Shaw, the eldest of two boys, was born in Brampton, Cumbria, England, where his grandfather was the local vicar (a relation of Orde Wingate). Shaw grew up in Leeds where his mother was a social worker and nurse and his father worked as a special needs teacher and race relations advisor for the BBC. He attended King's College London where he graduated as a medical doctor.
Shaw's first job after graduating from LAMDA was in Deborah Warner's production of Julius Caesar at the Barbican Theatre with a cast which included Ralph Fiennes, Fiona Shaw and Simon Russell Beale. His first feature film role was as Fisher, James Bond's first kill, in the opening of 2006's Casino Royale that introduced Daniel Craig as the new 007, and was directed by Martin Campbell.
Shaw played Asoka in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time released May 2010 in an action role protecting Princess Tamina (Gemma Arterton) and the dagger of time from Prince Dastan (Jake Gyllenhaal) in the Jerry Bruckheimer and Walt Disney production directed by Mike Newell. Sir Ben Kingsley and Alfred Molina lead the accomplished cast which includes Ronald Pickup, Richard Coyle and Toby Kebbell.
He worked for Pixar in spring 2010 on the film John Carter, with an ensemble cast that included Mark Strong, Willem Dafoe, Taylor Kitsch and Dominic West, and directed by Oscar winner Andrew Stanton. The following year, he appeared in the opening scene of Prometheus directed by Ridley Scott as one of the Elder Engineers.
In other media, Shaw has appeared in the IMAX production, Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs with William Hope and Nassar Memazia and in two television movies, Messiah: The Rapture with Marc Warren and Saddam's Tribe with Stanley Townsend and Daniel Mays. Other television appearances include Call the Midwife as Zakir, Trigger Point with Josh Dallas, Endeavour (TV series) as Prince Nabil and as Augustino in the second series of *The Borgias (2011 TV series) for Showtime (TV channel) with Sean Harris. He made is debut for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2011 playing Will Scarlet in the premiere of the critically acclaimed The Heart of Robin Hood directed by Gisli Ӧrn Gardarsson of Vesturport, an Icelandic theatre company known for their use of ariel acrobatic skills, in this case corde lisse.
Shaw has made two films with Samantha Whittaker for their production company, Silent Kisses.
He was awarded the gold medal in Advanced Stage Combat by the British Academy of Dramatic Combat.
- Jesus/The Jesus Film (New Version) (2002) as Adam
- Casino Royale (2006) as Fisher
- I Can't Think Straight (2008) as Hani
- Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010) as Asoka
- Vamperifica (2011) as Raven
- John Carter (2012) as Matai (Officer)
- Prometheus Elder Engineer (deleted scenes)
- Son of God as Saint Peter
- Dry (2014) as Dr Alex
- London's Burning (1 episodes, 2002)
- Mummy Autopsy (1 episode, 2005) as Inca Priest
- Wire in the Blood (1 episode, 2006) as Ahmed Khan
- Saddam's Tribe: Bound by Blood (2007)
- Holby City (1 episode, 2007) as Mohammed Sheik
- Messiah: The Rapture (2008) as Khalid Al Faluni
- Call the Midwife (2012) as Zakir
- The Borgias (1 episode, 2012) as Augustino
- The Bible as Saint Peter
- Endeavour as Crown Prince Nabil
- Atlantis as Prince Therus
- The Red Tent as Benia
- Marco Polo as Sabbah
- Homeland (1 episode, 2015) as Ahmed Nazari
- Interview on BBC Radio Asian Network with Gagan Grewal, 3 January 2007
- Singer, Michael (2010). We Make Our Own Destiny, p. 76. Disney Editions, New York. ISBN 978-1-4231-1754-4
- Williams, Greg (2006) Bond on Set, p. 16-19. Dorling Kindersley, London. ISBN 1-4053-1658-6
- What is Going On in 'Prometheus'? A Universe of Questions, Answers and Theories. Rope of Silicon.
- Bentley, David. (21 November 2011) Prince of Persia and John Carter actor in new Robin Hood stage production – Coventry Telegraph – The Geek Files. Blogs.coventrytelegraph.net.
- This week's new theatre and dance | Stage. The Guardian.
- The Heart of Robin HoodVesturport. Vesturport.
- Littleton, Cynthia. "Mark Burnett, Roma Downey promo 'Bible' mini to faithful". Variety Media. Retrieved 18 February 2013.
- The Passion's Precedent: The Most-Watched Film Ever?. NYTimes.com Article (8 February 2004).
- The New York Times, 22 July 2003, page 1AR "1979 Bible Film is the Most-Watched Movie of All Time"
- Wilson, Giles. (21 July 2003) The most watched film in history. BBC News.
- Bailey, David (2005) Bailey's Democracy. Thames and Hudson, London. ISBN 0-500-54315-1