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Charles Shaughnessy Gets Crowned!

The popular stage and television star takes on the role of King Arthur in the Ogunquit Playhouse's Spamalot.

Charles Shaughnessy
Charles Shaughnessy may be best known for his television work -- most notably the roles of Maxwell Sheffield on the sitcom The Nanny, Shane Donovan on the daytime drama Days of Our Lives, and, more recently, Saint John Powell on the primetime drama Mad Men -- but he's also a versatile actor who is equally at home on the stage.

Currently, Shaugnessy is playing the role of King Arthur opposite fellow Broadway veterans Rachel York and Jeffry Denman in the Ogunquit Playhouse's production of Monty Python's Spamalot. TheaterMania recently spoke to Shaughnessy about the role, his television work, and his future career plans.

THEATERMANIA: Had you ever seen Spamalot before doing this production?
CHARLES SHAUGHNESSY: No, and it's both a blessing and a curse that i've never seen it. I've been laughing so much in rehearsals; it is one of the funniest things I've ever seen. Monty Python was part of my upbringing and history, and because I knew the story from the original context, at first, I resisted the whole idea of this show. But as soon as I started working on it, my reservations fell away. It is extremely clever and well-constructed. I love that there are moments when the show is truly touchng and then it goes right back to a bit like "not quite dead yet." That keeps you off-balance.

TM: You told me you have played Arthur before -- in a regional production of Camelot. Have you found similarities between that Arthur and this Arthur?
CS: There are certain similarities to the other Arthur, but what I've really found are lots of connections to Mr. Sheffield from The Nanny. In both cases, he's a bit befuddled, and he knows that he's the boss and supposed to be in charge, but no one takes him seriously until his persertverance comes through.

Charles Shaughnessy in Monty Python's Spamalot
(© Ogunquit Playhouse)
TM: Have you also found a similarity betweeen the relationship of Arthur and his servant Patsy and Mr. Sheffield and his butler Niles, who was so briliantly played by Daniel Davis?
CS: Yes. I think that's a classic comedy formula to have the apparently idiot servant who's very smart but who would never dream of letting his boss that he's the one who knows what's really happening. It's very much like Moliere.

TM: The Nanny lives on in reruns, and so many people now comment how smart and risque the dialogue was -- especially for network television back then. How did that happen?
CS: Honestly, I just think the network didn't get it. And in a way, it helped that a lot of people dismissed the show as this superficial family sitcom. I love the fact that people are now realizng -- maybe on their on third or foutrth viewing -- how very smart the writing was. I especially loved all the Broadway references we had; in fact, we were referencing jokes about Andrew Llloyd Webber long before Spamalot ever existed!

TM: Maxwell Sheffield was a famous Broadway producer. Have you ever wanted to try your hand at producing?
CS: I think you have to have a death wish to be a Broadway producer. In fact, my dad did produce some musical revues in London in the 1930s and 1940s, right before the beginning of WWII; and he was not successful at it. So I never wanted to go into the business side of theater. However, I did this fabulous piece at Williamstown called Free Sailing, which was this play with music about women pirates, and I have some strong ideas about how to make that successful. So, yes, I might consider producing that some day. And I'd love to do some directing.

TM: Last season, you were also part of the hit series Mad Men. What was that experience like?
CS: You had to be so on top of your game on Mad Men that most of the time I was on, I was frightened to get out of bed in the morning. It was the most extraordinary set, because everyone really knows what they're doing. The first day I was tongue-tied, talking to people like Christina Hendricks, Jon Hamm, and Elisabeth Moss. But the main thing about the show is that Matthew Weiner, the show's creator, really knows what he wants and has a vision.

TM: Were you at all wary about playing such an unlikeable character as Saint John Powell?
CS: When we were filming one of the episodes, I sad to Matt as I was about to start taping, "oh, here comes the bad guy." And Matt says to me, "he's not a bad guy, he's just a businessman -- a ruthless, manipulative businesman." Of course, he was bad as far as the audience was concerned, and he got his comeuppance.

TM: Have you talked to Matt about the possibility of appearing again on the show?
CS: I'm afraid that's not going to happen. I weakly suggested to Matt that Saint John could stalk the new company in New York, but I think he's drowning his sorrows in gin and tonics in London, never to be seen again.

Galen Gering and Charles Shaughnessy
in Days of Our Lives
(© NBC)
TM: Earlier this summer, you briefly returned to Days of Our Lives after a very long absence. How did that come about, and would you consider coming back for good?
CS: I knew they were bringing a lot of people back to deal with the death of Alice Horton (played by Frances Reid), but I told the producers I didn't want to come back and just stand in the back of the church. So they wrote this story where I get out of prison and just shout at my wife Kim (played by Pasty Pease) for a couple of scenes. I thought it was little gratuitous, and frankly, that they messed it up a bit. But yes, I would go back. Being on Days was so much fun -- not only i have never worked so hard and so fast, I have never laughed as much. And I love the idea of having new stuff to work on every day, and I really love the challenge of making the bad stuff workable. Soaps are not a bad thing to do!

TM: Theater's not a bad thing to do either. Would you like to do more of it?
CS: I love doing summer theater. But I would really love to do a play in New York. When I did Urinetown on Broadway, my daughters fell in love with the city when they visited. My ideal life is to do a television series that's shot in New York, where they can manage my schedule around doing theater at the same time. I know that's a long day, but I think it's the most fun way to work.

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