MENDES, SAM (1965– ), U.S. stage and film director. Samuel Alexander Mendes was born in Reading, Berkshire, England, the son of Sephardic Jewish parents born on the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad. His father was the son of the writer Alfred Mendes, author of the novel Black Fauns, and part of the group around C.L.R. James and Albert Gomes which produced the literary magazine Beacon in the early 1930s. Mendes' secondary education was at Magdalen College School, Oxford, and he later earned a degree from the University of Cambridge.
As a stage director, Mendes became known for his 1998 production of Cabaret starring Alan Cumming, in which he boldly reinvented the noirish musical, achieving a long-running hit in London and on Broadway. The Broadway production garnered four Tony awards, three Drama Desk awards, and other honors. As a film director he is best known for his debut film, American Beauty, for which he won an Academy Award for best director in 2000 and awards as best director from virtually every professional film organization.
Mendes got his start in the theater following his graduation from Cambridge in 1987 when he joined the Chichester Festival Theater. Soon after he directed Dame Judi Dench in The Cherry Orchard, which brought him a Critics' Circle award for best newcomer. He joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1990, where he directed such productions as Troilus and Cressida with Ralph Fiennes, Richard III, and The Tempest. In 1992 Mendes became artistic director of the reopened Donmar Warehouse in London, where he directed many award-winning productions. During his tenure he won Olivier awards for best director for Cabaret, The Glass Menagerie, and Company. He also directed The Sea and The Plough and the Stars, both with Judi Dench, The Birthday Party, and Othello, for which he received another Olivier award. In 1998 he directed Nicole Kidman on Broadway in The Blue Room.
Among his other films are The Road to Perdition (2002), Jarhead (2005), and The Kite Runner (2006).
In 2000 Mendes was named a Commander of the British Empire.