Joe Wright

Joe Wright

Wright was born in London, England. He grew up in a creative household, as his parents had founded a puppet company called The Little Angel Theatre. Wright always kept his eye on the arts, taking up painting and acting at a young age, but felt that the best he could do in life was to be a postman. Nonetheless, he developed an interest in film growing up in the 1970s and 1980s. With little instruction, he began pursuing his passion the old-fashioned way; making his own movies with a Super-8 film camera. Despite being exceptionally bright and enterprising, Wright was a poor student because of his dyslexia. But on the strength of his homemade films and drawings, Wright was admitted to a private art school and later attended the Camberwell College of Arts, where he studied fine art and cinema. On of his short films, "Crocodile Snap" (1997), earned him several awards and nominations, including a nod at the 1998 BAFTA Awards, as well as a filmmaking scholarship with the BBC.Wright started working in British television, beginning with the cult hit miniseries "Nature Boy," (BBC, 2000), "Bodily Harm" (Channel 4, 2002) and the period epic, "Charles II: The Power and the Passion" (A & E, 2003). The prolific young director made the jump to feature films with "Pride and Prejudice," the 1813 Jane Austen classic about the Bennett sisters, notably the free-thinking Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), and their mission to marry into genteel society. Reluctant to make a costume drama when he considered himself a filmmaker with edgier tastes, Wright nonetheless agreed to give the book a try after being sent the script, having never read it in his youth. After bringing it with him to a neighborhood pub, Wright was struck by how people faced the same difficulties in love and understanding back then, as people did in current society. By the time he finished the book, he had changed his mind and signed on to direct.Not a stiff, mannered piece of literature, but the keen observations of a 24-year-old girl with a modern sensibility at the beginning of the 19th century, Wright was determined to transfer that spirit to film. In getting to the rebellious nature of the original work, Wright was careful to avoid the 1940 version starring Laurence Olivier and the 1995 BBC miniseries, considered by many to be the definitive interpretation of Austen's work. In casting Knightley as Lizzie and newcomer Matthew McFayden as her unlikely suitor, Darby, Wright stayed true to his conviction that the characters should be young enough to be discovering and exploring love for the first time. He also cast British stalwart Dame Judi Dench and American acting icon Donald Sutherland in the pivotal roles of Lady Catherine and Mr. Bennett.Wright shifted the story from inside the parlor rooms to outside in the country, significantly opening up the visual palette, and favored realistic dirt and grime over pomp and circumstance. Avoiding the somber, carefully staged shots of stagecoaches pulling up to stately manors, Wright kept the camera moving with tracking shots, bringing an urgency and modern sense of life to the nearly 200-year-old story. His efforts paid off. "Pride and Prejudice" was a hit with critics, who widely embraced his grittier interpretation, while the film was a moneymaker at the box office, grossing over $120 million worldwide. The film earned four Oscar nominations, including a best actress nod for Knightley. For his efforts, Wright earned a BAFTA award for most promising newcomer. Aside from cementing his reputation as a filmmaker to be reckoned with, Wright also clicked enough with actress Rosamund Pike, who played Jane Bennett in the film, that she later became his wife.After the dust settled, Wright was invited to direct another adaptation. He was given present-day literary giant Ian McEwan's 2001 novel, "Atonement," the story of a young girl who irrevocably alters lives when she fabricates a story, implicating a young man for a crime he never committed. Wright reunited with leading lady Knightley, who was joined onscreen by James McAvoy and Vanessa Redgrave. Critics embraced the film when it made the rounds at the festivals in Venice and Toronto, praising it for its fidelity to the award-winning novel. For a follow-up project, Wright was set to direct "The Soloist," the story of a violin prodigy whose schizophrenia reduced him to a life of homelessness and playing on the streets for donations. For a follow-up project, Wright directed "The Soloist" (2009), the true-to-life story about violin prodigy Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx), who developed schizophrenia while attending the Juilliard School, leaving him homeless and performing on the streets for money. But his life changes when a Los Angeles Times columnist (Robert Downey, Jr.) discovers and befriends him, leading to fulfilling Ayers' dream of performing at the Walt Disney Concert Hall.Wright remained in the here and now for his next feature, "Hannah" (2011), although the action-thriller with dark, fantastical elements was yet another departure for the daring filmmaker. Reuniting the director with Saoirse Ronan from "Atonement," the film followed a young girl (Ronan) who, after being trained from birth by her rogue C.I.A. operative father (Eric Bana), flees from a shadowy agency officer (Cate Blanchett) intent on killing them both. A violent coming-of-age fairy tale of sorts, "Hannah" impressed the majority of critics and became a moderate hit for Wright. He returned to more familiar period literary trappings the following year with an ambitious adaptation of Tolstoy's classic novel "Anna Karenina" (2012). Starring frequent collaborator Knightley in the title role, Wright's take on the epic tale of 19th century czarist Russian life was simultaneously praised for its lush production values, cinematography and Knightley's performance, even as it was criticized for emphasizing gloss of substance.