John Shea (’70)

Primetime Emmy Award winner John Shea, one of the most versatile actors of his generation, returned to his directing roots with Grey Lady which he wrote, acted in and produced.  Starring Eric Dane, Natalie Zea, Adrian Lester and Amy Madigan, Grey Lady is a romantic thriller set on Nantucket. Lionsgate Films distributes.

As an actor he has received critical acclaim for fleshing out a wide range of dimensional characters for stage, screen and television.  Shea burst onto the international scene with his depiction of a young American idealist caught up in the violence of Chilean politics in Costa-Gavras’ Academy Award winning thriller Missing, which won the Palme D’Or at Cannes, 1982. Starring opposite Sissy Spacek (and Jack Lemmon), Shea began a tradition of working with talented actresses that continued with his work as the sociopathic Lex Luthor opposite Teri Hatcher in the international hit series for Warner Brothers Lois and Clark, The New Adventures of Superman.

He recently played the president of the United States opposite Sharon Stone’s vice-president in the series political thriller Agent X for TNT; diverse roles include playing Joseph to Madeline Stowe’s Mary in the biblical epic The Nativity; Ann-Margaret’s young lover in Alan Alda’s romantic comedy A New Life; and stalking actress Natalie Baye in the French thriller Lune de Miel  which Shea shot in both French and English.

He made his feature film debut starring opposite Helen Mirren in the British film noir Hussy; later he starred in Armyan Bernstein’s Windy City opposite Kate Capshaw (Best Actor, Montreal International Film Festival); he played opposite Mimi Rogers in Ladykiller; with Jodie Foster and Blair Brown in Stealing Home; and opposite Kelly McGillis in Uri Barbash’s Israeli epic Unsettled Land which Shea shot in the mountains north of Jerusalem.

Shea has shared the theatrical stage with, among many others, Meryl Streep, Sigourney Weaver, Linda Hunt, Estelle Parsons, Anne Jackson, Tovah Feldshuh, Kate Burton, Bianca Jagger and Estelle Parsons.

His choice of film roles has been utterly diverse: from playing Israeli’s most famous spy in BBC/HBO’s The Impossible Spy with Eli Wallach, for which Shea won China’s Golden Panda Award, Best Actor, to playing a young Nazi in Hitler’s SS opposite Bill Nighy; from playing a crusading father in Do You Know The Muffin Man, to an incestuous abuser in See Jane Run. He has gone from reinventing the Cary Grant role in Notorious shot in Paris, to portraying Bobby Kennedy in the BAFTA Award winning mini-series Kennedy opposite Martin Sheen; from playing the villain in Disney’s Honey, I Blew Up the Baby with Rick Moranis, to singing with Lenny Henry in the BBC road comedy Coast to Coast shot in England.

Shea got laughs with Dudley Moore in the comic romp Weekend in the Country, inspired young domestic terrorists in The Insurgents, played a preening soap star in Heartbreak Hospital with Patricia Clarkson, and fell in love with Lea Thompson in Jim Hemphill’s romantic comedy The Trouble with the Truth – critic Roger Ebert called Shea’s performance “towering.”

On television he won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Featured Actor for his portrayal of a man caught in the maelstrom of the landmark reproductive case in Baby M, opposite JoBeth Williams.  Shea enjoyed record breaking ratings opposite Farrah Fawcett as the determined DA who brought infant killer Diana Downs to justice in the Emmy, Golden Globe and Peabody Award winner Small Sacrifices. Other films for television include the British spy thriller The Apocalypse Watch (opposite Virginia Madsen), and the chronicle of the suffragette movement A Will of Their Own working again with Lea Thompson and Ellen Burstyn. 

Besides Lois and Clark and Agent X, Shea’s series work includes WIOU where he led an all-star ensemble for CBS and Grant Tinker; the action thriller Mutant X  for Warner Brothers and Marvel (Canada’s Gemini Award nom. as Best Actor); he reached a new young audience with his performance as  the bi-sexual billionaire Harold Waldorf in Warner Brother’s global phenomenon Gossip Girl.

Shea’s New York theatre work is also marked by virtuosity. At the age of 26 he made his Broadway debut in Isaac B. Singer’s Yentl playing a Polish yeshiva boy andwon a Theatre World Award for Most Promising Actor. Among other starring roles since are the noir detective in Arthur Kopit’s End of the World directed on Broadway by Harold Prince; the English punk rock producer in the Manhattan Theatre Club production of Steven Poliakoff’s American Days (Drama Desk nom. as Best Actor); and the lovesick Stephen Hurt in Peter Parnell’s romantic comedy hit The Sorrows of Stephen for Joseph Papp at the New York Shakespeare Festival.

