Charles In Charge
Charles Shaughnessy enters the room dressed in jeans and a leather jacket, his hair comfortably tousled. Despite the fact that last night was the opening of Game Show at the New Theatre Restaurant in Overland Park in which Shaughnessy stars, the veteran actor appears animated and relaxed, exuding a polite demeanor that is perhaps the byproduct of his proper English upbringing.
“Hello,” says Shaughnessy, extending his hand, engaging in eye contact, settling into a chair. “So nice to meet you.”
His charisma quickly fills up the small space.
That English charm
Why do the simplest words in the English language sound like a blend of impossibly expensive and exotic silk, wine and perfume when spoken by an Englishman?
Bottom line: the award-winning Shaughnessy is every bit the charming and dashing Brit who captivated afternoon soap and sitcom fans for years while playing two distinct characters. There was Shane Donovan, the sexy ISA agent who encountered all sorts of imaginative misadventures with character Kimberly Brady (played by actress Patsy Pease) on Days of our Lives; the duo became one of soap’s so-called supercouples.
And then there was Maxwell Beverley Sheffield, the fictional Broadway theatrical producer who played Mr. Sheffield to Fran Drescher’s Miss Fine until the two married on The Nanny in 1998, breaking the fictional romantic tension that had bound them since the sitcom’s 1993 debut.
Shaughnessy won a Daytime Emmy for his voiceover work in a 2001 animated series on The Disney Channel, Stanley. He brought to life the voice of Dennis the goldfish in a story about Stanley, a boy who learns important lessons from the animals that populate his imagination.
In perhaps a lesser-known but memorable role, Shaughnessy was expertly cast as Saint John Powell, a partner in the London-based advertising agency Putnam, Powell and Lowe in Season Three of the now classic, pitch-perfect AMC drama, Mad Men. Shaughnessy appeared in five episodes of the series as a wheeling and dealing businessman who leaves a trail of destruction only to have the proverbial rug pulled out from under him.
“It was a fun role,” says Shaughnessy.
Grounded by family ties
Today Shaughnessy is far away from Hollywood soundstages, recording booths or the bright lights of Broadway where he sang and danced for five months as toilet magnate Caldwell B. Cladwell in Urinetown: The Musical. Instead, he’s entertaining welcoming audiences in the Heartland at the award-winning New Theatre Restaurant, the dinner theatre that The Wall Street Journal calls the best in the country.
Game Show, in which Shaughnessy plays Troy Richards, a game show host, opened in Nov. 2011 to critical acclaim, and runs through Jan. 22, 2012. The comedy, written by Jeffrey Finn and Bob Walton and directed by New Theatre co-owner Richard Carrothers, is a departure from plays normally seen on the dinner theatre’s stage. But it’s one that Shaughnessy thinks is delightful.
“It’s set during a ‘live broadcast’ of a fictional, television game show,” explains Shaughnessy. “The audience actually participates.”
Though Shaughnessy is happy to be in Kansas City, there’s just one problem. His family is back in Los Angeles.
“Family comes first,” says Shaughnessy, who has been married for 28 years—an eternity by Tinseltown standards—to actress Susan Fallender. “In Hollywood actors are often elevated to a cult of celebrity. For some it becomes a way of life. That’s a dangerous way to live.”
Shaughnessy and Fallender, a California girl he met in drama school, have two daughters—Jenny, a college senior and Maddy, a high school junior. The trio is slated to join Shaughnessy in Kansas City in late December for the holidays, something he looks forward to with great anticipation. The actor’s intense desire to nurture family ties is an authentic juxtaposition to the sometimes-artificial world of celebrity-crazy Hollywood. He doesn’t buy into it—never has and never will.
Grace and benevolence
No stranger to show business, Shaughnessy was born into a family of writers and actors. His father was the principal writer and script editor of the 1970s British award-winning television drama Upstairs, Downstairs. His mother was an actress, and the young Shaughnessy acted in plays during grade school. After graduating from Eton College, he chose to get his BA in Law at the Magdalene College of Cambridge University.
“But I wasn’t a Perry Mason,” chuckles Shaughnessy, who returned to his first love of acting, abandoning a career in law and succumbing to the family passion.
Shaughnessy was also born into a family of pedigree. His formal title in the Peerage of the United Kingdom, which he acquired in 2007 following the death of his cousin, the 4th Baron, is the 5th Baron Shaughnessy of Montreal and Ashford County Limerick. His great-grandfather, Thomas George Shaughnessy, was president of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company; the title was created in 1916 for the businessman and public servant. The heir presumptive is Shaughnessy’s younger brother David James Shaughnessy, an actor and producer.
But Shaughnessy hardly uses his claim to aristocracy as a calling card. He politely moves the conversation to his philanthropic work with the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps.
“After RFK’s assassination, his inner circle wanted to keep his profound legacy alive,” says Shaughnessy. “He cared deeply about kids and especially those at risk through no fault of their own but through circumstance.”
The private, nonprofit organization operates a diverse range of programs and services across Massachusetts focused on helping kids who have experienced abuse and other hurts to become contributing members of society. Shaughnessy was recently elected to the advisory board of the Children’s Action Corps, something he says is a true honor.
“All of these kids come from a different set of circumstances,” says Shaughnessy. “I love working with them, mentoring them.”
Curious in KC
Shaughnessy is excited to see what Kansas City is all about, including the museums and restaurants. He’s looking forward to connecting with audience members who come to see Game Show. But more than anything, he’s looking forward to being reunited with his beloved wife—whom he calls his inspiration—and daughters.
“They’re very special to me,” he says, that British accent emphasizing “special” in a way that lingers in the room even after Shaughnessy has exited.
Of Soaps and Sitcoms
Charles Shaughnessy says working on a soap opera versus a sitcom is as different as night and day.
“It may take you all day to film a one-hour show,” he says, referring to his time on Days of Our Lives as the mysterious Shane Donovan. “It’s an insane schedule.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum was his hit show with Fran Drescher, The Nanny.
“It wasn’t an overnight sensation,” says Shaughnessy. “But once we got our rhythm it was a smooth-running machine. And great fun.”