaven. He has a calm demeanor and kind eyes. But on this day in early July, the 53-year-old Shaw, with his long mustache and sideburns, was something of a Jaws father. It’s a deliberate choice for his play “The Shark Is Broken,” which opens Aug. 10 at the Golden Theatre.
Co-written with Joseph Nixon, this one-act comedy-drama fictionalizes the role of a father during a particularly difficult day in the making of 1974’s Jaws.
While the crew grapples with an uncooperative mechanical shark, Shaw, an old man trapped in a small fishing boat called the Orca, struggles with his anxiety about the film, his own history of alcoholism, and the waning patience of his co-stars Richard Dreyfuss (Alex Brightman) and Roy Scheider (Colin Donnell).
Ian Shaw has worked steadily in theater, television and film projects while trying not to sacrifice the fame of his illustrious father. He said of his own career, “It’s a small thing, but at this age, to have lived his life as an actor is kind of a triumph.”
After years of theater work and a lifetime of considering his father’s legacy, he now says he’s ready for a project that addresses his lineage head-on.
“I still have to discuss whether I am fair compared to my father,” he said. “As he got older and more mature, it became less of a burden for him. The final piece of the puzzle for disposing of baggage was, oddly enough, to walk in his shoes.”
Ian Shaw is one of Robert Shaw’s 10 children and the youngest by his second wife, actress Mary Ure.
Robert Shaw was a noted literary figure, a friend of Harold Pinter (who co-starred with Eule in Old Times), and an accomplished playwright himself. Nor did he hide his heavy drinking at a time when such habits were fundamental to the masculinity of a generation of actors.
He told a reporter when asked how he kept his motivation for Jaws during the long delay in production. Robert Shaw replied with a smile: “Well, scotch, vodka, gin, whatever,” he said.
He was also openly resentful of the movie roles he kept off the stage, despite garnering a worldwide fan base (and a prosperous life).
In a 1971 interview on The Dick Cavett Show, Shaw said that being a busy actor is no better than taking time off work, stating, “It’s always paradoxically bad either way. It sucks when you’re at work because you’re doing shit most of the time, but it’s even worse when you’re not at work.”
Despite his father’s rocky reputation on and off screen, Ian Shaw said he was “very loving, very funny and a bit rambunctious in private”.
He recalls: “Once a very dignified guest came to stay in Ireland and was greeted by Robert opening the door in his wife’s negligee. He found such things very amusing.”
Still, “the screen shows a lot of who he was,” Shaw said. “You don’t want to argue with him directly.”
The actor said he had a lively family dinner at a long table, sometimes yelling to get his father’s attention. “I’m going to have a little edge,” he said. “And he came over and picked me up and took me out of the room.”
However, tragedy struck the family. Ure died of an accidental alcohol and barbiturate overdose in 1975, and Shaw died of a heart attack three years later.
Ian Shaw, who is now married and has two children, was just eight years old at the time. But he said: Up until that point, he didn’t feel like he was lacking. ”
“Shark Is Broken” director and longtime friend Guy Masterson said the show’s family history has created professional challenges.
When we were brainstorming potential co-stars, “Ian came to me and said he didn’t want to do anything because he looked like his father,” said Masterson, who has known Ian for nearly 25 years. “Every time he came in for an audition, people expected Robert Shaw, but he was at a disadvantage.”
At first, young Shaw hesitated at the idea of a biopic about his father. “It felt impossible to get it done,” he said.
But over time, with encouragement from friends and colleagues like Masterson, he became more comfortable. As the project flourished, Shaw also found theaters more receptive to productions with film origins, such as the play 39 Steps (based on a Hitchcock film) and numerous musicals based on modern hits.
For research, Shaw read books such as Jaws Log by one of the film’s writers, Karl Gottlieb, which documented many of the film’s problems. He also looked to interviews his father gave during this period, trying to present an unapologetic and candid voice.
“In a world where those kinds of interviews aren’t staged, Robert said some pretty shocking things at times,” said Ian Shaw. “He didn’t look like he was trying to find another job. He was just trying to speak from the heart.”
He also reviewed a drinking diary his father kept in the early 1970s, which one of his sisters later shared with him. “It gave him a baseline for how he felt about his alcoholism,” Ian Shaw said. “He was trying to quit, but he couldn’t quit. He wanted to focus on his writing, but it got in the way.”
The Shark Is Broken had a short tryout in Brighton, England in 2019 before hitting Broadway and ran at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe later that summer. In the 2021-22 season, it was also performed at the Ambassadors Theater in London’s West End.
In the Times Square studio, the entire set of the play fit into a small section of the room: a cramped recreation of the benches and tables inside Orca. Mr Shaw said he could imagine himself in a van touring the theater and “taking it to every village hall in England and making money off it”.
The feeling of claustrophobia is meant to be amplified Some of the Well-Documented Conflicts It happened behind the scenes of “Jaws,” like the friction on set between Shaw and Dreyfuss. On the show, just like in the real world, the more experienced show sees Dreyfus as inexperienced and qualified, but Dreyfus worries that Shaw’s sobriety is spiraling out of control.
Within the boat, fictional dialogue and monologues show the characters humorously bickering and wondering if their cinematic endeavours mean anything. It also explores the psychology of characters, such as Robert Shaw, himself an alcoholic, reminiscing about his father, who died by suicide when he was a child.
A star of television (“Chicago Med”) and musical theater (“Violet”), Donnell said he felt a strong obligation to help the show achieve the play’s goals.
“There’s something almost like an obligation to bring his vision to life and try to bring these roles to life as much as possible,” he said.
“You’re going to witness someone digging deep into a difficult memory,” Donnell said. “I think there’s a bit of catharsis in not only creating the work, but being able to embody his father every night. There must be a duel going on in his brain.”
Brightman, who recently played the title character in the Broadway musical Beetlejuice, said the show’s involvement allowed the play to portray the “Jaws” star candidly.
“These shows can dilute and glorify people who are not who they really are,” he said. “The play is actually going in the opposite direction, with the three people portrayed without any soft focus at all. I really think we’re looking at three very flawed selfish people.”
But Brightman said the emotional appeal is that the show provides a space to connect with fathers in real time.
“I don’t know how many people get this chance to pay tribute to their father and show the human capital F flaws,” he said.
When preparing to play his father in Shark Is Broken, Shaw said it was his custom to practice his voice in Quint’s costume. “I think he’s so fearless, so that’s one of the emotions I absorb when he pulls himself into a role,” he said. “I’m so positive and full of energy. It feels so liberating.”
But it’s a feeling that only lasts for the duration of the performance. When it was over, Shaw said: “I tend to come back to who I am very quickly. It’s probably a healthy thing. I’m not a father. I’m a different man.”