The actor, who starred as marine biologist Matt Hooper opposite Shaw's ship captain Quint in Steven Spielberg's 1975 shark thriller, has challenged longstanding claims that the two clashed on set, saying they had a "very incredible relationship" and never had a feud.
The supposed tension between Dreyfuss, sometimes viewed as a neurotic and insecure actor at the start of his career, and the late Shaw, a renowned screen actor who struggled with alcoholism, serves as the central conflict behind Broadway's The Shark Is Broken, a comedic theatrical exploration of the behind-the-scenes drama during filming of the movie. The show was co-written by and stars Shaw's son Ian, who mined his father's diary to bring the story to the stage.
Everett Collection Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider, and Richard Dreyfuss in 'Jaws'
Dreyfuss caught a performance to "see if it really was gonna hurt," he told Vanity Fair in a new interview. "And it did."
Of his experience watching the play, Dreyfuss said, "It was pretty awful. Ian — 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 problem is that they made my character the fool. They didn't do that to Roy [Scheider], and they didn't do that to Robert. And that hurt because it wasn't true."
Though Dreyfuss and Shaw ribbed at each other from time to time, "We didn't take any of that seriously," Dreyfuss told VF. The only time things escalated was when Shaw hosed him down in retaliation for when he threw his glass of bourbon overboard. "That was the only day I lost my sense of humor," Dreyfuss said. "That was not a feud… We never had any bad feeling between us, ever."
Dreyfuss suspects that Spielberg and co-screenwriter Carl Gottlieb may have played a role in the tales of his relationship with Shaw. "I don't think they just gave it any thought that it would hurt me, and it did," Dreyfuss said. "I have to say that Carl and Steven knew better, knew that there was no feud. There was an ongoing kind of humor between us. If you only saw us on the set, then you might think that there was something — a feud that was going on — but it was never real. Never. And I hold that against Carl and Steven."
Bruce Glikas/WireImage Colin Donnell, Alex Brightman, Richard Dreyfuss, and Ian Shaw backstage at 'The Shark Is Broken'
"I have enormous respect for Steven's talent as a director," Dreyfuss added. "I guess I don't have as much for his talent as a friend."
Representatives for Spielberg and Gottlieb did not immediately respond to EW's request for comment.
Dreyfuss said he wanted to clear the air as the only one of the film's three stars still alive. (Shaw died in August 1978 from a heart attack at the age of 51, while Scheider died in February 2008 from multiple myeloma complications at the age of 75.) "I was the only one who could speak for us, how it really was," Dreyfuss said.
Directed by Olivier Award winner Guy Masterson and co-written by Joseph Nixon, The Shark Is Broken is currently playing at New York's John Golden Theatre through Nov. 19.
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