Neil LaBute

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Neil LaBute
Neil LaBute 2010 photo cropped.jpg
LaBute in 2010
Born
Neil N. LaBute

(1963-03-19) March 19, 1963 (age 59)
Alma materBrigham Young University
University of Kansas
Occupation(s)Playwright, film director, screenwriter, actor

Neil N. LaBute (born March 19, 1963)[1] is an American playwright, film director, screenwriter, and actor. He is best-known for a play that he wrote and later adapted for film, In the Company of Men (1997), which won awards from the Sundance Film Festival, the Independent Spirit Awards, and the New York Film Critics Circle. He wrote and directed the films Your Friends & Neighbors (1998), Possession (2002) (based on the A. S. Byatt novel), The Shape of Things (2003) (based on his play of the same name), The Wicker Man (2006), Some Velvet Morning (2013), and Dirty Weekend (2015). He directed the films Nurse Betty (2000), Lakeview Terrace (2008), and the American adaptation of Death at a Funeral (2010). LaBute created the TV series Billy & Billie, writing and directing all of the episodes. He is also the creator of the TV series Van Helsing. Recently, he executive produced, co-directed and co-wrote Netflix's The I-Land. He also directed several episodes for shows such as Hell on Wheels and Billions.

Early life[edit]

LaBute was born in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Marian, a hospital receptionist, and Richard LaBute, a long-haul truck driver.[2][3] LaBute is of French Canadian, English, and Irish ancestry,[3] and was raised in Spokane, Washington. He studied theater at Brigham Young University (BYU), where he joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At BYU he also met actor Aaron Eckhart, who would later play leading roles in several of his films. He produced a number of plays that pushed the envelope of what was acceptable at the conservative religious university, some of which were shut down after their premieres. However, he also was honored as one of the "most promising undergraduate playwrights" at the BYU theater department's annual awards.[4] Labute did graduate work at the University of Kansas,[5] New York University,[5] and the Royal Academy of London,[citation needed] and he participated in a writing workshop at London's Royal Court Theatre.[5]

Career[edit]

Early career and success[edit]

LaBute burst onto the theater scene in 1989 with his controversial debut Filthy Talk for Troubled Times.[6] His interest in the film industry came with a viewing of The Soft Skin (La Peau Douce 1964), said the director to Robert K. Elder in a 2011 interview for The Film That Changed My Life.[7]

It exposed me, probably in the earliest way, to "Hey, I could do that." I've never been one to love the camera or even to be as drawn to it as I am to the human aspect of it, and I think it was a film that speaks in a very simple way of here's a way that you can tell a story on film in human terms. It was the kind of film that made me go, "I could do this; I want to tell stories that are like this and told in this way." And so it was altering for me in that way, in its simplicity or deceptive simplicity.[8]

In 1993, he returned to Brigham Young University to premiere his play In the Company of Men, for which he received an award from the Association for Mormon Letters. He taught drama and film at IPFW in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in the early 1990s where he adapted and filmed the play, shot over two weeks and costing $25,000, beginning his career as a film director. The film won the Filmmakers Trophy at the Sundance Film Festival, and major awards and nominations at the Deauville Film Festival, the Independent Spirit Awards, the Thessaloniki Film Festival, the Society of Texas Film Critics Awards and the New York Film Critics Circle.

In the Company of Men portrays two businessmen (one played by Eckhart) cruelly plotting to romance and emotionally destroy a deaf woman. His next film Your Friends & Neighbors (1998), with an ensemble cast including Eckhart and Ben Stiller, earned an R-rating for its portrayal of the sex lives of three yuppie couples in the big city.

His play Bash: Latter-Day Plays is a set of three short plays (Iphigenia in Orem, A Gaggle of Saints, and Medea Redux) depicting essentially good Latter-day Saints doing disturbing and violent things.[9] It ran Off-Broadway at the Douglas Fairbanks Theatre in 1999. Medea Redux is a one-person performance by Calista Flockhart.[5][9][10] This play resulted in his being disfellowshipped from the LDS Church (i.e., losing some privileges of church membership without being excommunicated). He has since formally left the LDS Church.[11]

Early 21st century[edit]

In 2001, LaBute wrote and directed the play The Shape of Things, which premièred in London, featuring film actors Paul Rudd and Rachel Weisz. It was turned into a film in 2003 with the same cast and director. Set in a small university town in the American Midwest, it focuses on four young students who become emotionally and romantically involved with each other, questioning the nature of art and the lengths to which people will go for love. Weisz's character manipulates Rudd's character into changing everything about himself and discarding his friends in order to become more attractive to her. She even pretends to fall in love with him, prompting an offer of marriage, whereupon she cruelly exposes and humiliates him before an audience, announcing that he has simply been an "art project" for her MFA thesis.

