Fran's Man - How a sensible Englishman wound up on an American sitcom

From OnSat America's weekly satellite guide, April-May 1997 by Linda Yovanovich

Playing second fiddle to the first lady of outlandish outfits might not, at first thought, be an ideal way to spend one's time. But Charles Shaughnessy, better known to viewers as Maxwell Sheffield of CBS' "The Nanny," is making the best of what has turned out to be a fantastic situation. And to think he didn't actually have acting in mind when he set out for a career. Coming from what he calls "sort of a showbiz family," Shaughnessy's father was a writer for the hit British show "Upstairs, Downstairs," and his mother was an actress. But his first career choice was to do something more "sensible" than the life he was brought up in. Although he acted throughout his schooling, he decided a career in law was a better way to earn a decent living. "But it didn't work," he admits. ''I had always acted at school, but I never thought it was something that a responsible adult did." (Sorry. Mrs. Shaughnessy.) Turning to law school, he soon realized acting was what he wanted to do. So he went back to college for drama and knew he had done the right thing. At the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, he met his wife-to-be, Susan. After she moved home to Los Angeles, they soon realized that they wanted to share their lives together.

So following a telephone proposal, Shaughnessy crossed the pond to join her in L.A. They were married a month later, in 1983; they now have two daughters. After a short time doing 'odd' jobs ("I sold adult videos over the phone and was a private detective for a day.") Shaughnessy's acting career finally picked up some momentum, and by 1985, he landed a part on the daytime soap "Days Of Our Lives." After working on "Days" for eight years, he did a few episodic shows and then landed the part of Mr. Sheffield, a Broadway impresario, on CBS' "The Nanny." But for all the success he has had over the past 12 years, Shaughnessy keeps his senses about him, realizing that fame is indeed fleeting. "I think it helps a lot coming from England, because if you're an actor in England, you never expect to be rich. So I like to think that I handle fame by seeing it as something very fortunate that allows me to do all kinds of things I wouldn't be able to do otherwise. But that it's not taken for granted, and it's not the prime motive." His background also helped him land the role of sensible, straightman,

Maxwell Sheffield. When asked if he's anything like Mr. Sheffield, Shaughnessy laughs heartily and says. "Well Fran likes to think we're almost identical. Whenever we talk about this she always goes (in an alarmingly convincing Fran Drescher voice) 'Well, of course you're Maxwell Sheffield, that's why I cast you; you're exactly like him.' But I think I'm a much more hip and happening '90s kind of guy." He explains that Mr. Sheffield is more like his own father who never really related to the goings-on of the family. When there was too much shouting and noise, he'd disappear into his study. Shaughnessy said. But there's hope for Maxwell, he adds. It seems that ever since that sassy lass from Queens, New York showed up, Mr. Sheffield has become more involved with his family. ''As this woman, more and more insidiously fills his dead wife's shoes, I think he's beginning to see the house as a family again. This increasing closeness of his character's family reflects the chemistry on the set. "Everyone always tries to put together the best show they can. But there's always that little sprinkling of fairy dust that you just cannot predetermine. You can put any two, three or four people of the cast into the scene, and get different kinds of flavor to it that work. Plus the writing staff has a really good understanding of the characters and the way they relate to each other." Whatever their recipe for success, they've been cooking up a storm. "The Nanny" is a regular ratings winner for CBS on Wednesday evenings.

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