Sam Mendes Rejects Hollywood Millions for Donmar

News   Sam Mendes Rejects Hollywood Millions for Donmar Donmar Warehouse artistic director Sam Mendes -- whose first film, "American Beauty," scooped five Oscars at last week's awards ceremony in Los Angeles -- has turned down several multi-million dollar offers to follow up his astonishing celluloid success in favor of returning to the 250-seat off-West End theatre.

Donmar Warehouse artistic director Sam Mendes -- whose first film, "American Beauty," scooped five Oscars at last week's awards ceremony in Los Angeles -- has turned down several multi-million dollar offers to follow up his astonishing celluloid success in favor of returning to the 250-seat off-West End theatre.

The acclaimed 34-year-old British director hasn't completely turned his back on Hollywood, however. Instead, he's used his star pulling power to attract thousands of pounds' worth of investment for both the London theatre and for its new subsidiary, Donmar Films. The arrangement will allow Mendes the flexibility to remain involved in the theatre, himself directing at least one stage production a year, while still considering film projects.

Steven Spielberg's Dreamworks studio, which was behind "American Beauty," will fund Donmar Films to the tune of £250,000 a year in order to secure a first option on any film projects that Mendes finds and develops. Spielberg is also donating £100,000 a year for at least three years to the theatre alone, no strings attached.

The Hollywood cash injections come swiftly on the heels of a deal struck with New York theatre producer Anita Waxman to pay more than £200,000 a year, also for three years, for the right to transfer Donmar productions to Broadway. Numerous Donmar productions have already found success in New York, including the 1998 hit of David Hare's Blue Room, starring Nicole Kidman, and the revival of Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing, starring Jennifer Ehle and Stephen Dillane, which has just transferred there after a limited run in the West End.

On his return Friday from Los Angeles, Mendes confessed that, while he enjoyed his time at the hub of the film industry in the United States, "I don't desire to become part of the Hollywood community." And he doesn't want to take on any more film commitments until at least next spring at the earliest. Instead, he said what he is absolutely "desperate" to do is theatre. His last stage production was The Blue Room two years ago. His next will be a new, "non-traditional" production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, which will open at the Donmar in the autumn. Casting has not yet been confirmed, but Mendes has hinted that it will be an all-British company. Although Hollywood stars are queuing up to tread the Donmar boards -- and, Mendes admits, he hopes to woo Kidman back and to lure American Beauty star Annette Bening over at some point in the future -- he does not intend to make a habit of importing in big name American actors. "I'm nervous about star vehicles," he explained. "If you have too big an event, the other shows seem reduced by comparison."

Other future productions at the Donmar will include a Christmas-time revival of Stephen Sondheim's musical Merrily We Roll Along, directed by Michael Grandage, and the world premiere next spring of Closer author Patrick Marber's new play, directed by either Mendes or Marber, who is currently making his stage acting debut in David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow at the New Ambassadors.

In the meantime, Grandage's production of Peter Nichols' Passion Play opens at the Donmar this month, followed by Tennessee Williams' Orpheus Descending, directed by Nicholas Hytner and starring Helen Mirren. For further information, contact the Donmar box office on 011-44-20-7369-1732.

-- By Terri Paddock
What's On Stage, London