About Mike Newell
Born on March 28, 1942 in St. Albans, Hertfordshire, England, Newell was raised the son of amateur actors who exposed him early in life to the theatrical world. After receiving his education from St. Albans School, he attended the University of Cambridge, where he majored in English. Following his graduation in the early 1960s, Newell joined Granada Television as a production trainee and spent a few years learning his craft with the intention of entering the theatre world. Instead, he began directing television, helming the gangster series "Spindoe" (ITV, 1968) and the crime serial "Big Breadwinner Hog" (ITV, 1969) along with fellow director Michael Apted. He moved on to co-direct the dramatic miniseries "The Man from Haven" (ATV, 1972), which starred Ian Holm as a shady businessman who accesses a series of Swiss bank accounts and starts to blackmail prominent British citizens. Newell next directed episodes of the "Wessex Tales" (BBC2, 1973), a six-part anthology adapted from a collection of tales written by Thomas Hardy. The sixth episode of the series, "Barbara of the House of Grebe," was notable for starring a then-unknown Ben Kingsley.
After helming the BAFTA-nominated "Ready When You Are Mr. McGill" (ITV, 1976), Newell directed "The Man in the Iron Mask" (ITC, 1977), an adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' 1847 novel starring Richard Chamberlain as Philippe, the rightful heir to the French throne and twin brother of King Louis XIV (also Chamberlain). Graduating to feature films, Newell made his debut with "The Awakening" (1980), a fairly graphic horror movie about an archeologist (Charlton Heston) who must destroy his own daughter (Stephanie Zimblast) after she becomes possessed by an ancient Egyptian curse. He next directed "Bad Blood" (1981), a fact-based thriller about Stan Graham (Jack Thompson), a New Zealander who was hunted down for 12 days following a mass murder spree that left seven men dead. He followed with "Blood Feud" (syndicated, 1983), a two-part television drama that pitted Mafia boss Jimmy Hoffa (Robert Blake) against the U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (Cotter Smith). Newell's critical fortunes improved with the acclaimed "Dance with a Stranger" (1985), a powerful and uncompromising account of the life and death of Ruth Ellis (Miranda Richardson), the last woman to be sentenced to death in England.
Back to television, Newell directed Anthony Hopkins in "The Good Father" (1987), an uneven, but well-acted drama about an embittered husband (Hopkins) who tries to reconcile with his wife (Julie Walters) after she leaves with their son, only to discover that his resentment for their child caused their split. He next directed "Amazing Grace and Chuck" (1987), a message-driven drama about a Little League baseball player (Joshua Zuehlke) who refuses to play ball until nuclear disarmament takes place, and along the way, finds an unlikely ally in fictional Boston Celtics star, "Amazing Grace" Smith (Alex English). Newell followed with "Soursweet" (1989), a melodrama that focused on an immigrant Chinese couple (Sylvia Chang and Danny Dun) trying to make ends meet in an economically depressed England. Back to television, he helmed the two-part miniseries, "Common Ground" (CBS, 1990), which centered on three Boston families struggling for a better life during a time when federal courts ordered the city to desegregate their schools with a new busing plan. Newell enjoyed a critical and commercial triumph with "Enchanted April" (1991), a romantic comedy that starred Miranda Richardson as a cloistered married woman who goes through a life-altering experience while vacationing at an Italian villa. The film earned Golden Globe wins for Richardson and co-star Joan Plowright, while earning three Academy Award nominations.
Newell followed up with "Into the West" (1993), a charming children's adventure set in Ireland which starred Gabriel Byrne as a widower who finds his life and the lives of his children transformed by their attachment to a mystical white stallion. The director had even greater success with his next film, the stylish and charming romantic comedy "Four Weddings and a Funeral" (1994), which starred Hugh Grant as a non-committal Englishman who awkwardly woos an American woman (Andie MacDowell) throughout the course of the aforementioned events, including her own wedding. The film was a surprising hit for Newell, earning several BAFTA, Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations, including an Oscar nod for Best Picture. That same year, he directed "An Awfully Big Adventure" (1994), a downbeat drama that was the mirror opposite of "Four Weddings and a Funeral." The film also starred Grant, who played against type as director of a company of actors well past their prime.
Just as it seemed he was settling into the light romantic genre, Newell reinvented himself with the melancholy gangster film, "Donnie Brasco" (1997), which established him as a fine practitioner of crime thrillers without losing his touch for character-driven storytelling. As much a father-son story as a Mafia movie, the film delivered outstanding, uncharacteristic performances from stars Johnny Depp and Al Pacino. Depp displayed unexpected physicality and menace as real-life undercover agent Joseph D. Pistone, while Pacino, who spent much of his career delivering over-the-top performances, was decidedly understated as Lefty, a small-time but kind-hearted Mafia underling who takes the undercover Pistone under his wing. Like Pistone, Newell had infiltrated a gang with the help of a location scout to steep himself in the rhythms of mob language. His homework paid off: the critical and financial success of "Donnie Brasco" earned him a reputation as a British director capable of delivering a decidedly American movie.