On London’s West End he starred as the gay activist Ned Weeks in Larry Kramer’s revolutionary AIDS drama The Normal Heart; at Playwrights Horizon and later Off B’Way he was in the Obie Award winning company of A.R. Gurney’s WASP masterpiece The Dining Room, later shot for PBS’s Great Performances. Again for Papp, he played Jesus Christ in Andre Serban’s  production of Bulgakov’s Russian epic The Master and Margarita with F. Murray Abraham.

Classical theatre performances also include the National Theatre of Britain’s production of Ibsen’s Rosmerholm at La  Mama opposite Suzanne Bertish; O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre (Joseph Jefferson Award nom. Best Actor); Philip Barry’s The Animal Kingdom opposite Sigourney Weaver; Romeo and Juliet  on Broadway at Circle in the Square, and Brecht’s Man is Man at the Yale Repertory Theatre.  Shea made his Carnegie Hall debut as The Soldier in Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale, directed by Tom O’Horgan.

Other starring Off B’Way performances include The Director, which earned him rave reviews as a Machiavellian theatre director; Down the Garden Paths, the comedy by Anne Meara co-starring with Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson; Paula Vogel’s Pulitzer Prize winner How I Learned to Drive opposite Molly Ringwald; and as French painter Pierre Bonnard in Israeli Horowitz’s The Secret of Madame Bonnard’s Bath.

Shea is also an award-winning filmmaker. Besides Grey Lady, produced with Armyan Bernstein of Beacon Pictures,he co-wrote, directed and acted in Southie starring Donnie Whalberg, Rose McGowan, Amanda Peet, Will Arnet, Anne Meara, Jimmy Cummings and Laurence Tierney. A drama set in tough Irish South Boston, Southie won the American Independent Spirit Award for Best Film and Director at the Seattle International Film Festival, represented the United States at Montreal and in Dublin, and was distributed internationally by Lionsgate Films. Shea also produced the soundtrack, as he did for Grey Lady, from which he also composed music for the score.

For twelve years he was a leading man for Symphony Space in New York  performing on NPR’s Selected Shorts and in James Joyce’s Ulysses for Bloomsday on Broadway. For his audiobook work performing dozens of characters in fifteen of Ted Bell’s international political thrillers in the Hawke series, Shea won The Audie Award as Best Male Narrator.

Shea continues to write scripts for the screen, television and stage:The Junkie Priest is a romantic drama inspired the true story of rebel Daniel Egan who battled the mob when heroin hit Manhattan in the 1950’s; Death and Devils, a political thriller set in Puerto Rico is the second film in The Island Chronicles; Fall Girl is a pilot he co-wrote set in the world of New York film stunts; The Trouble With the Truth is a stage adaptation he wrote of the film he starred in. He recently wrote a novel version of The Junkie Priest.

For his work for his political work Amnesty International awarded Shea their Human Rights Award; for his contributions to Irish American culture, he won the John F. Kennedy Award. With Meryl Streep, James Taylor and others he was a founding member of PAND (Performing Artists for Nuclear Disarmament) and was co-emcee at the June 12th Anti-Nuke Rally in Central Park for a million people, the largest political gathering in American history and the subject of the documentary film In Our Hands

Shea lives on Nantucket with his wife, the artist Melissa MacLeod, and their two children; his son Jake, from his marriage to photographer Laura Pettibone, lives in New York. John is the Artistic Director Emeritus of the Theatre Workshop of Nantucket, where he has co-produced forty productions, including Orson Welles’ Moby Dick Rehearsed which he directs and plays Ahab.  Shea is a founding member of the Nantucket Film Festival, serving on its Board of Advisors.

A native of Springfield, Massachusetts, Shea received his BA from Bates College where he discovered the theatre, played football, ran track, was captain of the debating team and co-editor of the literary magazine Puffed Wheat. He earned an MFA in Directing from the Yale School of Drama under mentor Robert Brustein and studied with film directors Arthur Penn and Sidney Lumet at the Yale Film School.  As a young actor he spent two years observing at the Actor’s Studio in New York at the invitation of founders Cheryl Crawford and Lee Strasberg.  

Contact: Andrew Howard, Shelter Entertainment; Los Angeles

                Kieran Maguire, The Arlook Group; Los Angeles/New York

                Markham, Froggatt, & Irwin; London, England