After more than four decades in Hollywood, beloved character actor Wallace Shawn shows no signs of slowing down.
The 69-year-old made his debut in Woody Allen’s 1979 film “Manhattan,” and has remained an industry staple ever since. Shawn has appeared in close to 150 television shows and movies over the course of his career, including memorable roles in “The Princess Diaries,” “My Dinner with Andre,” “Clueless” and the “Toy Story” franchise, for which he provided the voice of Rex.
Shawn reunited with “Clueless” director Amy Heckerling and co-star Alicia Silverstone for “Vamps,” a comedy about two socialite vampires (Silverstone and Krysten Ritter) who struggle to remain relevant. He plays Van Helsing, a vampire-hating doctor who gets caught in an epic battle with a vampire played by Sigourney Weaver.
I recently chatted with Shawn about the movie, reuniting with his “Clueless” friends and what it was like to chase Sigourney Weaver with an axe.
Laura Hibbs: What do you think is behind the public’s current obsession with vampires?
Wallace Shawn: I can’t guess. As Americans, we suck the blood out of other countries and maybe that is something we worry about and express in this way. I really don’t know.
Hibbs: What sets “Vamps” apart from other vampire movies?
Shawn: I tragically have missed most of the others because I’m a grown up and my fantasy life is restricted to funerals and cremations. I don’t think “Vamps” is really about vampires. It’s about some nice people who find that they have a particular problem in a particular situation. It’s like a game. There are very special rules. They can’t go out in the daytime because they live off blood, yet they want to be ordinary people and they have to figure out how to do that.
Hibbs: Did shooting “Vamps” feel like a “Clueless” reunion?
Shawn: Yes, it really was. It has some of the qualities of a reunion, but people are always older at the reunion than they were when they were in school.
Hibbs: You filmed “Clueless” in 1995 when Alicia Silverstone was just 19. How has she changed?
Shawn: Alicia has become a grownup. She’s a mom. She understands some of the sadder aspects of life. The fact that, when time passes, certain things are lost. You have to say goodbye to certain things and certain people. When she did “Clueless,” I don’t think she really knew that aspect of life.
Hibbs: “Clueless” really spoke to the carefree nature of the 1990s. How does “Vamps” reflect what is going on right now in the world?
Shawn: “Clueless” was filmed in a slightly more optimistic moment in time. Right now is a moment of national reflection and gloom, and “Vamps” has that feeling. There is more sadness in it.
Hibbs: You play a modern version of Van Helsing, a character that has been portrayed many times before. How did you prepare for the role?
Shawn: I have to admit, I played it just the way I would play any part, without too much regard to the history. My character goes through a very nice transformation in the movie. He’s sort of totally cold and aggressive, a killer at the beginning. Then he warms up as the movie continues. He becomes gentler and more accepting.
Hibbs: He also fights Sigourney Weaver… what was that like?
Shawn: That was an exciting life experience. She’s a great sport, someone who, despite being quite a distinguished actress, is prepared to be very goofy. We are theoretically grownups, but acting is quite silly. It is a very strange thing for grownups to do, which is why I think a lot of people envy actors. They think, “Hey, that looks like fun to be running around and chopping each other’s heads off and strangling each other.” The secret is that it actually is fun. We’re not quite grownups.
Shawn: 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.
Hibbs: Is this how you chose to do “Vamps”?
Shawn: I know that Amy Heckerling is a wonderful person and is not going to make anything that I would be ashamed. I know that I am going to have a good time working with her. I didn’t even really need to look at the script, I just said yes. But, most of the time, I definitely want to look at the script.
Hibbs: You’ve been in the business for a long time. What drives you to keep acting?
Shawn: That’s my way of making a living. If you think that I have several houses in the Bahamas, you would be wrong. Acting is an escape from the boring person that I am in real life. I spend most of my time thinking about things like laundry and buying stationery supplies. It’s much more fun to chase Sigourney Weaver around the room with an axe. It keeps me from taking myself too seriously.
Hibbs: What role are you most recognized for on the street?
“Vamps” is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.