Sam Mendes

Sam Mendes

Born in Reading, Berkshire, England, Mendes was raised by his father, James, a former university lecturer and his mother, Valery, a children's books author. When he was three, his parents divorced, leaving him with his mother, who moved to London, though he did manage to see his father on weekends. Not an especially good student, Mendes spent the early part of his youth excelling at sports, particularly cricket. But by the time he reached 16, Mendes began taking his studies more seriously. After graduating from the all-boys Magdalen College School, he attended the University of Cambridge, where he directed his first play, David Halliwell's "Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs," when the school turned a lecture hall into a theatre during his first term. Mendes went on to direct other productions while at university, including Edmond Rostand's "Cyrano de Bergerac." It was at Cambridge that Mendes developed his distinct visual style for theater that Spielberg later deemed cinematic. Upon graduation, he applied for numerous directing apprenticeships and was hired by the Chichester Festival Theatre, where one notable highlight included directing Judi Dench in "The Cherry Orchard" (1989). In 1990, at only 25 years old, Mendes began directing for the Royal Shakespeare Company, amassing credits that included "Troilus and Cressida" (1991) with Ralph Fiennes and "The Alchemist" (1991). That same year, the prolific director took on Sean O'Casey's "The Plough and the Stars" at the Old Vic Theatre and "The Sea" for the National Theatre Company. He next directed "The Rise and Fall of Little Voice," Jim Cartwright's play that showcased Jane Horrocks' remarkable vocal abilities in the role of a young woman who isolates herself from both her cruel mother and the outside world by retreating into old records and giving note perfect impersonations of legendary singers including Judy Garland, Sarah Vaughan and Marilyn Monroe. Mendes' spare staging of the play made for a powerful performance, but caused difficulties for film director Mark Herman when the play was later adapted into a 1998 feature starring Horrocks, Brenda Blethyn and Michael Caine.In 1992, Mendes was named artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse, one of London's leading nonprofit studio theaters and what would become the breeding ground for some of the most exciting productions to appear on the British stage, as well as a congregation of acclaimed directors like Danny Boyle, Nicholas Hynter and Roger Michell. One of his first projects in his new capacity was "Assassins," Stephen Sondheim's unusual musical about the personalities responsible for the murders of U.S. presidents. While his work at the Donmar was extensive, Mendes was busy at work on other stages. His 1993 effort "The Tempest" was produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company, while his highly regarded 1994 staging of Harold Pinter's "The Birthday Party" played at the Lyttleton Theatre for the National Theatre Company. Also that year, Mendes debuted "Oliver!" at the London Palladium, which ran for an unprecedented four years.Mendes next delivered an inspired take on the Tennessee Williams classic, "The Glass Menagerie" (1995), for which he won the London Critics' Circle Award for Best Director. Mendes drew excellent performances from Claire Skinner as Laura, Ben Chaplin as Tom, and Zoe Wanamaker as Amanda, resulting in a more contemporary; less literal take on the play that made for a moving theatrical experience while underlining the timelessness of the original. Meanwhile, his successful 1995 revival of Sondheim's "Company" met with largely positive notices, with Mendes breaking new ground by casting the impressive Adrian Lester in the lead role, marking the first time a black actor starred in a Sondheim musical. The director updated George Furth's original story, changing this look at 1970 New York society, marriage and relationships to a present day examination of the same. He followed up with another American musical, this time an original called "The Fix," a darkly comedic look at modern politics that opened to mixed reviews. Many critics found its exploration of image over ideas in late 20th century United States to be burdened by glitzy lighting, over-produced theatrics and bad music. "The Fix" was a rare flop on the director's resume.Mendes made his Broadway directing debut in 1998 when he reprised "Cabaret" from his 1994 production, winning most major theater awards in its premiere season and subsequently enjoying a long run. Performed in a space meant to recreate the atmosphere of a real Berlin cabaret, "Cabaret" was at once grand and claustrophobic; seedy and spectacular. Mendes and choreographer Rob Marshall - with whom Mendes shared a Tony nomination - stressed the dimensionality of the characters and their situations, making them both likable and abhorrent, resulting in less cartoonish and more frighteningly realistic portrayals of the political and social unrest of the time. Theatergoers flocked to see the critically acclaimed musical even after its Tony-winning stars Natasha Richardson and Alan Cumming departed the production. The director had another New York success when his overwhelmingly acclaimed "Othello" had a limited run at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Mendes' returned to Broadway with "The Blue Room," an adaptation of "La Ronde" penned by David Hare. The play, originally produced at the Donmar Warehouse, received a great deal of press in Britain over a brief nude scene by co-star Nicole Kidman. New York audiences were less impressed, finding