(written from a Production point of view)
The life of an actor can be very enviable, if the phone rings and somebody says, 'I see you as the leader of a group of aliens with enormous heads', I think that's fantastic.
Outside of Star Trek, Shawn is perhaps best known for his portrayal of Vizzini in The Princess Bride, the acclaimed 1987 comedy/fantasy film co-starring Chris Sarandon. He is also known for his work in Woody Allen films, for his role in the 1995 film Clueless, and for voicing Rex the toy dinosaur in the Toy Story films produced by Pixar.
Early life and aspirations
A native of New York City, New York, Shawn graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in history from Harvard University. He then studied economics and philosophy at Oxford University in England, with the intention of becoming a diplomat. He began to involve himself with theater in 1970. He wrote his first play in that year, entitled The Hotel Play. He began acting on stage, as well, though mostly in his own plays or in projects with theater director Andre Gregory.
Woody Allen films
He made his feature film debut in 1979's Manhattan, directed by Woody Allen. Shawn has since appeared in several of Woody Allen's subsequent films, including Radio Days (1987, with Kenneth Mars and Mike Starr), Shadows and Fog (1992, with David Ogden Stiers, Camille Saviola, Kurtwood Smith, Kenneth Mars, and Richard Riehle), and The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001, again with David Ogden Stiers, as well as John Schuck).
Film work, 1979-1989
After Manhattan, Shawn had small roles in films such as All That Jazz (1979), with Ben Vereen and Cathie Shirriff, and Atlantic City (1980), co-starring Robert Joy, both of which were nominated as Best Picture by the Academy Awards. Shawn then acquired recognition for "playing" himself in the unique 1981 film My Dinner with Andre, in which Shawn and his long-time friend, Andre Gregory, discuss their life experiences and philosophical views during a meal in a restaurant. Shawn also co-wrote this film with Gregory, and both won a Boston Society of Film Critics award for their work.
Shawn's other film credits throughout the '80s include Strange Invaders (1983, with Louise Fletcher, Kenneth Tobey, Dey Young, and Thomas Kopache), Deal of the Century (1983, with Richard Herd, Graham Jarvis, Richard Libertini, and Tony Plana), Head Office (1985, with Merritt Butrick), The Bedroom Window (1987, with Brad Greenquist, Mark Margolis, and Leon Rippy), She's Out of Control (1989, with Catherine Hicks and Derek McGrath), and Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills (1989, with Robert Beltran and Ed Begley, Jr.).
Film work, 1990s-present
In the early 1990s, Shawn appeared in such films as Mom and Dad Save the World (with Teri Garr and Thalmus Rasulala), The Cemetery Club (with Bernie Casey and Robert Costanzo), and The Meteor Man (with Frank Gorshin and Tommy "Tiny" Lister, Jr.). He also played the title role in the 1994 film adaptation of David Mamet's translation of Anton Chekhov's play Vanya on 42nd Street.
In 1995, Shawn co-starred as debate teacher Wendell Hall in the hit comedy film Clueless. In 1996, he and TNG guest actors Ray Walston, Christopher McDonald, and Daniel Roebuck appeared in the comedy House Arrest. In 1997, he and Mimi Craven appeared in Just Write. In 1999, he co-starred with aforementioned Star Trek III: The Search for Spock actor Christopher Lloyd in My Favorite Martian, based on the classic series which starred Ray Walston (who also has a cameo in the film adaptation).
His more recent films include Disney's The Haunted Mansion (2003, with Rachael Harris, Derek Mears, and Michael McAdam) and the 2006 science fiction black comic drama Southland Tales. The latter also starred Dwayne Johnson, John Larroquette and Holmes Osborne. Shawn more recently appeared in the family films Kit Kittredge: An American Girl and Furry Vengeance.
In 2009, he was featured in the film Capitalism: A Love Story.
On television, Shawn appeared in two episodes of Paramount Television's hit comedy series, Taxi, which starred Christopher Lloyd. He later had a recurring role on the Emmy Award-winning NBC comedy series The Cosby Show, appearing in four episodes (and voicing in one other) from 1987 through 1991. One-time TNG guest star Sabrina LeBeauf was a regular on this series.
From 1994 through 1998, Shawn made recurring appearances on the CBS series Murphy Brown. Also in 1994, Shawn guest-starred on the CBS comedy series The Nanny, starring TNG guest actor Daniel Davis. Shawn's episode, "Pinske Business", also featured another TNG alum, the aforementioned Ben Vereen. Shawn also reprised his role from the film Clueless in the short-lived television spin-off series that followed.
More recently, Shawn has guest-starred on such series as Sex and the City (starring Kim Cattrall), Fat Actress (starring Kirstie Alley), Sci-Fi Channel's Stargate SG-1 (with Bruce Gray), Desperate Housewives (with Teri Hatcher, Mark Moses, and Alfre Woodard), and Law & Order: Criminal Intent (developed by Rene Balcer). He also had a recurring role as Dr. Howard Stiles on the NBC series Crossing Jordan, starring Miguel Ferrer.
Since 2008, Shawn has been playing wealthy attorney Cyrus Rose on Gossip Girl. His early episodes were shared with Madchen Amick. From 2008 through 2009, Shawn played the recurring role of William Halsey on the Showtime Network series The L Word, co-starring with Kristanna Loken, Brian Markinson, and Lucia Rijker. In 2009, Shawn guest-starred in the final season of the NBC medical drama ER, on which Scott Grimes was a regular.
Shawn's distinct, high-pitched voice has been used in several animated films, most notably as Rex the Dinosaur in Disney/Pixar's Toy Story films (1995's Toy Story, 1999's Toy Story 2, and 2010's Toy Story 3). He also supplied voices for the Emmy-winning TV series Teacher's Pet and its 2004 film adaptation (also voicing David Ogden Stiers and Kelsey Grammer). In addition, he voiced Insuricare boss Gilbert Huph in another Disney/Pixar hit, The Incredibles.
Shawn also lent his voice to the 2005 Disney film Chicken Little, as did TNG star Patrick Stewart. In addition, Shawn voiced Bertram in the "Emission Impossible", "Sibling Rivalry" and "The Big Bang Theory" episodes of Family Guy, the popular animated series created by Star Trek fan Seth MacFarlane. Majel Barrett also had a voice role in the first episode.
As a playwright, Shawn's works are typically politically charged and controversial. His more well-known plays include Aunt Dan and Lemon (1985, which earned Shawn Drama Desk Award nomination for Outstanding New Play) and The Designated Mourner (1997). The latter and two other plays (Marie and Bruce and The Fever) have been made into films, all of which were adapted for the screen by Shawn himself. Shawn also created a new translation of Bertolt Brecht's play The Threepenny Opera which ran on Broadway in 2006.