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Interview: Ian Shaw on following his father as Quint from JAWS

Find out how Fringe production The Shark is Broken explores many memories for the son of actor-writer Robert Shaw.

Ian Shaw as JAWS Quint in The Shark is Broken
Ian Shaw as JAWS Quint in The Shark is Broken

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, Quint is back in a unique new staging penned and performed by his real-life son, Ian Shaw.

The larger-than-life actor-writer Robert Shaw is perhaps best remembered for his remarkable performance as shark hunter Quint in JAWS – the movie which defined the summer blockbuster and launched the career of director Steven Speilberg.

But the production was fraught with problems on set and off, and is now the basis of a new show, The Shark is Broken, opening on the Edinburgh Fringe from 2nd August.

Ian speaks out about the inspiration behind his show, in addition to working with Mark Rylance, coping with a mechanical shark which refused to bite and whether his dad should have won an Oscar as Quint.

Ian, tell us how this project began.

Many years ago I read Carl Gottlieb’s wonderful book The Jaws Log, and it occurred to me that there was an interesting story behind the scenes of one of cinema’s most legendary movies. So I suppose the idea was percolating in my mind for decades. I then read a drinking diary my father kept, which I found painful and brave.

A year ago I had a moustache for another role I was playing, and I suddenly realised I looked like Quint. So I sketched out some ideas for a play. I shoved it in a drawer, thinking it was too crazy to do actually do.

A while later, I mentioned it to a writer friend, Joseph Nixon, and he thought it had legs and could be something a lot of people would find entertaining. So we wrote it together.

What can audiences expect of the show?

For much of the filming of JAWS the mechanical shark was broken, and the three stars, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider, found themselves quartered on the Orca – the famously small shark-hunting boat — for hours on end awaiting their scenes.

The play, inspired by the private diaries of Robert Shaw, humourously reveals the true relationships, the secret clashes and intrigues behind the legendary movie. In repertory with The Shark is Broken, we are also presenting a reworking of our award nominated five-star show, New York Stories (Broadway Baby Best In (Brighton) Festival) by Damon Runyon, featuring further tales of the well-loved characters from Guys and Dolls.

Robert Shaw and a young Ian Shaw. Credit Ian Shaw.

Robert Shaw and a young Ian Shaw. Credit Ian Shaw.

What are your memories of your father’s career and how did his work influence yours?

I went on several sets – which are the most boring places on earth most of the time. Film-making is so slow, nothing happens. I remember huge cables snaking all over the floor. Pyramids of Fresca cans. And just very occasionally, the calls of “Quiet please! Quiet on set! We’re filming! Rolling! Sound? Speed! And ACTION!” It was the travelling I remember; Spain, Mexico, America, the Carribean. The wonderful food.

In terms of his work, I am a huge fan — my favourite things are his work with Pinter, The Hireling, perhaps the less popular things with the public. But I love JAWS of course. I don’t know how his work has influenced me — I have absorbed bits of it in the same way I have absorbed bits of other wonderful actors I have seen. The best actor I worked with on the stage was Mark Rylance. Such an incredible communicator of feeling – and very funny too.

How did JAWS affect you when you first saw it?

It was terrifying. I imagined that sharks were swimming around my bed in the dark. One night I called out to my Dad to come and save me, which he did. I knew the film was not real, that he hadn’t been eaten — I had met Bruce! — but it triggered a real fear of being consumed by sharks, which is at the heart of the movie’s tension. But the film has a lot more besides — so many elements that click. The score is mind-blowing.

Ian Shaw takes a peek at Bruce the shark on set for JAWS in 1974. Credit Ian Shaw.

Ian Shaw takes a peek at Bruce the shark on set for JAWS in 1974. Credit Ian Shaw.

Robert famously rewrote his Indianapolis speech. As a successful author, did he often contribute to scripts?

He always said that he had to re-write a lot of what he was given, but I think he was a little prone to exaggeration as well! They certainly improved the script of Jaws, eating dinner with Spielberg and reworking things while the shark was broken.

You’ve recently released a rehearsal clip performing as Quint. What’s the reaction been like?

Very kind and positive. Fans are generally so generous — they love the movie and they want to keep the magic alive. So they tend to respond very supportively.

Do you think Robert should have won an Oscar for his performance in JAWS?

That’s a great question. I think he should have won a Best Supporting Actor, perhaps. But the Best Actor in 1975 was Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, which I don’t think my Dad would argue with. Such an incredible performance.

JAWS never seems to go away. Why do you think that is?

Well, it was the perfect storm. The fact that they had problems with the shark made Spielberg more creative in building tension — almost like one of his heroes, Hitchcock.

Meanwhile, the actors were able to work together to create completely believable relationships. I think the USS Indianapolis speech is perfect; it breaks the rules of cinema — “show don’t tell” — and yet gives Quint a soul. The monster concept unifies the audience, and yet the monster is real.

Then you have the fact that they shot on the ocean and not in a water tank; the innocence of Amity’s architecture contrasting with the corruption of the Mayor’s office; the extraordinary editing by Verna Fields; the sublime soundtrack….there’s a heck of a lot going on!

Ultimately, you have to give Spielberg the credit for getting all these elements on the screen. And he also managed to avoid sentiment, which was an Achilles Heel for him in subsequent movies, I think.

What do you think your father would make of what you’re doing?

Impossible to answer that! I have tried to approach it in the way he might have done, honestly but with respect. I have a more peaceful understanding of him from having researched it. I hope the audience can see themselves in the characters, flawed but with great qualities. I know I can…

 

The Shark is Broken is at Assembly George Square Studios – Studio Three from 2nd to 25th August 2019. Tickets cost £10. Book online at assemblyfestival.com or call the Box Office on 0131 623 3030.

Follow and find out more about The Shark is Broken on the official Facebook page.

Watch Ian Shaw’s extraordinary rehearsal as Quint:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BnwuQNsDlMk

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