Director Sam Mendes was already a veteran of the Broadway and London stage when he made one of the most auspicious feature film debuts in recent memory with American Beauty, a dark, satirical, and ultimately revelatory vision of suburban discontent. The low-budget Hollywood production struck a chord with audiences and critics, garnering Mendes a truckload of year-end awards.
The soft-spoken director was born in 1965 in England, an only child of Portuguese descent. His parents divorced when he was five. After graduating from Cambridge University, the young Mendes made his mark with several popular, innovative stage productions in London's West End before joining the ranks of the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1992. By his mid-twenties, Mendes had staked a claim among such peers as Danny Boyle and Nicholas Hytner -- future film directors themselves -- and had already coaxed attention-getting performances from such luminaries as Dame Judi Dench and Ralph Fiennes.