MARCH/APRIL 2009

Heidi Julavits

[WRITER]

talks with

Sam Mendes

[DIRECTOR]

“YOU COULD SAY MELODRAMA IS BADLY WRITTEN TRAGEDY, AND TRAGEDY IS WELL-WRITTEN MELODRAMA.”
Ways to describe the novel Revolutionary Road:
Despairing
Haunting
Gnawing

I met Sam Mendes, the director of the films American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Jarhead, Revolutionary Road, and many, many plays, one evening at his Manhattan meatpacking-district office. Below us, the sidewalks were full of people heading to the nearby bars for post-work drinks; Mendes, meanwhile, was drinklessly entering Phase 2 of his workday. Phase 1 was spent at BAM, where he’s directing a production of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. During Phase 2, he talked to numerous press representatives about the (then) upcoming release of Revolutionary Road. Phase 3 involved the editing of his next feature film. Presumably sleep occurred at some point.

Regardless, this schedule seems to suit Mendes, an animated and indefatigable conversationalist who offhandedly ate pita chips while we chatted. His office was packed with books; he professed to harbor some path-not-taken envy of academics and said quite wistfully of a film colleague, “He called me from his office at Columbia—how cool is that?” When referring to his pristine copy of Richard Yates’s 1961 novel Revolutionary Road, he was able, within seconds, to locate exact passages without the aid of sticky notes or marginalia.

—Heidi Julavits

*

HEIDI JULAVITS: I have a friend who claimed that after she read Revolutionary Road she got a divorce. Is it your hope that people get divorced after seeing this movie? Would that be proof that your version of the story was as devastating as Yates’s?

SAM MENDES: I very much hope they go home and realize how lucky they are.

HJ: It must have been a surreal experience to work with your actual wife [Kate Winslet] on this film.

SM: It was very intense. You live out a phantom version of your life. A projection. When you watch any tragedy, King Lear, let’s say, you project. It was no different. You step out of the theater after King Lear and you’re on dry land. It’s a wonderful feeling. And that’s what it felt like for both of us coming home after a day’s shooting this movie. And I suppose that’s also what you want as an audience. You want to smell the danger of another life, a life that went wrong.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Heidi Julavits edits the Believer.

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