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Interview: Wallace Shawn – A DESIGNATED Writer of A THOUSAND COLORS

Wallace Shawn will be premiering two podcasts - THE DESIGNATED MOURNER beginning June 25, & GRASSES OF A THOUSAND COLORS on July 9

Interview: Wallace Shawn – A DESIGNATED Writer of A THOUSAND COLORS

A highly-familiar actor on both screens, big and small; Wallace Shawn will be premiering two podcasts of his playwrighting prowess - THE DESIGNATED MOURNER beginning June 25, 2021; and GRASSES OF A THOUSAND COLORS on July 9, 2021. André Gregory directs both audio six-parters with Larry Pine and Deborah Eisenberg joining Wallace in THE DESIGNATED MOURNER; and Jennifer Tilly, Julie Hagerty, and Emily Cass McDonnell joining Wallace in GRASSES OF A THOUSAND COLORS.

Wallace managed to find some time between juggling his podcasts, voice-overs and going over scripts to answer a few of my inquiries.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Wallace!

What was your original impetus in writing THE DESIGNATED MOURNER back in 1996?

I wrote THE DESIGNATED MOURNER between 1990 and 1995. In response to your question, I attempted to swallow a very small psychoanalyst -- only one quarter of an inch in height -- with instructions to snake around behind my neck until he found my brain. He was then instructed to prowl around my cerebral cortex until he found the answer to your question. So far, he hasn't returned.

I suppose writers in general can twist their own incomprehensible psychological anguish into groupings of words that sound somehow agreeable to them. Then they read those words and sometimes find that the words have an implied story hidden inside them. If I write down the words "A garden gate - the grandmother!" I may not know what it means at first. But then I ask myself, "Is there a grandmother in a garden? Why is she there? What is she doing?" And I try to answer. "Is she there to visit with - a dog, perhaps?" And five years later, a piece of writing has been completed.

The play ended up having a lot to do with a guy who turned out to be cowardly - a controversial topic if you take it seriously, certainly a topic most audience members would rather not confront in relation to themselves, because no one wants to be a pitiful, weak conformist, but that's what most people turn out to be. But I didn't know that that subject would be in the play when I wrote down the first words that became the play. I didn't know they would become a play.

What has been your three-line pitch for THE DESIGNATED MOURNER?

When violence becomes part of the life of a society, very few of us are prepared. Howard is a poet, an essayist, an intellectual, an old and famous guy who comes from a privileged background; but he cares about justice; so the government sends thugs to beat him up. His daughter Judy is smart and cynical and loyal to her father, but she loves Jack, who's funnier than her father, and Jack instinctively knows that the path of betrayal is usually the only one that leads to survival.

You studied in college to become a diplomat. How did you end up with your very successful careers as a writer and as an actor?

Thank you for thinking I'm "very successful." I'm a very ambitious person, so inside the disturbing private world of my own mind, I think of Arthur Miller as a successful playwright and Tom Cruise as a successful actor, and I think of myself in comparison as a sad, bitter failure. But I know that I am a very, very lucky person compared with most writers and actors, not to mention most people who work in sweatshops or as sharecroppers; and there is a grateful side to my nature, so I try to be grateful and happy with my situation 95% of the time. I allow the snarling dog of my bitterness out for a run every once in a while, when no one else is around.

When I was in college, I thought it would be selfish, self-indulgent, and immoral to devote my life to writing, which is a very enjoyable activity and may or may not benefit anyone else. Later I thought that if there had never been any writers, the world would probably be worse off than it is, so I allowed myself to become a writer.

I started acting because someone offered me $125 a week (in around 1977) to appear in a play.

Would you explain the fortunate circumstances that got you the voice of Toy Story's Rex?

The amazingly creative and original John Lasseter apparently thought I was the perfect match for the toy dinosaur he had in mind for TOY STORY. He found me after a reading I did of a play I'd written and presented me with a rather large plastic figure, which at the time seemed like the puzzling gesture of an eccentric dreamer who wasn't very likely to get a film made.

With your success as the voice of Rex, was it a no-brainer that you were cast in all the resulting video games of Toy Story?

Once I had been presented with the toy dinosaur, that dinosaur's destiny was set in stone. People would find it bizarre if Rex suddenly had the voice of James Earl Jones or Robert De Niro.

You're been steadily working in all entertainment mediums. If compensation were not a factor, where would you prefer to spread your creativity - on the stage, in a recording studio, on the silver screen, or in television?

At the moment I'm obsessed with an art form you didn't mention - the podcast! I'm wildly excited about the podcasts my colleagues and I have made of two of my plays, THE DESIGNATED MOURNER (to be released on June 25) and GRASSES OF A THOUSAND COLORS (to be released on July 9.) The bad thing about plays in a theatre is that people who don't live in the city where the play is performed can't possibly see it, and neither can people who don't have extra money in their pockets to buy a ticket. The podcasts will be free. People anywhere will be able to hear them. And they'll even be available after my death, which I find rather thrilling.

What's next for Wallace Shawn?

I'm thrilled to be able to announce to you that I've received broad hints that I will appear in some form in Season Five of the show I love, Young Sheldon.

Thank you again, Wallace! I look forward to checking out both your six-part podcasts of THE DESIGNATED MOURNER and GRASSES OF A THOUSAND COLORS.

All episodes will be offered free on-demand to listeners across all platforms where podcasts may be found (iTunes, Spotify, Audible, Stitcher etc.) beginning June 25, 2021 for THE DESIGNATED MOURNER, and beginning July 9, 2021 for GRASSES OF A THOUSAND COLORS.

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