Birthday: August 1, 1965
Age: 55 Years, 55 Year Old Males
Sun Sign: Leo
Also Known As: Samuel Alexander Mendes
Born in: Reading
Famous as: Film Director
Height: 5'10" (178 cm), 5'10" Males
Spouse/Ex-: Alison Balsom (m. 2017), Kate Winslet (m. 2003–2011)
father: Jameson Peter Mendes
mother: Valerie Mendes
children: Joe Alfie Winslet Mendes
Founder/Co-Founder: Neal Street Productions
education: University of Cambridge
Who is Sam Mendes?
Sam Mendes is a noted film and stage director who won an Oscar for his debut movie ‘American Beauty’. He was born in the mid-1960s in England into a family of successful scholars and writers. His childhood passion for theatre evolved into serious talent while he was studying at the University of Cambridge, where he directed the much acclaimed ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’. Soon after graduating in English literature, Mendes started working at the Chichester Festival Theatre before moving to the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal National Theatre, where he earned recognition as a director. At the age of 27, he joined Donmar Warehouse as an artistic director, staging a number of plays and musicals over the next 10 years and traveling to the USA for many of them. Some of his most well-known stage productions of this period are ‘Cabaret’ (1994), ‘Oliver!’ (1994), ‘Company’ (1995), etc. At the age of 34, he debuted in films, releasing the much acclaimed ‘American Beauty’ in 1999, which went on to win him the Academy Award and the Golden Globe Award for Best Director. Thereafter, he directed many stage productions and films, including the movie ‘Road to Perdition’ (2002) and the play ‘Gypsy’ (2003). Among his later works, the most significant are his two films from the James Bond franchise, ‘Skyfall’ (2012) and Spectre (2015).
Childhood & Early Years
Samuel Alexander Mendes was born on 1 August 1965 in Reading, England. His father Jameson Peter Mendes, originally from Trinidad, was a Roman Catholic of Portuguese descent. At the time of Sam’s birth, he was a lecturer in literature at the University of Reading.
Sam’s mother Valerie Helene née Barnett, a Jew of English descent, is a children’s author and publisher. His paternal grandfather Alfred Hubert Mendes was a well-known novelist. Born into a family of scholars and writers, it was only natural for Sam to show an early interest in literature and art.
Mendes was his parents’ only child. In 1970, when he was around five years old, his parents divorced, and he moved to London with his mother. However, his parents’ relationship remained amicable, and his father often visited them, taking Sam to the movies and plays.
After moving to London, Mendes began his education at Primrose Hill Primary school. From a very early age, he started dabbling in writing, showing affinity for theatre and films.
When he was 12 years old, he moved to Oxford with his mother. He was enrolled in Magdalen College School where he excelled in studies; concurrently spending a lot of time in reading, playing crickets and watching movies. He was a talented cricketer and played for his school in 1983 and 1984.
After graduating from school, he joined Peterhouse, a constituent college of the University of Cambridge, to major in English literature. Here, he continued to excel in studies, also playing cricket for his college and becoming more involved in theatre productions.
While at Cambridge, Mendes became a member of the Marlow Society, a theatre club for Cambridge students. He also formed a theatre company with playwright Tim Firth. During this period, he directed several plays, including the critically acclaimed ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’, which starred Tom Hollander.
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In 1987, Sam Mendes graduated from the Cambridge University with first-class honours in English literature. By then, he had decided to devote his life to theatre. He soon secured an entry-level position at the Minerva Theatre, run as part of the adjacent Chichester Festival Theatre, in Chichester, West Sussex.
In 1988, he was engaged as an assistant director at Minerva Theatre on a number of productions, including ‘Major Barbara’, a three-act English play by George Bernard Shaw. By 1989, he had started receiving directorial assignments. He got the opportunity to direct Dion Boucicault’s comedy ‘London Assurance’ when its original director walked out.
‘London Assurance’ was a great success for Mendes, leading to further job offers. In 1989, 24 years old Mendes moved to London where he directed Chekhov's ‘The Cherry Orchard’ in the West End. Starring Judi Dench, the play was highly acclaimed, winning him the Critics Circle Award for Best Newcomer.
In 1990, he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company and directed a number of productions there. Some of his major works of this period were ‘Troilus and Cressida’, ‘Richard III’ and ‘The Tempest’, all of which featured Simon Russell Beale, a budding actor at that time.
Mendes also worked at the Royal National Theatre, directing ‘Othello’ in which Simon Russell Beale played Iago. Besides ‘Othello’, Edward Bond's ‘The Sea’, Jim Cartwright's ‘The Rise and Fall of Little Voice’, Harold Pinter's ‘The Birthday Party’ were some of his important works at the Royal National Theatre.
At Donmar Warehouse
In 1990, Sam Mendes was appointed the artistic director at the Donmar Warehouse, a 251-seat, not-for-profit theatre in Covent Garden, London. Mendes spent the initial two years of his tenure redesigning the 1977 building and supervising its transformation into a full-fledged theatre, which eventually opened in 1992.
His opening work in Donmar Warehouse was a musical called ‘Assassins’. Opening on 29 October 1992, it ran for 76 performances, closing on 9 January 1993. The cast included Henry Goodman as Charles Guiteau and Louise Gold as Sara Jane Moore.
In 1993, Mendes directed a revival of ‘Cabaret’, a musical by John Kander and Fred Ebb, differing significantly from its first production and earlier revivals. The work was highly acclaimed, winning four Oliver Award nominations for its fresh approach.
His next play ‘Oliver!’ was a Cameron Mackintosh production. The musical, based on Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist, opened at the London Palladium in the West End on 8 December 1994 and closed on 21 February 1998. Meanwhile, he continued to direct other works.
