IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Wallace Shawn Talks 'Don Peyote,' 'The Double' and 'A Master Builder'

Monday, 26 May 2014 14:59 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Wallace Shawn Talks 'Don Peyote,' 'The Double' and 'A Master Builder'

“Inconceivable!”

Legendary character actor Wallace Shawn uttered that iconic line, one of the most famous in movie history, in the classic film The Princess Bride. He returns to the big screen in the new movie Don Peyote, which was co-written and co-directed by comedic actor Dan Fogler and opens in theaters and VOD on May 16th. 

Shawn began his career as a playwright and penned such plays as The Designated Mourner, Aunt Dan and Lemon, and Grasses of a Thousand Colors, but he would eventually go on to co-write and star in the cult classic movie My Dinner with Andre. After appearing as Vizzini in The Princess Bride, Shawn appeared in such popular films as Radio Days, We’re No Angels, Clueless, The Incredibles, Tower Heist, A Late Quartet, and Admission. But to younger audiences he is probably best known as the voice of Rex in Toy Story, Toy Story 2, and Toy Story 3. In addition to Don Peyote, he also currently appears in The Double with Jessie Esienberg (Now You See Me), as well as the upcoming A Master Builder, which he co-wrote, and was directed by Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) and opens in theaters on July 23rd. 

Don Peyote tells the story of Warren Allman (Fogler); an unemployed stoner who finally finds a purpose in life after an unpleasant encounter with a homeless man preaching the end is near. Fueled by vivid apocalyptic dreams, Warren becomes obsessed with 2012 doomsday theories and decides to make a documentary on the subject while his fiancé is busy planning their wedding. Shawn plays Warren’s psychotherapist. In addition to Fogler and Shawn, the film also features performances from Jay Baruchel (Goon), Josh Duhamel (Safe Haven), Topher Grace (The Double), and Academy Award-winner Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables). 

I recently had the absolute pleasure of speaking with the great Wallace Shawn about Don Peyote, The Double, and A Master Builder. The legendary character actor discussed Don Peyote, his first impressions of the script, how he chooses projects, why most scripts are “revolting,” working with actor and co-director Dan Fogler, deleted scenes, why he is particularly proud of A Master Builder, and acting with Jessie Eisenberg in The Double


Here is what Wallace Shawn had to say about Don Peyote, The Double, and A Master Builder:

IAR: To begin with, how did you get involved with Don Peyote?

Wallace Shawn: They must've sent me something like a script. I don't remember. But I said, why not? 

It’s a very abstract film, so what did you think about the screenplay when you initially read the script?

Shawn: I think they sounded like interesting people and it would be fun to spend a day with them, which I did. They were interesting people. 

Is that what you're looking for when you are choosing projects to be a part of? Is it not necessarily just the script, but who you will be working with as well that helps you to decide if you want to be in a particular film?

Shawn: Well yes, sometimes I think you get it from the script, and in fact usually you can't tell from a script what the movie is going to be like. I suppose the people involved are in some ways more important than the script. Of course if the script is, as it so often is, revolting to you then you don't get involved. I've done more than one thing where I didn't know necessarily where the script would be going or what the ultimate film would be like, but the people sounded interesting. 


You said that when you're reading scripts they are often “revolting.” Are a lot of the scripts that you read not very interesting?

Shawn: Yes, but if I find them revolting I don't take the chance. In other words I have my own sixth sense about what I'm going to regret. It's similar to I suppose what used to be called going on dates. People would go out on a date, they would meet, and they would think, if I carry this thing too far I'm going to regret it. Or they would think, I would like to carry it further. That's the same with scripts. Most scripts are not ... it's not whether they're good or bad works of literature, but it's if they're morally or politically acceptable or not acceptable. And if I would actually be on the set thinking, I wish I weren't here, I'm sorry I'm here and I'm ashamed of being here. That's true of a great number of scripts for me because I'm easily offended. I'm politically quite left wing and a lot of things seem revolting to me that come up in movie scripts and then there are a lot of things I don't do because they are repulsive in regard to me. I don't do things where the whole point is the person is short for instance. 

Then I'm going to assume you did not find Don Peyote revolting and that you did not feel on set that you wished you weren't there, is that correct?

Shawn: No, I had all positive feelings really.

What was your experience like working with Dan Fogler and shooting your scene with him? 

Shawn: I had a great time. I apparently was walking in on a group of people who all knew each other and I was the guy who didn't know anybody. That was kind of fun. They're all smart and it was a very improvisational and an informal type of situation. I had a great time with them.


You were working with Fogler both as an actor and as a director. What was that like for you? Was it seamless, and could you tell he was wearing two hats? 

Shawn: Not really. No. He did not direct me. Basically his partner (Michael Canzoniero) handled the directing of the scenes on the day when he was acting. I think that was the point of having more than one director. He was not trying to do both things at once. Although he presumably on this would discuss how it was going, but he didn't turn around to me and say, “Well look you have to do it differently.” That's unnerving when your scene partner does that. Although I've had that experience and this is fine if that's the rule of the game. But he wasn't doing it that way. 

You said it was a very improvisational film, was your role written the way you played it or did you bring a lot of yourself to creating this character?

Shawn: We actually did other scenes that were more improvisational than the one in the movie. The one in the movie is pretty much as the script was. If you devote your life to studying the outtakes from Don Peyote you'll find other scenes. 

You’ve had a long and impressive career in both film, and on stage. Is there a movie, a play, or any project that you've been involved in that you're personally proud of? Something that you look back at and say, “That was some of my best work,” or that you really wish more people saw?

Shawn: I'm about to come out in my most ambitious project as an actor, which is Jonathan Demme's film A Master Builder. It will open in July in New York. It's based on a Henrik Ibsen play and it's a gigantic role that I've been working on since 1997. I hope I do it justice. It's a fantastic part and a very deep play that Ibsen wrote. 


Finally, I recently saw the The Double and really enjoyed your performance in that as well. What was your experience like making that film?

Shawn: That was an amazing feat on everybody's part. That one is an outrageously stylized film, and a brilliant performance by Jessie Eisenberg in two parts, as two wonderfully impressing characters. I got to be the boss who is so mean to the one and is so nice to the other. 

Don Peyote opens in theaters and VOD on May 16th. 

To read our exclusive interview with Dan Fogler about Don Peyote, please click here


The Double opens theaters on May 9th. 


A Master Builder opens in theaters on July 23rd. 


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