April 13, 2011 by abbyo
Where you’ve seen him: “The Princess Bride,” “Manhattan,” “My Dinner with Andre,” “Toy Story” 1,2 and 3, “Southland Tales,” “Gossip Girl,” “The Incredibles,” “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” “Murphy Brown,” “Clueless,” “The Cosby Show,” “Radio Days,”
Of all the “That Guy” actors, Wallace Shawn is probably the one whose name most people already know. He’s so well-known that I actually go back and forth on whether or not he really belongs in the group. He doesn’t have the obscurity that lots of other actors on this list do, but he’s never really been in a major role in any movie, with the exception of “My Dinner with Andre,” (which he also wrote).
Shawn’s got a face and voice that you just can’t take very seriously, which is why most of his roles are comic. His definitive roles are Vizzini in “The Princess Bride” and Mr. Hall in “Clueless,” and he doesn’t often play against type. Shawn’s generally played blustery, cocky bullshitters and quiet, self-assured smart guys his whole career. As is the case with a lot of character actors, he’s also done a lot of iconic voice work, as Rex in the “Toy Story” movies, and Gilbert Huph, Mr. Incredible’s diminutive bully of a boss in “The Incredibles.”
But offscreen, Shawn is one of those people whose activities stretch into a much more interesting realm. I mentioned before that he wrote “My Dinner with Andre,” a classic art house film directed by Louis Malle—it recently got a brilliant send-up on “Community.” He’s also the author of nine plays, four of which were adapted into films, and one “liberal translation” of “The Threepenny Opera.” I always felt Shawn’s writing work was like a secret double-life that not many people knew about, since I didn’t even know he wrote until “Threepenny Opera’s” 2006 debut. But it turns out he’s actually been writing longer than he’s been acting. His first play, “The Hotel Play,” was published in 1970, and his first screen role came in 1974 as Diane Keaton’s ex-husband in “Manhattan.”
Looking at Wallace Shawn’s first career as a writer kind of makes you look at his acting career in a whole new light. He’s had a total of 137 film and TV roles (that’s almost as many as Vincent Schiavelli!) that seem to reflect a genuine enjoyment of acting. Sure, there are paycheck jobs, but every “That Guy” actor has those (a man’s got to pay the bills!). Shawn just can’t seem to get enough of performing, and the industry doesn’t seem to have any problems with that, since he keeps getting so many parts. Whether he’s constructing diabolical plans, reprimanding airheaded teenagers or putting his brainpower on full display, Shawn’s never dull to watch, and it’s always fun when he shows up on screen.