Biography of Sam Mendes

Sam Mendes was born in Reading, England to intellectual, highly accomplished parents. His father was a university lecturer, and his mother was a children's book author. His paternal grandfather was the august Trinidadian writer Alfred Mendes. In 1970, when Mendes was five years old, his parents divorced, though their relationship is said to have remained amicable. Mendes excelled at school and matriculated at Cambridge University, where he studied English and began directing theatrical productions. After graduating, he decided to pursue a career in the theater.

One might say that Mendes's career was charmed from the start. After graduating in 1987, he found employment at the Chichester Festival Theatre. In 1988 he won a Critic Circle Award for Best Newcomer when he directed Judi Dench (one of England's most acclaimed actresses) in Chekhov's drama The Cherry Orchard. Mendes went on to work for the Royal Shakespeare Company, and in 1992, at only 27 years old, he became the artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse in London. It was there that Mendes staged a provocative production of the David Hare's The Blue Room (starring Nicole Kidman) and began to attract international attention.

Soon after the play debuted, Steven Spielberg asked Mendes, who had never directed a film, to read at a script by Alan Ball, a popular TV scribe who had never before written a film. Spielberg's production company, DreamWorks, had just bought the script, then titled American Rose. Originally, Ball had intended the script for the stage, but several readers immediately saw its potential for translation onto the screen. Mendes was immediately taken with the script and sketched out the entire storyboard of the film while finishing the run of The Blue Room.

American Beauty, as the film was eventually titled, was a tremendous critical success. It won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. Interestingly, despite the new level of celebrity and success he has achieved, Mendes still seems to prefer the theatre. Almost immediately after the release of the film, he returned to the Donmar Warehouse to continue his work as a theatrical director.

In May of 2003 Mendes married English actress Kate Winslet. They have one son, Joe Alfie Winslet Mendes, and split their time between New York and London. Mendes continued to do some work in film in between his many notable theatrical productions. In 2002 he directed Road to Perdition, and in 2005 he helmed Jarhead. Though both films achieved reasonable success, neither enjoyed the rave reviews and extraordinary box office returns of American Beauty. Mendes is currently rumored to be filming a documentary about the musician Rufus Wainwright.

Study Guides on Works by Sam Mendes

American Beauty is a DreamWorks production that was shot in 1999 and released in the United States in 2000. It was the big-screen debut for director Sam Mendes, as well as for writer Alan Ball. The film was produced by Alan Ball, Bruce Cohen, Dan...