‘Jaws’: Robert Shaw Was Blackout Drunk When Filming Indianapolis Speech the First Time

Steven Spielberg’s Jaws can claim its fame in several movie categories including drama, horror flick, and summertime blockbuster. Released in June 1975, the film starred Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider, and Richard Dreyfuss, and it still gives people pause when it’s time to step into the ocean.

Its impact goes beyond scary beach experiences, however. Jaws was a pioneer at the box office and bestowed fans with a treasure chest of quotes. Shaw played Captain Quint in the film, and he delivered the unforgettable Indianapolis speech. Spielberg once shared how he gave Shaw the green light to drink before shooting that famous scene, and things got a little rough.

Robert Shaw in Steven Spielberg's 'Jaws'
Robert Shaw on the set of ‘Jaws’, directed by Steven Spielberg | Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

‘Jaws’ actor Robert Shaw got drunk with Steven Spielberg’s ‘permission’

Jaws, which was adapted from Peter Benchley’s book, is legendary for its own reasons. Many of them have to with how things went down behind the scenes. Steven Spielberg shot footage in the open sea in Australia and Martha’s Vineyard, a first for a feature film. An alleged rivalry between Shaw and Dreyfuss also affected their on-set relationship in an awkward way. But the movie is still a fan-favorite and major part of cinematic history.

For Quint’s monologue, — which many refer to as the “Indianapolis speech” — Shaw rewrote parts of it to make it his own, adding Quint’s spirit into it. The actor also suggested to Spielberg that he take a few swigs of liquor before doing the scene.

During a 2011 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Spielberg shared how they shot the speech twice because the first time did not go so smoothly.

“We shot it twice. The first time we attempted to shoot it Robert came over to me and said, ‘You know, Steven, all three of these characters have been drinking and I think I could do a much better job in this speech if you actually let me have a few drinks before I do the speech.’ And I unwisely gave him permission,” Spielberg recalled.

“I guess he had more than a few drinks because two crew members actually had to carry him onto the Orca and help him into his chair. I had two cameras on the scene and we never got through the scene, he was just too far gone. So I wrapped …”

Shaw apologized to Spielberg and did a reshoot

The version of Quint that fans see giving that monologue is perfectly lucid; he didn’t rock the boat with inebriated antics. That’s because Shaw was sober for the re-do. Spielberg said Shaw called him to apologize after the drunken mishap earlier in the day.

“At about 2 o’clock in the morning my phone rings and it’s Robert. He had a complete blackout and had no memory of what had gone down that day. He said, ‘Steven, tell me I didn’t embarrass you.’ He was very sweet, but he was panic-stricken,” said Spielberg.

“He said, ‘Steven, please tell me I didn’t embarrass you. What happened? Are you going to give me a chance to do it again?’ I said, ‘Yes, the second you’re ready we’ll do it again.’ The next morning he came to the set, he was ready at 7:30 and out of make-up and it was like watching Olivier on stage. We did it in probably four takes. I think we were all watching a great performance and the actors on camera were watching a great performance; Roy and Richard.”

Shaw joked about drinking to get into character

Back in 1974, Shaw gave an interview from the Jaws set. He was asked how he prepared for short, intense shots with sharks and replied, “Scotch, vodka, gin, whatever.” Shaw added that he tended to drink while Scheider did exercises as part of his regimen. As for Dreyfuss? He just talked.


‘Jaws’: Why Steven Spielberg Was Almost Fired From the Film

Though he had a distinguished career in film and television, some fans argue that Shaw should have won an award for his memorable role in Jaws. Quint is still a favorite character. And Jaws is still an all-time summer hit available to stream on Peacock, Amazon Prime, and Apple TV.