brucekluger.com

    Time Out New York Kids, Fall 2004

    Voice of America
    Indie icon Wallace Shawn talks about the out-of-body experience of being a
    computer-generated star in The Incredibles.

    By Bruce Kluger


    In Disney/Pixar's The
    Incredibles, opening in
    November, actor-playwright
    Wallace Shawn lends his familiar
    voice to the character of Gilbert
    Huph (left), a ruthless insurance
    executive with a penchant for
    denying claims.

    Nothing could be further from
    Shawn's real-life self. A quirky
    intellectual whose lefty politics
    and New York sensibilities out-
    Woody Woody Allen's, Shawn spoke with TONY Kids about his new movie, human
    nature, politics, propaganda and the state of the world.

    Time Out New York Kids: The Incredibles is about a typical family—well, they're
    typical except for the fact that the parents happen to be former superheroes—that
    gets called upon to save the world. Do you detect a real-life parallel here? Is this
    movie saying that ordinary folks can really change things, or is that just a flight of
    fancy?

    Wallace Shawn: It's not a flight of fancy. People will obviously bring their
    awareness of the issues to the film. The story is about a group of nice, big, friendly
    people, and that's how we like to think of ourselves—as big, goofy, innocent and
    totally well-meaning. That's not what we really are, but it is the picture we like to
    have of ourselves.

    TONY Kids: And with the ability to be a superhero.

    WS: Yes, but only a benign one. And if we intervene, it really is for a benign
    purpose. If anything, people will reflect on the fundamental gentleness of that family
    and possibly compare it to the nastiness of the real family that we can sometimes
    be.

    TONY: Kids What's your character in the movie?

    WS: I play the boss in the insurance office where the father [Mr. Incredible, a retired
    superhero] works. I'm trying to point out to him that the purpose of the insurance
    company is to make a profit, and we do that by denying the claims whenever we
    possibly can. If the father were running the business, he'd pay all the claims,
    because he feels sympathetic toward these people.

    TONY Kids: You're becoming as famous for your voice work—Toy Story, Monsters,
    Inc., The Incredibles—as you are for live-action films. Is it challenging to create a
    movie character without the help of your body?

    WS: In some ways, my body hasn't helped that much over the years. I suppose I
    don't want to talk myself out of work as a full-figured human being, because I enjoy
    acting with my whole body, but I have to admit that this kind of job—where I can just
    sit down and use my imagination—plays to my strengths.

    TONY Kids: The Incredibles was produced by Disney, which came under fire for
    refusing to distribute Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. To some degree, the studio
    seems to represent the antithesis of the views in your plays. Politically speaking,
    does working for Disney betray your own personal values?

    WS: I adore Michael Moore, and I wasn't flabbergasted that Disney didn't want to
    support his movie. Is there a contradiction between having left-wing beliefs and
    working for Walt Disney? Uh, yes, there is. Still, as a kid, I was a voracious
    consumer of Disney stuff and I thought I'd work for Disney one day, maybe as a
    cartoonist. I've come awfully close to being what a lot of eight-year-olds fantasize
    about being. So, it's a complex relationship that's covered my whole life. I mean,
    you could say that Donald Duck made me what I am today.

    TONY Kids: You told the New York Times that you've been vain since birth and
    expect people to like your work. How does that square with the fact that there are
    people who still refuse to sit through all 110 minutes of My Dinner With Andre?

    WS: As a very optimistic person, I always think, They're gonna love this! And then
    when they don't, I'm shocked. I'm afraid that's been a repeated motif in my life.

    TONY Kids: Your dad, William, was a legendary editor of The New Yorker. That
    puts a lot of pressure on you as a writer. Any father issues?

    WS: The main pressure my father had on me was his very high standards; he didn't
    respect sloppy or lazy work. So yes, I think it will be virtually impossible for me to get
    out from under a fear of the second-rate, at least before my own death. Then
    again, as a playwright, I've managed to make my own tiny universe. I rule it and I
    have my own standards, so that no one—neither my father nor anyone else—can
    really tell me how to write a Wally Shawn play. It's my own possibly worthless but
    extremely self-controlled domain. But do I have father issues? I'm afraid that,
    although he died, I'm stuck with him. I carry him around with me, so those issues
    really don't go away.

    TONY Kids: Articles about you often mention the kind of fame you enjoy. On the
    website www.fametracker.com, you're described as not so much of a name, but a
    "Hey, it's that guy" celebrity. And at the end of its description of you, the site writes:
    "Current approximate level of fame: Cameron Crowe. Deserved approximate level
    of fame: Russell Crowe." Do you find that there's an excessive amount of talk about
    fame?

    WS: Not in my circles. I don't hang out in the showbiz world. It's definitely a
    peculiarity of my life that when I step out into the street, a lot of people come up to
    me and say, "I don't know who you are, but you're somebody! Who are you?! I feel
    as though you've done something in the past...."

    TONY Kids: You don't own a television. What's that about?

    WS: I'm trying to protect myself from propaganda. I do have different political views
    from other people, and I can only account for it by the fact that I have never had a
    television, since I lived with my parents. But I trudge to a particular newsstand every
    day, because I know I can get The Guardian from England there. I listen to
    Democracy Now at nine o'clock in the morning on 99.5 WBAI.

    TONY Kids: So many articles about you quote your famous line in The Princess
    Bride, "Incontheivable!" If you had it to do all over again, would you keep your
    beloved lisp?

    WS: I'm not personally aware of the lisp. Thank God, for some reason I don't hear
    it. When people meet me on the street and imitate that line or my lisp, I tend to say,
    "It's not particularly nice to make fun of a person with a disability."

    But let's put it this way: If I had ever dreamed in 10 million years that I would be a
    professional actor, I would have trained as an actor, and today you would be seeing
    me trying to play—maybe with no talent, but still trying to play—King Lear! And I
    certainly wouldn't be doing it with a lisp.
Thimply Incredible: Wallace Shawn and Disney alter-ego