Robert Shaw Called Richard Dreyfuss "Fat and Sloppy" on the "Jaws" Set
Steven Spielberg has said that the actors' feud actually benefitted the movie.
Thanks to its masterful direction, great acting performances, and Hitchcockian suspense, Jaws, Steven Spielberg's 1975 film about a giant shark terrorizing a coastal community, became a smash hit, defining the summer blockbuster and becoming the first film to gross more than $100 million. The tension wasn't just onscreen, however, at least according to Spielberg. In addition to the difficulty of filming on the water with malfunctioning mechanical predators, the director recalled acrimony between actors Richard Dreyfuss, who played oceanographer Matt Hooper, and Robert Shaw, who played seasoned shark hunter Quint. He even dubbed it "the great Shaw-Dreyfuss feud" in the 2010 documentary Jaws: The Inside Story (as reported by BBC News). Read on for the details on their alcohol-influenced antagonism, including the exchange of some harsh insults.
Dreyfuss said Shaw "terrified" him.
In a 2010 interview with WENN, quoted in Daily Express, Dreyfuss admitted to being intimidated by Shaw from the start, saying the older actor could be both "a gentleman" and "a terrible bully." He also said that he tried to break the ice by complimenting the British actor on his portrayal of Claudius in Hamlet. Otherwise, "I would've spent the entire summer going, 'Eek.' He terrified me," Dreyfuss said.
He may have been right to fear the actor who played Quint, their co-star Roy Scheider said. In footage used in Jaws: The Inside Story, the late actor recalled, "[Shaw] really thought Dreyfuss needed a slapping down, [that he was a] young punk with no stage experience." He continued, "Shaw would say, 'Look at you, Dreyfuss. You eat and you drink and you're fat and you're sloppy. At your age, that's criminal. Why you couldn't even do 10 good push-ups."
"Robert would basically humiliate Richard into taking a chance," Spielberg explained in the film. "For instance, Robert would say 'I'll give you a hundred bucks if you climb to the top of the mast and jump off into the water.'"
He called Shaw out for his drinking.
Behind Shaw's light-and-dark demeanor was an apparently notorious drinking problem, which led to one of the tensest moments in filming.
"He was coming down the gangplank," Dreyfuss said in the documentary. "He had a glass of bourbon in his hand and he said, 'Help me out, will you, Richard?' I said, 'You want me to help you out?'"
Dreyfuss went on to say that he took the drink and threw it into the water in a moment Spielberg called "the shot heard round the world." Shaw exacted revenge by taking the fire hose and pointing it at his co-star's face in the next scene.
Shaw's son wrote a play about the infamous clash.
Although Robert Shaw died just three years after the hif film's release, his son Ian Shaw followed his footsteps to the stage. In a 2021 interview with The Independent, the younger Shaw recalled being surprised to be greeted with less-than-open arms by Dreyfuss when he auditioned for a version of Hamlet he was directing in 1994. The experience sparked the idea of writing a play about the animosity between Dreyfuss and his father during the filming of Jaws. The resulting The Shark Is Broken, in which Ian played Robert, premiered to positive reviews at the 2019 Edinburgh Festival Fringe and has since run in London's West End and Toronto. The play features both Dreyfuss' ingratiating Claudius compliment and his drink toss.
But Dreyfuss calls the feud a great white lie.
Despite saying that on set, he felt like Shaw "was possessed by some evil troll, who would then make [him] his victim" in Jaws: The Inside Story, Dreyfuss has also denied that there was a feud between them.
"It's clearly not true, and where that started I don't know, maybe a combination of [screenwriter] Carl Gottlieb and Steven but trust me, Robert Shaw wouldn't countenance that idea of a feud, forget it," he said in a 2019 Sunday Mail interview. In that same article, he recalled his Hamlet comment as a bonding moment for them. "I said, 'Your Claudius was the greatest Claudius ever, it justified the entire play,'" Dreyfuss remembered. "And he said, 'C'mon in here and have a drink.' We bonded like crazy."
As for the gangplank moment? "I lost my sense of humor for one afternoon, that's not a feud—it was very simple and he had my number," the Mr. Holland's Opus star said.
Feud or not, Spielberg reckoned that the antagonism helped bring the tension between the actors' characters to life. "It got ugly," the director said in Jaws: The Inside Story. "But it was also Quint and Hooper living out that relationship."