Michael Caton-Jones

Michael Caton-Jones

Born Michael Jones in the mining town of Broxburn, West Lothain, Scotland, he was, like most other children in the village, the son of a slate miner. The young Scot grew up on a steady diet of Americana, thanks to his insatiable consumption of U.S. television and film, earning passes to watch movies at Broxburn's only cinema house by delivering ad posters to local shops. As a boy, Jones attended St. Mary's Academy in nearby Bathgate, but at the age of 17, determined to escape the confines of his small town, he left for London to pursue a writing career. By the late-1970s he had been working semi-regularly as a theater stagehand in London's West End for a number of years when an opportunity to work on a hastily-produced B-movie called "The Last American Horror Film" (1982) prompted him to attempt filmmaking as a career. Bolstered by this epiphany, Jones soon enrolled at the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield, Bucks, U.K., where he attended night classes while continuing to work as a stagehand to cover tuition costs. At about this same time, Jones married Beverly Caton, whose surname he adopted in hyphenated form (she would do the same), which the newly-dubbed Caton-Jones retained for the remainder of his career, even after the breakup of their marriage nearly 20 years later.During his time at the film school, Caton-Jones directed his first student project, titled "Liebe Mutter," which went on to win Best Film at that year's European Film Student Awards. His second feature "The Riveter," was quickly optioned by the BBC and caught the eye of future Columbia Pictures chief David Puttnam, who took the budding filmmaker under his wing. An offer to direct for television followed and after two years of training, Caton-Jones chose to leave film school in order to make his professional debut directing the three-part Scottish drama "Brond" (Channel 4, 1987), which he followed with a 1988 installment titled "Lucky Sunil" for the prestigious British film series "Screen Two" (BBC, 1985-2002). Based on Britain's infamous Profumo political kerfuffle from the 1960s, "Scandal" (1989), starring Joanne Whalley, marked Caton-Jones' impressive feature film debut. Nominated for a Golden Globe for "Scandal," he was brought onboard his first Hollywood production by his mentor, Puttnam, who was a producer at Warner Bros. at the time. "Memphis Belle" (1990) boasted a young ensemble cast that included such fresh faces as Matthew Modine and Eric Stoltz in a fictionalized account of the titular B-17 bomber's final missions during World War II. Despite its cast of handsome young stars and Caton-Jones' impressive handling of the aerial battle sequences, the nostalgic adventure performed only moderately well with stateside audiences.In a conscious effort to switch gears, Caton-Jones chose the lighthearted comedy "Doc Hollywood" (1991) as his next endeavor. A starring vehicle for Michael J. Fox, the film followed a callous young plastic surgeon as he finds love in a small Southern town on his way to Beverly Hills, and provided a modest hit for the ex-pat director. He next teamed with stars Robert De Niro, Ellen Barkin and a young Leonardo DiCaprio for the film adaptation of author Tobias Wolff's autobiographical novel "This Boy's Life" (1993). An emotionally affecting tale of a young teen's (DiCaprio) tumultuous years under the yolk of an abusive step-father (De Niro), it impressed the majority of critics, but failed to find a larger commercial audience. After turning down an offer to direct the next installment in the James Bond franchise, Caton-Jones tackled one of his home country's most legendary figures for the historical biopic "Rob Roy" (1995). Although the performances of Liam Neeson as the eponymous Highland rabble-rouser and Tim Roth as a villainous English nobleman met with considerable critical praise, it was largely overshadowed by Mel Gibson's similarly-themed "Braveheart" (1995), barely a month later. Caton-Jones' next effort, the assassination-thriller "The Jackal" (1997) starring Richard Gere and Bruce Willis, gave the director the financial hit he had been striving for, although the derivative actioner did little to elevate his stature as a filmmaker. Further tarnishing his reputation was the fact that Academy Award-winning director Fred Zinnemann successfully sued Universal Pictures to prevent them from using the name of the original 1973 film "The Day of the Jackal," based on the novel by Frederick Forsythe, who demanded his name be removed from the credits of a remake both men considered a travesty of the original material.After keeping himself busy helming episodes of the short-lived Irish-American family drama "Trinity" (NBC, 1998) and marrying producer Laura Viederman in 2000, Canton-Jones reteamed with De Niro for "City by the Sea" (2002). Based on the true story of a police officer (De Niro) whose attempts to distance himself from his father's shameful past cause him to turn away from his own troubled son (James Franco), it went virtually unnoticed in theaters. Caton-Jones returned with a partially self-financed passion project, the harrowing Rwandan genocide drama "Beyond the Gates" (2005), starring John Hurt as a priest and Hugh Dancy as a schoolteacher caught up in the regional holocaust. Although proud of this accomplishment, which garnered praise internationally, Caton-Jones looked for a paycheck project for his next film in order to replenish his depleted finances. Ironically, that film would be the universally scorned sequel "Basic Instinct 2: Risk Addiction" (2006), which found star Sharon Stone reprising her role as the sensual sociopath Catherine Tramell from the original hit film. Budgeted like a summer blockbuster and having lingered in "development hell" for a number of years, upon release it became one of the biggest box-office bombs of the decade and earned Caton-Jones a Worst Director nomination from the annual Razzie Awards. Caton-Jones later returned to Euro-television to direct a pair of 2010 episodes of the long-running spy-drama "MI-5" (BBC, 2002-) prior to helming the eight-part miniseries "World Without End" (Reelz, 2012-), based on Ken Follett's historical novel about an English hamlet's travails during the time of the Black Death.By Bryce Coleman