Farlanders centers on a couple (John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph) who are expecting their first baby and looking for the ideal place to raise a family. “It’s about searching for home and for some kind of identity within a relationship,” says Mendes, who sees it as a “sister movie” to Revolutionary Road. “I don’t know why, but all of my films have been about people who are lost and trying to find themselves.”
An only child, Mendes was born into a literary family: His grandfather was the Trinidadian writer Alfred Mendes; his father, Peter, was an English professor; and his mother, Valerie, wrote children’s books. His parents divorced when he was three, and he was raised in London by his mother. “As somebody who was without a conventional family or a sense of belonging and who lived a lot in his head, theater was a pretty obvious replacement for something,” he says.
Mendes’s own family bears little resemblance to that lonely childhood world. He and Winslet live in a downtown apartment with their two children, Mia, eight (from Winslet’s first marriage), and Joe, five, and spend summers at their country house in the Cotswolds, in England. When I ask how Joe’s childhood differs from his own, he replies, “Well, I’m in the house, for one thing. I love my father very much, but it wasn’t the relationship you have when you take your kid to school in the mornings and pick him up or put him to bed every night, as I do with my son. So it’s uncharted territory for me.”
The rare director to move nimbly between stage and screen, Mendes still feels more at home in the theater, which he discovered at Cambridge University in the Eighties. He was 24 when he directed Dame Judi Dench in The Cherry Orchard and was so “cocky,” he recalls, that he dismissed out of hand a suggestion she made in rehearsal. “I didn’t have any fear of failure,” says Mendes, who at 26 took over the Donmar and made it an artistic hotbed, often by staging American plays and casting famous names in them. He left in 2002. “Now I’m much less convinced of how anything should be. I’m not afraid to say I got it wrong.” Occasionally he’s not the only one saying so: Jarhead received decidedly mixed reviews, as did his 2006 Broadway production of David Hare’s The Vertical Hour.
His latest challenge is the Bridge Project, a unique collaboration between Mendes, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and London’s Old Vic. For each of the next three years, Mendes will direct a pair of classic plays to be performed on both sides of the Atlantic. Debuting in January at BAM will be a new Tom Stoppard adaptation of The Cherry Orchard, followed by The Winter’s Tale, with Ethan Hawke and Simon Russell Beale taking leading roles in both productions. “One of Sam’s goals is to prove that you can bring Americans and Brits together and do Shakespeare and it won’t be crap,” jokes Old Vic artistic director Kevin Spacey, who plans to headline the third season.