Jaws is, inarguably, one of the most important movies ever made. While the film made Steven Spielberg into the cultural behemoth that he is today, at the time of its production, it was another horror movie without any hype or hoopla around it. Despite this, the film’s emotional center, Robert Shaw, took his role in the film for free, thanks to the IRS.
Shaw evades the taxman
Shaw was cast as Quint because he had the charm and chops to take on memorable characters. Quint seemed like a salty old sailor, but his monologue on the quiet ocean is one of the most iconic scenes ever filmed. However, it might be even more impressive when you consider that Shaw took the role for free to dodge the wrath of the IRS.
According to IMDb, Shaw was already in deep with the IRS due to tax debt and could only travel to the U.S. for short, non-professional trips. However, when Spielberg wanted him for Quint, Shaw made the journey back to the United States and squeezed all of his scenes into the minimum amount of time that he could be there without collecting any money.
As soon as the cameras stopped rolling, however, Shaw fled the country to Canada, where he also spent his days off. This allowed him to keep on working without having to worry about the tax liabilities for doing so. However, it also shows the kind of raucous presence Shaw had over the production and why his performance is filled with so much pain and passion.
Shaw vs. Dreyfuss
Shaw was a notoriously curmudgeonly force to be reckoned with. Part of the reason he fits so naturally into Quint’s shoes was that he was similar in personality and tone. While this helped the performance, it was often a hindrance on the set. If it wasn’t enough that producers had to evade the taxman for him, his outbursts made Shaw an unpopular man with one of his co-stars.
Richard Dreyfuss and Shaw kicked off a reported feud early on in the production, and that ill will never fully subsided. On one particularly notable workday, Shaw expressed his desire to stop drinking. This, according to Dreyfuss, set off a chain of events that was not as dramatic as it is told in stories.
“He was walking down the gangplank holding a drink in his hand and said, ‘Richard, help me out here.’ I said, ‘Do you really want my help?’ He said he did, and I took his drink, and I threw it in the water… Every drinker on that crew went ‘ooooh,’ and then he got his revenge by taking the fire hose and pointing it at my face. I lost my sense of humor, and that lasted about an hour.” he told The Daily Record.
Looking back at ‘Jaws’
If you ask Dreyfuss, the entire ordeal is little more than rumor and hyperbole.
“It’s clearly not true, and where that started, I don’t know, but trust me, Robert Shaw wouldn’t countenance that idea of a feud, forget it,” he told The Daily Record. “I don’t know how to hold a grudge. I lost my sense of humor for one afternoon. That’s not a feud – it was very simple and he had my number.”
Shaw may have been a difficult man to work with, but it didn’t mean that he was joyless. Now, he’s gone down in history as the man behind one of the most beautiful moments in cinema history.