In 2001, LaBute and producer Gail Mutrux founded the Pretty Pictures firm, with a first-look deal at USA Films.[12]

LaBute's 2002 play The Mercy Seat was a theatrical response to the September 11, 2001, attacks.[13][14] Set on September 12, it concerns a man who worked at the World Trade Center but was away from the office during the infamous 2001 terrorist attack – with his mistress. Expecting that his family believes that he was killed in the towers' collapse, he contemplates using the tragedy to run away and start a new life with his lover. Starring Liev Schreiber and Sigourney Weaver, the play was a commercial and critical success.[15] While hesitant to term The Mercy Seat "political theater", Labute said, "I refer to this play in the printed introduction as a kind of emotional terrorism that we wage on those we profess to love." He dedicated this edition to David Hare, in response to Hare's "straightforward, thoughtful, probing work".[16]

His next play, Reasons to Be Pretty, played Off-Broadway from May 14 to July 5, 2008, in a production by MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. It went on Broadway in 2009, with previews at the Lyceum Theatre beginning March 13, and its opening on April 2. The play was nominated for three 2009 Tony Awards, including Best Play, Best Leading Actor in a Play (Thomas Sadoski), and Best Featured Actress in a Play (Marin Ireland), but did not win in any category. The production's final performance was on June 14.[17] In March 2013, the play was mounted at the San Francisco Playhouse.[18]

2010–present[edit]

In 2010, LaBute directed Death at a Funeral, a remake of a 2007 British film of the same name. It was written by Dean Craig (who also wrote the original screenplay) and starred Chris Rock. Throughout the decade, various productions of his existing works were mounted as he continued to produce new material. He wrote new scenes and an introduction for the Chicago Shakespeare Theater production of The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare which ran from April 7 to June 6, 2010. LaBute framed the classic play in overtly metatheatrical terms, adding a lesbian romance subplot. His short play, The Unimaginable, premiered as part of the Terror 2010 season at the Southwark Playhouse in London, October 12–31, 2010.

LaBute's first produced play, Filthy Talk for Troubled Times (1989), which was a series of biting exchanges between two "everyman" characters in a bar, was staged from June 3–5, 2010, by MCC Theater as a benefit for MCC's Playwrights' Coalition and their commitment to developing new work. LaBute also directed the reading. Originally when it premiered in New York City at the Westside Dance Project, "[legend] has it ... that one unimpressed member of the audience shouted: "Kill the playwright!"" [19]

The Break of Noon premiered Off-Broadway at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in an MCC Theater production on October 28, 2010 (previews), running to December 22, 2010.[20] The play then opened in 2011 in Los Angeles at the Geffen Theater, again directed by Jo Bonney, with January 25 preview and opening on February 2. It ran through March 6. It featured Tracee Chimo, David Duchovny, John Earl Jelks, and Amanda Peet.[21]

LaBute took part in the Bush Theatre's 2011 project Sixty Six Books, for which he wrote a piece based upon a book of the King James Bible.[22] In 2012, he joined the Chicago-based storefront theatre company, Profiles Theatre as a Resident Artist.[23] The Way We Get By opened Off-Broadway at the Second Stage Theatre on May 19, 2015, starring Amanda Seyfried and Thomas Sadoski, with direction by Leigh Silverman.[24]

The LaBute New Theater Festival is a festival of world premiere one-act plays that is produced by William Roth[25] and St. Louis Actors' Studio each summer at their Gaslight Theater[26] and each winter at 59E59 street theaters in New York.[27] In 2013, Some Girl(s) was directed by Daisy von Scherler Mayer, with the screenplay adapted by Labute's from his 2005 play. In an interview with Screen Comment's Sam Weisberg, he said: "I have had a lot of people direct my material for the theater, but I haven't had anyone do my work on film. I was excited by what would be brought to it. It was great to have someone else in there that you could trust visually and intellectually and emotionally to make something that was respectful of the material but also creative."[28]

In August 2016, the Utah Shakespeare Festival produced a preview of LaBute's play How to Fight Loneliness in Cedar City, Utah, and announced its intention to stage the play during its 2017 summer season.[29] In February 2018, MCC Theater terminated its relationship with him ending his place as their playwright-in-residence and their plans to produce his next play Reasons to Be Pretty Happy in the summer. Blake West, MCC Theater's executive director, said, “We’re committed to creating and maintaining a respectful and professional work environment for everyone we work with.”[30] In September 2018, it was announced that Netflix had given order for the production of the science fiction miniseries The I-Land. LaBute is credited as the showrunner and executive producer of the miniseries.[31] The miniseries premiered on September 12, 2019.[32]

Critical response[edit]