the play to be well-paced and skillfully directed, but lacking the punch that would warrant such hype.Because of his highly visual take on traditional stage productions, it was only a matter of time that Mendes would be tapped to direct a film. Having seen both "Oliver!" in London and "Cabaret" in New York, Spielberg thought Mendes was perfect to direct the DreamWorks title, "American Beauty" (1999), a funny, darkly comedic look at a morose man (Kevin Spacey) in the midst of a self-destructive mid-life crisis, and the ill effect it has on his relationship with his controlling wife (Annette Bening) and teenaged daughter (Thora Birch), whose underage friend (Mena Suvari) attracts his lascivious attention. Though he was forced to reshoot the first three days of production after Spielberg was dissatisfied with the dailies, Mendes nonetheless made a film that garnered considerable critical acclaim, impressive box office totals and five Academy Awards, including statues for Best Picture and Best Director. Meanwhile, Mendes made other news for briefly dating Calista Flockhart in 1999 and Rachel Weisz, whom he was with on and off from 1999-2001. But it was his relationship with British actress Kate Winslet, with whom he was publicly attached in late 2001 and eventually married in May 2003, which captured the media's biggest share of attention.Mendes next project was the lofty and somber noir, "Road to Perdition" (2002), starring Tom Hanks, Jude Law and Paul Newman, all of whom gave excellent performances. Based on the acclaimed graphic novel by Max Allan Collins, "Perdition" was a moving and stylized look at a hit man (Hanks) who runs afoul with his mob boss (Newman), resulting in the deaths of his wife (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and youngest son. On the run with his eldest boy, the hit man goes on a tragic quest for revenge. While the lavish appearance of the film - particularly the sweeping cinematography - and acting of the leads was widely praised, many critics felt Mendes's directing to be somewhat self-conscious and hollow, though the film did do well at the box office. Going back to the stage, Mendes continued to be a considerable force in 2002 and 2003, directing heralded London productions of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" and Chekov's "Uncle Vanya," which later traveled to Broadway. He collected an unprecedented trio of prestigious Lawrence Olivier Awards - the British equivalent of Broadways' Tony Awards - in the same year, for Best Director, Best Revival and a special achievement award for his 10-year-tenure with the Donmar Warehouse Theater, then helmed an acclaimed Broadway revival of "Gypsy" (2003), starring Bernadette Peters.When he returned to directing for the big screen, Mendes delivered the ambitious "Jarhead" (2005), an irreverent look at war based on author and real-life ex-U.S. Marine Anthony Swofford's best-selling remembrance of his tour of duty during the 1991 Gulf War. Mendes' British background allowed him to craft the source material into an unbiased, unflinching, highly psychological tour of the mind of a young American solider (Jake Gyllenhaal) who is highly trained for war but finds himself battling boredom, paranoia and existential issues, as he and his fellow troops wait to finally engage the enemy. The movie cannily, purposely and ironically evoked several other war-themed films and stood comfortably alongside previously admired efforts as a mature, thoughtful exploration of military life, but without being an expressly anti-war statement. The film was also Mendes' first without his frequent cinematographer Conrad Hall following the latter's death. The director did, however, find a perfect successor with the acclaimed Roger Deakins, who filmed the Iraqi desert as an increasingly hallucinatory landscape as the film progressed.After turning to producing duties on "The Kite Runner" (2007), Mendes directed "Revolutionary Road" (2008), a relationship drama that reunited wife Kate Winslet with "Titanic" (1997) co-star Leonardo DiCaprio. They played a married couple in the 1950s who move to Paris to find fulfillment in the age of conformity, but only find lies, self-deception and explosive consequences. Mendes was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Director for the critical favorite, though his follow-up film, "Away We Go" (2009), marked an unexpected and not altogether successful shift in Mendes reliable tone. Co-scripted by hipster novelist Dave Eggers and his wife, Vendela Vida, the dramedy about a couple traveling the country to decide where to start a family was a little heavy-handed with the quirky indie charm. While some critics enjoyed the palate cleanser between Mendes' heavier dramas, others felt it was a run-of-the-mill offering from such a distinguished filmmaker. Meanwhile, Mendes' personal life took a turn when it was announced in March 2010 that he and Winslet had separated and would divorce. The director later confirmed in 2011 that he was in a relationship with actress Rebecca Hall. Back behind the cameras, he delivered his biggest commercial hit to date with the 23rd installment of the James Bond series, "Skyfall" (2012), the third film starring Daniel Craig as 007. Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the first movie, "Dr. No" (1962), "Skyfall" follows Bond as he investigates an attack on MI6, leading him to former operative Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem). Also starring Judi Dench as M, Ben Whishaw as Q and Naomie Harris as Miss Moneypenny, the film was hailed by most critics as being one of the best in the entire series.