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Sam Mendes rules himself out of the running for National Theatre job

Sam Mendes. Photo: Helen Maybanks
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Sam Mendes has admitted that while he was “interested”, he has not applied to succeed Nicholas Hytner as artistic director of the National Theatre.

Mendes is to return to the National Theatre this autumn to direct Simon Russell Beale in the title role of King Lear, but he is not planning to apply for a more permanent position at the South Bank venue.

In an exclusive interview with The Stage, he admitted he was tempted by the job, but he has not applied. “How can you not be interested? It’s the most amazing job. But it’s a simple thing for me, and if I run the National Theatre I can’t direct movies. It’s no more complicated that that – I love directing movies as well as plays.”

Mendes, whose Bond debut as director of Skyfall last year turned out to the most commercially successful of all the 007 films, grossing more than £100 million at the domestic UK box office alone and over $1 billion globally, added that he is in discussions to direct the next Bond film.

“But nothing is going to be determined until Charlie and the Chocolate Factory [now previewing at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane] has opened,” he said. “I’m literally here from 8.30am to midnight every day, and it occupies every inch of my attention. So we’ll make decisions about that once Charlie has opened.”

Running the National would similarly have to occupy every second of his time and attention, he said. “Anyone who seriously does the job has to do it for ten years, or the very minimum five, and you can’t just go away and direct movies. I did it at the Donmar, but that’s a 250-seat theatre that does just five shows a year. The National Theatre is the National Theatre.”

He admitted that he has spoken to a member of the selection committee who will choose the candidates for consideration.

“I had a very brief conversation with them, but put it this way: the first line of the person who discussed me doing it was, ‘you don’t want to do this, do you?’ It was basically phrased that it at the moment it would seem unlikely that I’d want to do this.

“That’s assuming they would even offer it to me, but it needs the kind of dedication that the two Nicks have shown, and it shows you what two remarkable people can do when they are fully dedicated to a single institution. The reality is that they’ve taken it to such a level and set it up so brilliantly for the next generation with all the development and capital work. They have to have somebody who is fully dedicated to it, because otherwise it will drop off.”

For the full interview with Sam Mendes, whose production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is in previews at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, see this week’s (June 13) print edition of The Stage or subscribe via our new digital edition available on iPad and iPhone at www.thestage.co.uk/digital

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