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Roger Michell

Roger Michell

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Also Known As: Died:
Born: June 5, 1956 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Pretoria, Gauteng, ZA Profession: Director ... director playwright
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BIOGRAPHY

A successful director in both his native England and America, Roger Michell helmed such big-budget hits as "Notting Hill" (1999) and "Changing Lanes" (2002), while also earning critical respect for small, more intimate features like "Titanic Town" (1998) and "The Mother" (2003). Following an award-winning debut as a theater director in the late 1970s and early '80s, Michell moved into directing for television, including such BAFTA-winning efforts as "The Buddha of Suburbia" (BBC, 1993) and "Persuasion" (1995). His work on the small screen attracted the attention of writer Richard Curtis, who tapped Michell to direct the Julia Roberts/Hugh Grant romantic comedy "Notting Hill" (1999), one of the highest grossing British films in history, which in turn led to assignments in America like "Changing Lanes" (2002), starring Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson. His subsequent efforts varied in tone and quality, from intense small dramas like "The Mother" and "Enduring Love" (2004), comedies like "Venus" (2006) with Peter O'Toole, and major Hollywood efforts like "Morning Glory" (2010). Though not every film was a hit, Michell's ability to move between genres marked him as one of the most versatile filmmakers on the international scene.

Born June 5, 1956 in Pretoria, South Africa, Roger Michell spent much of his childhood in far-flung places, including Syria and Czechoslovakia, due to his father's job as a diplomat. The family eventually settled in England, where Michell attended Clifton College and later, Cambridge University, where he began directing student productions. After winning the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company Buzz Goodbody Award for Best Student Director in 1977, Michell graduated from Cambridge and began a two-year apprenticeship at the Royal Court Theatre, where he worked as an assistant director to acclaimed playwrights John Osbourne and Samuel Beckett, as well as future director Danny Boyle, who served as the theater's stage manager. In 1979, Michell began writing and directing his own work, including the play "Private Dick," which claimed a Fringe First Award from the 1982 Edinburgh Festival before going on to a run in London's West End.

He then joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1985, working his way up from assistant director to resident director over the course of a six-year tenure in which he directed over a dozen plays, including 1990's "Some Americans Abroad," which transferred to Lincoln Center and then Broadway, where it claimed a Drama Desk Award. In 1990, Michell took the BBC Drama Directors Course, which led to his first screen assignment: the three-part drama "Downtown Lagos" (BBC, 1992). He soon followed this with "The Buddha of Suburbia," a BAFTA-winning drama about racial identity starring Naveen Andrews of "Lost" (ABC, 2004-2010) fame. Michell tackled his first documentary, "Ready When You Are, Mr. Patel" (1995) about the Indian actor Harish Patel, for the BBC's "Omnibus" (1967-2003) series. He returned to drama the same year with a production of Jane Austen's "Persuasion" (BBC, 1995) with Ciarán Hinds, which claimed four British Academy Television Awards, including Best Single Drama, before enjoying a limited theatrical release in America. It was soon followed by the independent dramas "My Night with Reg" (1996), based on the Kevin Elyot play of the same name about the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, and "Titanic Town" (1998), with Hinds and Julie Walters as a married couple pulled into the Northern Ireland conflict.

In 1999, screenwriter Richard Curtis chose Michell to helm "Notting Hill," his romantic comedy about a relationship between a movie star (Julia Roberts) and a local London bookstore owner (Hugh Grant). The film went on to be one of the highest grossing U.K. productions in history, and led to interest from Hollywood studios. For a time, Michell was slated to director an adaptation of Louis de Bernières' novel Captain Corelli's Mandolin, but was forced to drop out of the production due to a health scare. He rebounded with "Changing Lanes" (2002), an American thriller starring Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson that performed admirably at the box office. Michell then reunited with Hanif Kureishi, who had written "The Buddha of Suburbia," for "Mother" (2003), an emotionally intense drama about a widow (Anne Reid) who embarked on an ill-considered affair with a handyman (Daniel Craig). The picture captured top honors from the London Critics Circle Film Awards, as well as nominations from BAFTA and other organizations. Craig was top-billed in Michell's next effort, "Enduring Love" (2004), about an obsessive relationship between two strangers that erupted in the wake of a freak balloon accident. Michell was also slated to direct Craig's second outing as James Bond, "Quantum of Solace," but left the project over creative differences with producers.

In 2006, Michell directed legendary actor Peter O'Toole in "Venus" (2006), a comedy-drama penned by Kureishi about an elderly performer who fell hopelessly in love with his friend's great-niece. O'Toole's turn earned him Oscar, SAG, BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations. Michell continued to work in the theater during this period, most notably on London productions of Patrick Hamilton's "Rope" and Nina Raines' "Tribes." He returned to Hollywood for 2010's "Morning Glory," a comedy with Harrison Ford, Diane Keaton and Rachel McAdams as warring newscasters on a national morning news program. The film received largely mixed reviews and modest box office returns. He earned similar results from early screenings of his next film effort, "Hyde Park on Hudson" (2012), a biographical comedy about the relationship between President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Bill Murray) and his cousin and eventual mistress, Margaret Suckley (Laura Linney). Michell then set to work on another reunion with Kureishi, called "Le Weekend" (2013) with Jim Broadbent.

By Paul Gaita

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