For his next feature, "Pushing Tin" (1999), Newell returned to somewhat more familiar territory. While the romantic comedy about two rival air traffic controllers (John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton) was played for laughs, Newell also chose to dwell on the more dramatically intense moments of working at New York's Terminal Radar Approach Control Center. At the center of attention are Nick (Cusack) and Russell (Thornton), two alpha-males competing against each other to see who is better at their job. Their rivalry extends beyond the workplace and into their personal lives when Nick takes an interest in Russell's beautiful, hard-drinking wife (Angelina Jolie), while Nick's wife (Cate Blanchett) takes a shine to Russell. Despite Newell's typically sure-handed direction, "Pushing Tin" suffered under the weight of an inconsistent tone and a sitcom ending. The resulting unevenness was reflected in its poor box office performance, though the over-the-top on-set romance of Thornton and Jolie certainly kept the film in the headlines. Meanwhile, in between directing gigs, Newell ventured into an executive producer role on several feature projects, including "200 Cigarettes" (1999), "Traffic" (2000), "High Fidelity" (2000) and "I Capture the Castle" (2002).
Newell then returned to the director's chair for "Mona Lisa Smile" (2003), a historical drama set in 1953 about Katherine Watson (Julia Roberts), a free-spirited art history teacher from Berkley who takes a job at the prestigious all-female Wellesley College, a place where women's roles were rigidly defined and the female collegians goals lean more toward finding a husband. Encouraging the women to strive for an enlightened future, Katherine challenges the school administration and inspires her students - a sexually promiscuous rebel (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a beautiful and intelligent girl (Julia Stiles) caught between attending Yale or marrying her sweetheart, and a smug rich kid (Kirsten Dunst) on the verge of domestic bliss - to look beyond the image of what is and consider the possibilities of what could be. Though reviews were mixed, "Mona Lisa Smile" faired far better than "Pushing Tin," taking in over $63 million at the box offices.
Newell made the jump from film to American television with a stint as executive producer on the medical drama, "Huff" (Showtime, 2004-06), starring Hank Azaria as a successful psychiatrist who receives both a professional and personal a wake-up call after a patient commits suicide during a session. Though well-received by critics, "Huff" failed to capture enough of an audience for Showtime to justify a third season. For his next feature, Newell hit pay dirt when he signed on to "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" (2005), becoming the first British director to helm an installment of the successful franchise. In this fourth movie featuring the bespectacled young magician, Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) mysteriously finds himself the fourth contestant in the Triwizard Tournament, a deadly gladiatorial competition hosted by Hogwarts. While being trained by the eccentric new Defense Against the Black Arts professor (Brendan Gleeson), someone is murdered on school ground. An ominous turn of events, Potter is propelled towards an unavoidable encounter with Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). Universally acclaimed by fans and critics alike, "Goblet of Fire" was considered one of the best films in the series.
After his brush with blockbuster filmmaking, Newell returned to the more comfortable grounds of small character-driven films with "Love in the Time of Cholera" (2007), an adaptation of Gabriel García Márquez's novel about 50-year-long love triangle in 19th century Colombia between a poet (Javier Bardem), a young beauty (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) and the doctor she is arranged to marry (Benjamin Bratt). Despite the strong cast, "Cholera" received some of the worst reviews of his career, as the film underperformed at the box office in a limited run. Returning to blockbuster territory, he directed "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" (2010), a video game adaptation that starred Jake Gyllenhaal as Dastan, a 9th century street urchin-turned-heir to the throne who is tasked with finding the fabled Sands of Time, an artifact and gift from the gods that controls time itself. "Prince of Persia" also starred Gemma Arterton as Princess Tamina, Ben Kingsley as the evil nobleman, Nizam, and Alfred Molina as Sheik Amar, mentor and friend to the young prince.
|Billy Newell. Born c. 1995|
|University of Cambridge, Cambridge , England|
|Directed a controversial commercial for England's Labor Party|
|Directed numerous TV plays for Granada TV in England|
|Formed Dogstar Films with Alan Greenspan|
|Joined Granada TV as a production trainee|
|American directing debut, "The Man in the Iron Mask," an NBC TV-movie|
|Feature directing debut, "The Awakening," a supernatural adventure|
|Critical breakthrough film, "Dance With a Stranger"|
|Directed the well-intentioned "Amazing Grace and Chuck," starring Jamie Lee Curtis|
|Had critical and commercial success with romantic comedy "Enchanted April"|
|Helmed an episode of George Lucas's "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles"|
|Directed the internationally successful, "Four Weddings and a Funeral"; earned a surprise Oscar nomination as Best Picture|
|Directed the documentary "At Sundance," an incisive, witty film history caught on the fly at the 1995 Sundance Festival|
|Established his credentials as a director of big-budget American films with "Donnie Brasco"|
|Signed two-year, first-look deal with Fox 2000|
|First Dogstar film, "Photographing Fairies"|
|Directed John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton in "Pushing Tin"|
|Directed Julia Roberts in "Mona Lisa Smile," as a free-thinking art professor teaching conservative 50's Wellesley girls to question their traditional societal role|
|Became the first British director to oversee a 'Harry Potter' film with "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," adapted from the fourth book in the fantasy series by J.K. Rowling|
|Helmed the feature adaption of "Love in the Time of Cholera" starring Javier Bardem and Benjamin Bratt|
|Directed Jake Gyllenhaal in "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time"|