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He began his career in the theatre as Assistant Director at the Studio Theatre in Chichester in 1987 and was the first Artistic Director of the Minerva Theatre in 1989. By 1990, he was directing for the RSC. His work for them included highly acclaimed versions of "Troilus and Cressida," "The Alchemist," "The Tempest," and "Richard III." He also directed for the National Theatre productions of "The Sea," "The Rise and Fall of Little Voice," "The Birthday Party," and "Othello."

In 1992, Mendes founded the Donmar Warehouse in London, which he ran as Artistic Director until 2002. Within this time Mendes helped establish the theatre as one of the most dynamic and successful playhouses in the world. His productions there included "Assassins," "Translations," "Cabaret," "Glengarry Glen Ross," "The Glass Menagerie," "Company," "Habeas Corpus," "The Front Page," "The Blue Room," "To The Green Fields Beyond," "Uncle Vanya," and "Twelfth Night," both of which transferred to The Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2004. Mendes won a number of Olivier Awards during this period, including an unprecedented three awards in 2003, two for his work on "Uncle Vanya" and "Twelfth Night," and one in recognition of the Donmar's decade-long period of success under his guidance. Several productions transferred to Broadway, and Mendes won Tony Awards as a producer of both "The Real Thing" and "Take Me Out."

Other work outside of The Donmar has included directing West End productions of "The Cherry Orchard," "The Plough and the Stars" (both starring Judi Dench), "Kean," "London Assurance," and "Oliver!," which ran for four years at the London Palladium. On Broadway, Mendes directed "The Blue Room," "Gypsy," "The Vertical Hour," and his long-running production of "Cabaret," which received four Tony Awards including Best Musical Revival.

In Spring 2009, Mendes embarked on The Bridge Project, a three-year venture co-produced by his company, Neal Street Productions, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Old Vic, London. In this unique collaboration, Mendes directed a transatlantic company in a double-bill of classic plays, which began with "A Winter's Tale" and "The Cherry Orchard," led by longtime collaborator Simon Russell Beale and Ethan Hawke. In the second season of The Bridge Project, Mendes directed an international company led by Stephen Dillane in "As You Like It" and "The Tempest." In 2011/2012 his production of "Richard III", starring Kevin Spacey, toured the world.

Mendes' film work began in 1999 with his film directorial debut, American Beauty, for which he received the Academy Award for Best Director as well as a Golden Globe and the DGA award for Outstanding Direction. The film won a further four Academy Awards , including Best Picture.

This was followed in 2002 by the movie adaptation of the graphic novel Road to Perdition, starring Tom Hanks and Paul Newman. The film earned seven Academy Award nominations. Mendes then returned to the screen in 2006 directing Jarhead, an adaptation of Anthony Swofford's book of the same name, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamie Foxx and Peter Sarsgaard.

Mendes' next film, Revolutionary Road, was released in 2009. Based on the novel by Richard Yates and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, the film earned three Academy Award nominations and won one Golden Globe. Most recently, Mendes directed the comedy Away We Go, based on an original screenplay written by novelists Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida.

As well as working as a director, Mendes acts as Executive Producer on all Neal Street projects and has also produced and executive produced films and theatre, most recently Things We Lost In The Fire, directed by Susanne Bier, starring Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro; Starter For Ten; Stuart - A Life Backwards, The Kite Runner, four of Shakespeare's History plays - "Richard III," "Henry IV" Parts I and II, and "Henry V" - for the BBC/NBC Universal and WNET under the title "The Hollow Crown", and "Shrek the Musical."

Mendes' work in theatre and film brought him a CBE in 2000, for services to the arts, and the Director's Guild Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.

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