Fan Expo 2018: Wallace Shawn Remembers His Life As An Alien

fan expo wallace shawn

You may not recognize the name Wallace Shawn, but you definitely recognize his voice. The 74-year-old actor has roughly 200 credits to his name, including memorable voice performances in The Incredibles, the Toy Story movies, and countless other animated projects. While much of his Fan Expo panel was devoted to My Dinner with Andre—the ’80s arthouse phenomenon that stands as his greatest achievement—and his other small-scale projects with Andre Gregory, Shawn also shed light on his career in genre movies and TV, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and The Princess Bride.

No time for socializing

Asked about his offscreen relationship with the cast of Deep Space Nine, Shawn revealed that his intricate make-up made this almost impossible. “There was no social aspect of Star Trek for the Ferengis,” he said. “You may not think we work, actors, and in a way that’s true, but in another way, there are long hours. The typical day on a TV show or movie is 12 hours and we, the Ferengis, had to get there three hours early to put on the make-up—mine certainly took three hours—and then you had to stay an hour later to get the make-up taken off… so there was no socializing because it was just an unbelievably intense long day.”

Alien vanity

According to Shawn, even if he had time to hang out with his Deep Space Nine co-stars, socializing would have been a problem—because he didn’t know what they looked like. “We almost never saw each other in our human faces and, in fact, didn’t recognize each other when we first saw each other without the make-up,” he explained. “You sort of came to believe the make-up. At first, when I would look in the mirror, I would be shocked. Eventually, I just thought, ‘Yeah, I’m looking good today.’ And still today, many, many years later, I’m kind of upset when people show me a picture of my character not looking as handsome as I think he should and feeling quite vain about pictures.”

Fear of movies

Having divided his career between TV, movies, and theatre, Shawn was asked if he had a preference. Rather than equivocate, he stated a very clear preference for TV, even though he’s never owned one. “There’s a light touch to television that’s not true of movies or theatre,” he said. “It’s somehow less terrifying and people are having more fun. I don’t know. Movies are very serious and quite frightening. 75 people are staring at you and it’s up to you to kind of make something seem believable and it’s very, vary hard to do that. Television is more relaxed. It’s like putting on a play in school. It’s more fun.”

Life after death

The most unusual question of the Q&A came from an audience member who wanted to know how Shawn feels about the future, specifically the way he’ll be remembered after his death. “I could get upset about the way, after my death, not enough people appreciate things that I did,” he explained. “But I don’t know what will happen after my death. I kind of care about it now. My feelings are sort of hurt in advance. To be absolutely frank, I don’t really believe that we are one person each. I think we are quite a few people, each of us, sort of collected into a bundle and I don’t want to compete with myself beyond a certain point. I’ve been very fortunate and I’m not ready to get into that much bitterness.”

True love

In the panel’s final moments, a person dressed as The Princess Bride’s Westley emerged from the audience to ask a question stemming from that ’80s favourite: Is true love possible or inconceivable? “I do believe in romantic love,” confessed Shawn, who has been in a relationship with writer Deborah Eisenberg for many years. “For those who disbelieve in it, I would encourage you to try it out. Weirdly, the way we’re constructed, there’s a drive to get together with somebody else and also to bust out of that if you’re lucky enough to achieve it. We’re both polygamous and monogamous and, in a way, self-sufficient, and we’re stuck with these different parts of ourselves. But yes, I do think love is key to human happiness—maybe for animals as well.”