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Monday, 24 January, 2000, 15:08 GMT
The Mendes touch

Acclaimed: Mendes has enjoyed success on stage and in film

Already a whizz kid of the British theatre, director Sam Mendes has suddenly become one of Hollywood's biggest talents.

His debut film American Beauty has wowed critics and audiences alike and is now on the verge of picking up the ultimate movie accolade - an Oscar at the Academy Awards in March.

Dame Judi Dench was directed by a young Mendes
The rise of 34-year-old Mendes has been breathtaking. After graduating from Cambridge with a double first - he joined the Chichester Festival Theatre.

Soon after, he directed Dame Judi Dench in The Cherry Orchard, a production for which he won a Critics' Circle Award for Best Newcomer. Dame Judi famously called the young Mendes a "brilliant boy".

In 1990, Mendes joined the Royal Shakespeare Company. Aged just 24, he directed an acclaimed Troillus and Cressida with Ralph Fiennes. His other productions included Richard III and The Tempest.

By the time Mendes left the RSC two years later to become artistic director of the reopened Donmar Warehouse in London's Covent Garden, his CV already looked impressive.

Stage hit: Alan Cumming in Cabaret
His success at the Donmar - a 250-seat studio theatre - was to lead directly to his Hollywood break.

With productions ranging from Shakespeare to Sondheim, Mendes launched Jane Horrocks's The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, followed by Company and The Glass Menagerie into the West End.

But then he went on to reinvent Cabaret, making it a massive hit in London and Broadway, where it won four Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical and acting prizes for its stars, Alan Cumming and Natasha Richardson.

His other award-winning Donmar productions included Assassins, Transalations, Glengarry Glen Ross, Habeaus Corpus, The Fix and The Front Page.

He even found time to direct Cameron Mackintosh's revival of Oliver!, which was to enjoy a record-breaking run at the London Palladium.

Raunchy: Nicole Kidman starred in The Blue Room
But Mendes is perhaps best known as the man who persuaded Hollywood star Nicole Kidman to make her London stage debut in the Donmar Warehouse production of David Hare's The Blue Room, which was also to transfer successfully to Broadway

For the leap to Hollywood, however, you have to spool back to his revival of Cabaret on Broadway.

The story goes that an impressed Steven Spielberg, who was in the audience one night, reckoned Mendes might have it in him to make the move to celluloid. The rest is history.

Debut movie

His debut film American Beauty is a dark comedy set in American suburbia starring Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening. Spacey plays a disillusioned magazine writer alienated from his materialistic wife and sullen teenage daughter.

At last year's Toronto Film Festival, Mendes typically downplayed his role in the film. He said it was "written by an American, it had a brilliant cast of American actors, produced by Americans, so I was part of a team".

Honour: Mendes will collect 2000's Shakespeare Prize
This week American Beauty won three Golden Globes - seen as good indicators for the Oscars - including best picture and the best director prize for Mendes.

Apart from the Oscars, he can also look forward to other honours.

Last week it was announced that Mendes is to be awarded this year's prestigious Shakespeare Prize for his contribution to the arts.

The 12,000 award, given by the Toepfer Foundation, will be made at a ceremony in Hamburg City Hall in June. Previous winners include Sir Peter Hall and Sir Alec Guinness.

Success may have come thick and fast for Mendes but he doesn't seem to be letting it go to his head - he simply wants to excel and entertain "in many forms" and "in many parts of the world".

Later this year he's planning to direct his first London show since The Blue Room 18 months ago.

He said: "I love the Donmar. I have no desire to leave. I have no desire to stop working on stage."

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See also:
24 Jan 00 |  Entertainment
Hollywood awaits Globe results
20 Dec 99 |  Entertainment
Beauty's Golden Globe rush
05 Nov 99 |  Tom Brook
Sam steals the show in Toronto

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