A director known for making sophisticated dramas that chronicle people's emotional and moral struggles in the face of an often hostile outside world, James Mangold first earned acclaim for Heavy, his 1995 film debut. The poignant and often wordless account of an overweight pizza chef's (Pruitt Taylor Vince) unrequited longing for a young waitress (Liv Tyler), the film was a success among critics and art house audiences, winning the Grand Jury Prize for Best Director at the 1995 Sundance Festival.
Raised in New York's Hudson Valley (where he would later film Heavy), Mangold, the son of minimalist painter Robert Mangold, attended the California Institute of the Arts, where he studied film and acting. He broke into the film business at the tender age of 21 as the recipient of a prestigious writer/director deal with Disney. However, he was eventually dropped by the studio for, in his words, refusing to play Hollywood's "very elaborate chess game." Mangold subsequently supported himself through a series of odd jobs and endured a phase of unemployment. He eventually decided to go to Columbia University's film school, where he began working on Heavy under the guidance of director Milos Forman. Inspired in part by the upstate New York town where he was raised and in part by a very overweight friend he once had, Mangold set out, in his words, "to make a film about a large man who's invisible." With a cast that, in addition to Vince and relative newcomer Tyler, included Debbie Harry and Shelly Winters, Heavy evolved into a beautifully-stylized film full of richly somber moments and almost poetic silences.