Hollywood hero says he will not forsake the Warehouse
Shortly after the Oscars ceremony, Sam Mendes was asked what he wanted to do next. "I feel very fortunate, because I've a career now where I can work in movies [but] I'm certainly, in the short term, not leaving my theatre, the Donmar Warehouse," he said, adding "So much of what was in this film came out of my work at the Donmar and I intend to keep that going."
To those who know him, it is no surprise that the director with Hollywood at his feet should think first of a theatre in London which had been temporarily dark. The Donmar was where Mendes cut his directorial teeth and the venue that brought him to the attention of Steven Spielberg.
Mendes's career as artistic director at the Donmar began in 1992, after he noticed that it had closed. He suggested to the leaseholders that he should take it over and turn it into a producing theatre that could transfer its successes to bigger premises. He also persuaded Equity and the Musicians' Union to let him employ performers at provincial rates. He has been artistic director at the 250-seat theatre ever since and presided over a string of successes, directing works by Shakespeare, Stoppard and Sondheim.
It was there that he caught Spielberg's eye with a 1995 version of the musical Oliver! and, more famously, persuaded Nicole Kidman to abandon her clothes and her megastar salary to appear in David Hare's The Blue Room.
When Mendes's version of Cabaret transferred to Broadway, Spielberg was again in the audience. His DreamWorks company had just bought the script of American Beauty and the rest is Oscars' history.
Despite his American success, Mendes remains devoted to the Donmar, which he has called a "substitute family". He insists he will stay there rather than moving to Hollywood, although his film career is likely to be in its infancy.
Mendes, accepting his award, thanked DreamWorks "for having the courage to hire a bloke from English theatre to make a movie about American suburbia" but in the same breath thanked his Donmar co-workers: "To all my friends at home watching in my flat at Primrose Hill, have a drink for me."
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