Mendes was born in Reading, Berkshire, England. He is the son of a Trinidadian Portuguese Protestant father and an English Jewish mother. His father, Peter, is the son of the Trinidadian writer Alfred Mendes, author of the novels Black Fauns and Pitch Lake, and part of the group around CLR James and Albert Gomes which produced the Beacon literary magazine in the early 1930s. His secondary education was at Magdalen College School, Oxford, and he later attended Peterhouse at the University of Cambridge.
Mendes first attracted attention for his assured production of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard in the West End starring Judi Dench. He was under 25. Soon he was directing plays for the Royal Shakespeare Company where his productions, many of them featuring Simon Russell Beale, included Troilus and Cressida, Richard III and The Tempest. These productions were praised for their clarity, intelligence and stylishness.
He has also worked at the Royal National Theatre, directing Edward Bond's The Sea, Jim Cartwright's The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party, and Othello with Simon Russell Beale as Iago.
In 1992 he was appointed artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse, an intimate studio space in London's West End which he quickly transformed into one of the most exciting venues in the city. His opening production was Stephen Sondheim's Assassins which revelled in the show's dark, comic brilliance and rescued it from the critical opprobrium it had suffered on its American opening. He followed this with a series of excellent classic revivals, many of which attracted some of the finest actors and biggest stars of the decade. Among Mendes's best productions were John Kander and Fred Ebb's Cabaret, Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie, Stephen Sondheim's Company, Alan Bennett's Habeas Corpus and his farewell duo of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya and Twelfth Night, which transferred to the Brooklyn Academy of Music. As artistic director Mendes also gave some of the country's finest younger directors the opportunity to do some of their best work: Matthew Warchus's production of Sam Shepard's True West, Katie Mitchell's of Beckett's Endgame, David Leveaux's of Sophocles's Elektra and Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing were amongst the most critically acclaimed of the decade. The Donmar's present artistic diretor Michael Grandage directed some of the key productions of the later part of Mendes's tenure, including Peter Nichols's Passion Play and Privates on Parade and Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along.
Won a Critics' Circle Theatre Award for Best Newcomer after directing Judi Dench in The Cherry Orchard.
1990: Began directing for the Royal Shakespeare Company.
1992: became artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse theatre
1994: directed revival of Oliver! (with score specially revised and added to by the original composer and lyricist, Lionel Bart) at the London Palladium; the show ran for four years, becoming, on July 8, 1997, the longest-running show at that venue.
1994: directed revival of Cabaret
1995: won Olivier award for Best Director for The Glass Menagerie
1996: won Olivier award for Best Director of a Musical for Company
1998: revival of Cabaret opens on Broadway; wins four Tony Awards, including Best Musical (Revival)
1998: directed David Hare's The Blue Room, starring Nicole Kidman (and Iain Glen).
2003: won Olivier award for Best Director for Uncle Vanya and Twelfth Night
2003: directed a Broadway revival of Gypsy, starring Bernadette Peters.
2003: started film and theatre production company, Neal Street Productions, with Pippa Harris and Caro Newling. Career
After a string of romances with actresses, including Cameron Diaz, Calista Flockhart and Rachel Weisz, Mendes married English actress Kate Winslet on May 24, 2003 in Anguilla in the Caribbean. Their first child, Joe Alfie Winslet-Mendes, was born on December 22, 2004. Mendes also has a step-daughter, Mia Honey Threapleton, from Winslet's first marriage to assistant director Jim Threapleton. The family now lives in New York City and Cotswolds, England.
Through his first three films he has so far maintained a recurrent motif where rain indicates death. In American Beauty, the murderous climax unfolds on a rainy night. In Road to Perdition, the murderous beginning unfolds on a rainy night. In Jarhead, the movie is set in the desert, where it never rains, and the only death happens outside the desert.
Another trademark maintained through his first three feature films is a narrator voiceover that begins and ends the movie in similar fashion: Lester in American Beauty, Michael in Road to Perdition and Swofford in Jarhead.
Often casts Chris Cooper.