He attended Cambridge University, graduating in 1987. After graduation, he got a low-level job at the Chichester Festival Theater. When a veteran director dropped out of a production of London Assurance, the 23-year-old Mendes was asked to step in. The production became a hit, and soon moved to Haymarkets Theatre Royal. Mendess second effort, The Cherry Orchard, starring Dame Judi Dench, opened later that same year.
By the end of 1991, Mendes had staged several productions for the renowned Royal Shakespeare Company, including Troilus and Cressida, starring Ralph Fiennes, and The Alchemist. He also helmed the acclaimed The Rise and Fall of Little Voice (1992), starring Jane Horrocks, which was adapted into a 1998 film version, Little Voice, co-starring Horrocks and Michael Caine. In 1992, Mendes became the artistic director for the Donmar Warehouse, Londons prestigious non-profit theater. At the Donmar, Mendes staged innovative productions of Richard III (1993) and The Glass Menagerie (1996), as well as a striking update of Cabaret, which opened in 1994 and featured Horrocks and Alan Cumming. Also in 1994, he directed a hit revival of Oliver! at the London Palladium, which became the theaters longest-running production to date in 1998.
Mendes forged a friendship with legendary playwright Stephen Sondheim, directing a version of his Assassins in 1992 at the Donmar and a highly popular London revival of Company in 1996. Considered one of Britains hottest directing commodities, Mendes made a triumphant emergence on the American theater scene in the spring of 1998, when he brought his productions of Cabaret and Othello to New York. Cumming reprised his Cabaret role on Broadway, co-starring with Natasha Richardson; the updated version of Othello, which Mendes directed for the Royal National Theater Company, had a well-reviewed run at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. In December 1998, Mendes brought his hit London production of The Blue Room to Broadway, featuring Nicole Kidman in a starring role that included a much-talked-about nude scene. After the tremendous success of Cabaret in particular, Mendes attracted the attention of executives at Dreamworks in Hollywoodthe production company headed by Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffenwho hired him to direct his first feature film, American Beauty (1999).
Heralded as one of the most original and emotionally arresting films of the year, the darkly comic tale of American suburbia and its underside earned numerous accolades, including Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay (for first-time screenwriter Alan Ball), and Best Actor (Kevin Spacey). Annette Bening, who starred as the materialistic wife of Spacey’s character, also earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. In early 2000, Mendes directed the long-awaited workshop production of Sondheims Wise Guys, but withdrew from the project after its move to Broadway was put off yet again. Mendes, a bachelor, has reportedly been romantically linked to the actresses Rachel Weisz, Horrocks, and most recently Calista Flockhart, star of the hit Fox series Ally McBeal.