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Wallace Shawn

From Academic Kids

Wallace Shawn (born November 12, 1943) is an American actor and writer. He made his film debut playing Diane Keaton's ex-husband in Woody Allen's Manhattan in 1979, in which Allen's character, a short, balding, bespectacled ectomorph, dismisses the short, balding, bespectacled Shawn as "a homunculus."

His most famous role was as one of the two characters in Louis Malle's film My Dinner with Andre, opposite Andre Gregory. The two actors also wrote the script, which contrasted Shawn's modest down-to-earth humanism against Gregory's extravagant New-Age fantasies, leaving the viewer of the film in an ironic suspension between the two viewpoints. Although the film was based on actual events in the actors' lives, Shawn and Gregory denied (in an interview by film critic Roger Ebert) that they were playing themselves, and stated that if they remade the film they would swap the two characters to prove their point.

Other notable appearances include his role as the Masked Avenger in Allen's Radio Days (1987) ("Beware, evildoers! Wherever you are!"), as the evil Vizzini in The Princess Bride (1987), and as Uncle Vanya in Andre Gregory's idiosyncratic Chekhov production filmed by Louis Malle, Vanya on 42nd Street (1994), a reading of the play set in a crumbling theatre.

Shawn is a widely-used character actor on television, where he has appeared in many genres and series. He has had recurring roles as the Ferengi Grand Nagus Zek on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, a comic ex-reporter on Murphy Brown, the Cosbys' neighbor on The Bill Cosby Show and on many other shows. He is also an accomplished voice actor, appearing especially in animation (including Toy Story and Toy Story 2 where he played "Rex the Green Dinosaur") and commercials.

Shawn's career spans all aspects of "low" and "high" culture, and his plays, unlike some of his television appearances, are considered very serious (even if they often have comic aspects). His early work, such as Marie and Bruce (1978), portrayed emotional and sexual conflicts in an absurdist style. His later plays became more overtly political, drawing parallels between the psychology of his characters and the behavior of governments and social classes. Among the best-known of these are Aunt Dan and Lemon (1985) and The Designated Mourner (1997), in both of which he appeared off-Broadway; the latter was made into a film by director David Hare. Film adaptations have also been made of Marie and Bruce and The Fever, but as of 2005 these had only been screened in festivals.

Shawn's political work has invited controversy, as he often presents the audience with several contradictory points of view: in Aunt Dan and Lemon, which Shawn described as a cautionary tale against fascism, the character Lemon explained her neo-Nazi beliefs with such conviction that some critics called the play effectively pro-fascist. The monologue The Fever was dismissed by some critics as "liberal guilt"; it describes a person who becomes sick while struggling to find a morally consistent way to live when faced with injustice.

Before becoming a writer and actor, Shawn studied history, economics, and philosophy at Harvard and Oxford, where he originally thought he might become a diplomat. He is the son of William Shawn, longtime editor of The New Yorker, and journalist Cecille Lyon Shawn. His brother Allen is a composer.

In late 2004 Shawn published the one-issue-only progressive political magazine Final Edition (http://www.sevenstories.com/Book/index.cfm?GCOI=58322100960730) which features interviews with and articles by Jonathan Schell, Noam Chomsky, Mark Strand, and Deborah Eisenberg.

Selected plays, movies & television roles

  • The Incredibles (2004; voice of Gilbert Huph (Bob Parr's Boss))
  • Crossing Jordan (TV series, since 2002; recurring role as Dr. Howard Stiles)
  • Curse of the Jade Scorpion (dir. Woody Allen, 2001; George Bond)
  • Toy Story 2 (1999; voice of Rex)
  • The Designated Mourner (play, 1997, written by Shawn; also starred in productions, 1997 and 2001)
  • Clueless (movie & TV Series, 1996–7; Mr. Hall)
  • Toy Story (1995; voice of Rex)
  • Vanya on 42nd Street (dir. Louis Malle, 1994; Uncle Vanya)
  • Radio Days (dir. Woody Allen, 1987; Masked Avenger)
  • The Princess Bride (1987; Vizzini)
  • The Fever (play, 1990, written and performed by Shawn)
  • Aunt Dan and Lemon (play, 1986, written by Shawn; also starred in productions)
  • My Dinner with Andre (dir. Louis Malle, 1981; Wally; co-wrote screenplay with Andre Gregory)
  • Manhattan (dir. Woody Allen, 1979; "Jeremiah")

References

  • King, W.D. (1997). Writing Wrongs: The Work of Wallace Shawn. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. ISBN 1566395178

External links

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