The instant classic 1975 thriller “Jaws” is a film held near and dear to New Englanders’ hearts. From its fictional New England setting of Amity Island, to being locally filmed on Martha’s Vineyard, it put New England summers and the summer blockbuster on the map.
Now, playwright and actor Ian Shaw, son of late “Jaws” star Robert Shaw, is bringing the story behind the movie to the stage. “The Shark Is Broken” is a Broadway play co-written by Shaw and Joseph Nixon about the trials and tribulations of bringing “Jaws” to life, from filming delays to the predator of the film — an animatronic shark — constantly breaking down. Shaw recently spoke to GBH Executive Arts Editor Jared Bowen about the inspiration and process behind the creation of “The Shark Is Broken,” as well as what it’s like to play his father onstage.
Shaw says that he’d “always been interested in behind-the-scenes stories, and ‘Jaws’ has a particularly juicy one.” Having visited the set of the movie as a child, he’d had the premise of “The Shark Is Broken” churning in his mind for many years. “When I finally almost accidentally suggested an idea [for the play] to a friend,” he said, “I thought they would just laugh at me. In a way, that’s what I was hoping for.”
But the idea was taken seriously, and Shaw said he was, “suddenly very scared," as it would be a personally challenging endeavor. Shaw was young when his father died, and even younger when he visited the set of “Jaws.”
“I was only five,” he explained, “and I think when you’re at that age, there’s very little that you take in. Although I do remember, very clearly, the shark–that made a big impression on me.”
To develop the story for the play, Shaw and Nixon referred to Shaw’s personal recollections, as well as Carl Gottleib’s “The Jaws Log” and other outside sources.
While he was writing about something deeply personal, Shaw said, “in the process of writing [the play], I realized that it was much more universal than I feared. And there were themes in it that I felt that the audience would respond to. It wouldn’t just be about me and my dad. It would be about all of us and our parents and their difficulties, their addictions, their struggles.”
Shaw says that his father “was unafraid to speak his mind in every context. What I find so interesting about him is he was fearless. He wasn’t always wrong, but he wasn’t trying to toe the popular line. [...] Robert wasn’t frightened of darkening the tone. And I admire that.”
When it came to playing his father and sharing details about his family, Shaw was originally hesitant, but “the playing of [Robert] is easier than the writing of him,” he said. “I identify with him, obviously. [...] It also feels like he’s a character that I have researched more than any other character I’ll ever research. So in that sense, it feels like putting on an old glove.”
You can listen to the entire interview above. “The Shark Is Broken” is now playing at The John Golden Theatre in New York City through Nov. 19.