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In 1995, he directed a revival of Stephen Sondheim's ‘Company’. In the same year, he also staged Tennessee Williams' ‘The Glass Menagerie’. Alan Bennett's ‘Habeas Corpus’ was another important work of his during this period.
In 1998, he directed David Hare’s ‘The Blue Room’. It opened at the Donmar on 10 September 1998, with Nicole Kidman and Iain Glen in lead roles. In the same year, he took his plays ‘Cabaret’ and ‘Othello’ to New York, where they did exceedingly well.
By 1998, Sam Mendes had become well-known in the USA for his directorial works, especially for ‘Cabaret’ and ‘Oliver!’ He was able to impress many in the film industry with his superior visual aesthetics and a knack for looking deep into the story.
Early in 1998, he was approached by Spielberg’s DreamWorks Pictures, an American film production label, to direct their new venture ‘American Beauty’. In June, Mendes received his appointment as the director at a salary of $150,000, which was the minimum wage set by the Directors Guild of America.
They started filming on December 14, 1998, and took 50 days to complete the production. The film premiered on September 8, 1999 at Grauman's Egyptian Theatre, Hollywood. It became a huge hit, earning Mendes several coveted awards, including an Oscar. He also directed the play ‘Wise Guys in New York’ in the same year.
After ‘American Beauty’, Mendes decided to work in a different genre of films – with minimum dialogue and the conveying of emotions through imagery. He eventually found what he was looking for in the script of ‘Road to Perdition’, a crime film. ‘Road to Perdition’, which was shot in Chicago downtown, released on July 12, 2002, grossing over $180 million worldwide.
In 2002, while working on ‘Road to Perdition’, Mendes returned to England several times to direct stage productions of Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’ and Chekhov’s ‘Uncle Vanya’ at Donmar Warehouse. Thereafter, he left his job at Donmar.
In 2003, he cofounded Neal Street Productions with Pippa Harris and Caro Newling, using it to finance many of his later works. Headquartered in the UK, the production company has so far produced six films, seven plays and five television shows. Mendes also directed a Broadway revival of ‘Gypsy’ in 2003.
His next film ‘Jarhead’ was released on November 4, 2005. Based on U.S. Marine Anthony Swofford's memoir of the same name, it was a war drama film, which focused on psychological challenges faced by the marines during the Gulf War.
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In 2006, Mendes directed ‘The Vertical Hour’, a play by David Hare based on the American invasion of Iraq. It premiered on Broadway on 30 November 2006 and closed on 11 March 2007, after 23 previews and 117 performances. He also produced four films in 2006-2007.
His next film as a director was a romantic drama called ‘Revolutionary Road’. Premiered in Los Angeles on December 15, 2008, it earned critical acclaim and appeared in top 10 lists of several well-known critics.
In 2009, Mendes released a comedy drama film called ‘Away We Go’. In the same year, he started his transatlantic Bridge Project with the aim of bringing British and American actors together on the same stage. Under this project, he directed two plays, ‘The Winter's Tale’ and ‘Cherry Orchard’.
As James Bond Director
Apart from working on several theater productions, Sam Mendes produced seven films between 2010 and 2012. The most significant among them was ‘Out of the Ashes’, a documentary on Afghanistan’s national cricket team. Finally, in 2012, he returned as a film director with ’Skyfall’, the 23rd film of the James Bond franchise.
He started filming ‘Skyfall’ in November 2011, releasing it on 26 October 2012 in the UK and on November 9 in the USA. It was a huge hit, both critically and commercially, grossing $1.109 billion against a budget of around $200 million.
In 2012, Mendes directed ‘Richard III’, a play starring Kevin Spacey, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. His next project was 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory', which opened at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on 25 June 2013. After running for 1293 days, it finally closed on 7 January 2017.
In 2014, he produced a television series called ‘Penny Dreadful’ and directed the play ‘King Lear’ for the Royal National Theatre. Meanwhile in 2013, he was asked to direct another Bond film, ‘Spectre’. Initially, he was reluctant to take the offer, but by May 2013, he started negotiating with the producers.
The filming for ‘Spectre’ began in Austria in December 2014. Later, they shot in the United Kingdom, Italy and Morocco, finishing it in Mexico in July 2015. Made with a budget of around $300 million, it became one of the most expensive films ever made.
‘Spectre’, which released in October 2015 in the UK and in November in the US, was his last directorial venture in films. His last work for stage was ‘Ferryman’, which was premiered at the Royal Court Theatre on 24 April 2017. He is reportedly working on a war film titled ‘1917’, which will revolve around the World War I.
Sam Mendes became internationally famous with his debut film, ‘American Beauty’, released in 1999. Considered to be the best American film that year, ‘American Beauty’ received overwhelming praise as well as a number of awards. The movie has since gained a cult following.
Mendes is equally known for his first James Bond film, ‘Skyfall’. Released in 2012, it became the second highest grossing picture of the year and the first James Bond film to gross over $1 billion worldwide. The film also won him several awards.
Family & Personal Life
In May 2003, Sam Mendes married actress Kate Winslet while on a holiday in Anguilla. They had been dating since 2001. Their son Joe Alfie Winslet Mendes was born in the same year. Mendes also had a stepdaughter with Winslet from her previous marriage to filmmaker Jim Threapleton.
Mendes and Winslet divorced in 2011. In 2017, he married classical musician and trumpeter Alison Balsom in a quiet ceremony in Oxfordshire. Mendes has a stepson, Charlie, from Balsom’s previous relationship with English conductor Edward Gardner.