Director Sam Mendes Talks About the Shadow Movie Underneath the Text

Sam Mendes


In the interview below written by Lynn Hirschberg in the New York Times, Sam Mendes talks about things underneath the surface and the hidden movie in all good films.  Everything he says regarding this subject applies to great acting as well.  An actor has to look for the hidden intention in every scene and the hidden story in the overall script as well. 


“Sam Mendes loves games. Real games like cricket and soccer and backgammon, but also the subtler puzzles that take the form of plays and movies. He thinks about his work — whether it be reconceiving a musical like ”Cabaret” for the Donmar Warehouse, his London theater, or directing a movie like ”American Beauty,” for which he won an Academy Award his first time out — as a kind of contest, bound by rules of intelligence, insight and strategy. He is not an accidental person, hoping luck will win the day. Mixing instinct, research and some large thematic idea geared to resonate with a wide audience, Mendes carefully gauges everything from the mood-capturing potential of his new film, ”Road to Perdition” (”I hadn’t seen a gangster movie in a while”) to the best way to attract a crowd to the plays of Arthur Schnitzler (have the star, Nicole Kidman, be naked just long enough to be both appropriate to the character and still scandalous). Having run a theater for the last decade, Mendes, who is only 36, thinks like a studio head even when he’s directing. Which means that he tries to win for both teams: commerce and art.

Sam Mendes Skyfall


”Sam Mendes is the first director I have hired from the theater,” says Steven Spielberg, whose company, DreamWorks, produced both of Mendes’s films. ”He has the eye of a camera even when he’s staging theater. His theater is cinematic, and his cinema is theatrical.”


The gorgeous wrapping of his productions is Mendes’s invitation to his audience. Underneath, things are more complicated. His films have a surface optimism and earnestness, but they are never naïve. Mendes knows exactly how to balance the dark and the light. ”You have to have a secret,” Mendes says, explaining his strategy. ”There is a hidden movie in all the best films. The secret is in every frame. With a play, the secret is your way in, an idea that dominates the production. But in a good movie, there is always a shadow movie underneath the text, which allows the film to float above reality.”


It is a Friday afternoon in May, and Mendes, dressed in his uniform of jeans, T-shirt and zippered sweater, is sitting at the conference table in his London office at the Donmar. He has a soft, expressive face dominated by large, round blue eyes that are rimmed in dark lashes. This makes him look something like Bambi, although his manner is not that of a lost woodland creature. Mendes is highly articulate and savvy. He knows precisely what percentages of tragedy, joy, beauty and daring to mix together in his work. Artists are not often this clear about their art; such analysis can seem calculated. But Mendes is refreshingly direct about his work. He has considered the plays and movies from every angle and is not interested in being mysterious.”


Next week I’ll continue with this interview and the approach Sam Mendes takes with his films in finding the hidden story of the movie and what lies beneath.


By Lynette McNeill
Acting Coach & Director

Lynette McNeill - Acting Coach

WAIT! Before you go!
Sign Up for My NEW Actors HELP & TIPS Newsletter!

Blog: Sam Mendes

“Best Acting Classes in Los Angeles” 
© 2016 Lynette McNeill Studios

Any Questions, Call (310) 274-1085. Or click below!

Get Started - Contact Lynette McNeill Button