‘Jaws’ Play ‘The Shark Is Broken’ Broke Richard Dreyfuss’s Heart

In Richard Dreyfuss’s opinion, there’s more to fix in The Shark Is Broken than the titular animal. The Oscar winner says his feelings were hurt by the Broadway play, which chronicles the behind-the-scenes relationship between Jaws stars Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider, and Dreyfuss during the making of Steven Spielberg’s epic 1975 blockbuster. “I went to see it, to see if it really was gonna hurt,” he says. “And it did.”

Dreyfuss, who starred as marine biologist Matt Hooper in Jaws, recently caught a performance of The Shark Is Broken, cowritten by and starring Ian Shaw—son of Dreyfuss’s Jaws costar Robert Shaw, who played salty seafarer and eccentric shark hunter Quint. Ian used his late father’s diary as reference while he and Joseph Nixon were cowriting the play, which first premiered at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe before opening on Broadway at the John Golden Theatre on August 10. Its final performance is scheduled for November 19.

After the performance he saw, Dreyfuss posed for pictures with the show’s three-person cast: Ian Shaw (playing his father), Colin Donnell (playing Scheider), and Tony nominee Alex Brightman (portraying Dreyfuss). But though he was smiling in the photos, Dreyfuss says he was really feeling anything but pleased.

Colin Donnell, Alex Brightman, Richard Dreyfuss and Ian Shaw pose backstage.Bruce Glikas/Getty Images.

“It was pretty awful,” Dreyfuss says of his experience watching the play. “Ian [Shaw]—who has more than any right to write whatever he wants—never called me and said, ‘Give me some background.’ Or, ‘Give me your take on this and this.’ And they just decided to make my character a big jerk.”

The central conflict of the play involves a supposed feud between Robert Shaw, a renowned English stage actor and alcoholic in his late 40s, and Dreyfuss, who’s portrayed as a neurotic, fame-obsessed, comically insecure actor in his 20s, just starting his career. But in Dreyfuss’s opinion, he and the veteran actor never fought. Dreyfuss says that while the late Shaw “had my number,” it was a “great, great honor” to work with him, adding that the two had “a very incredible relationship” that “was all for the good.”

That’s not to say the two didn’t mess with each other from time to time during the making of Jaws. “There were people on the crew who said, ‘What’s this Richard Dreyfuss–Robert Shaw show that’s going on here?’” Dreyfuss says. “When we were surrounded by lots of other people, Robert would take digs at me, and I would take a dig at him. But that was only to make the hours go better, faster. We didn’t take any of that seriously.”

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