Critics have responded to his plays as having a misanthropic tone.[33][34][35] Rob Weinert-Kendt in The Village Voice referred to LaBute as "American theater's reigning misanthrope".[36] The New York Times said that critics labeled him a misanthrope on the release of his film Your Friends & Neighbors because of the film's strong misanthropic plot and characters. Britain's Independent newspaper in May 2008 dubbed him "America's misanthrope par excellence".[37] Citing the misanthropic tone of the plot in the films In the Company of Men, Your Friends & Neighbors and The Shape of Things, film critic Daniel Kimmel identified a pattern running through LaBute's work of being that the unlikeable, main antagonists of those three films end up getting away with their lying, scheming and mis-deeds, coming out on top of all the other characters as the real winners of those stories by quoting: "Neil LaBute is a misanthrope who assumes that only callous and evil people, who use and abuse others, can survive in this world." Critics labeled him a misogynist after the release of In the Company of Men.[38]

Honors[edit]

In 2013, LaBute was named one of the winners of the American Academy of Arts and Letters' Arts and Letters Awards in Literature.[39]

Style[edit]

LaBute's style is very language-oriented. His work is terse, rhythmic, and highly colloquial. His style bears similarity to one of his favorite playwrights, David Mamet. LaBute even shares some similar themes with Mamet including gender relations, political correctness, and masculinity.[40]

Filmography[edit]

Films[edit]

Year Title Director Writer Producer Notes
1997 In the Company of Men Yes Yes No Also based on his play
1998 Your Friends & Neighbors Yes Yes No
2000 Nurse Betty Yes No No
2002 Possession Yes Yes No
2003 The Shape of Things Yes Yes Yes Also based on his play
2006 The Wicker Man Yes Yes No Nominated- Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Screenplay
2008 Lakeview Terrace Yes No No
2010 Death at a Funeral Yes No No
2013 Some Girl(s) No Yes No Also based on his play
Some Velvet Morning Yes Yes No
2015 Dirty Weekend Yes Yes No
2022 House of Darkness Yes Yes Yes
Out of the Blue Yes Yes No

Short films[edit]

Year Title Director Writer Producer Notes
2000 Tumble Yes Yes No Also narrator
2010 How Far Would You Go? Yes No No Documentary promotional short film for the videogame Heavy Rain
Also appearance as himself
Sexting Yes Yes No Released in the compilation Stars in Shorts (2012)[41]
We Have Your Wife Yes Yes No Released in the compilation Tenant (2021) Available on Amazon Prime.
2011 Bench Seat No Yes No
After School Special No Yes No Released in the compilation Stars in Shorts (2012)
2012 Denise No Yes No
Double or Nothing No Yes No
BFF Yes Yes No
2014 It's Okay No Yes No
2016 The Mulberry Bush Yes Yes Yes
2017 10 K Yes Yes Yes
Black Chicks Yes Yes Yes Also executive producer
Good Luck: In Persian No Yes Executive
2019 Love is in the Air No Yes No Released on the anthology film Berlin, I Love You
2020 A Boat Time Yes Yes No Also actor
Small World Yes Yes No
2022 Sparring Partner Yes Yes Executive

Television[edit]

Year Title Director Writer Executive Producer Notes
2001 Bash: Latter-Day Plays Yes Yes No TV Movie
2013-2015 Hell on Wheels Yes No No TV Series
Directed 5 episodes
Full Circle No Yes Co-executive TV Series
10 episodes[42]
2014 ten x ten Yes Yes No TV Miniseries
4 episodes
2015-2016 Billy & Billie Yes Yes Yes TV Series
11 episodes; Also creator
2016 Billions Yes No No TV Series
Directed episode "The Good Life"
2016-2021 Van Helsing No Yes Yes TV Series
43 episodes and wrote 16 episodes
2017 Staging Film No Yes Yes TV Anthology series
Episode "Over the River and Through the Woods"
2019 The I-Land Yes Yes Yes TV Miniseries
7 episodes; wrote 3 episodes and wrote/directed episode "Brave New World"

Plays[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Neil LaBute Biography (1963–)". FilmReference.com. Retrieved April 7, 2014.
  2. ^ Jordan, Pat (March 29, 2009). "Neil LaBute Has a Thing About Beauty". The New York Times. Retrieved May 20, 2010.
  3. ^ a b Bigsby, C.W.E. (2007). Neil LaBute: stage and cinema. Cambridge University Press. pp. 2, 235. ISBN 978-0-521-88254-5.
  4. ^ People in the arts, Deseret News. May 6, 1984
  5. ^ a b c d "Neil LaBute Biography" The New York Times (From All Movie Guide), accessed May 8, 2015
  6. ^ Noble, Barnes &. "Filthy Talk for Troubled Times: And Other Plays|Paperback". Barnes & Noble.
  7. ^ Elder, Robert K. (January 1, 2011). The Film That Changed My Life: 30 Directors on Their Epiphanies in the Dark. Chicago Review Press. ISBN 978-1556528255.
  8. ^ LaBute, Neil. Interview by Robert K. Elder. The Film That Changed My Life. By Robert K. Elder. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2011. N. p2.48. Print.
  9. ^ a b Brantley, Ben. "Theater Review. The Face of Evil, All Peaches and Cream" The New York Times, June 25, 1999
  10. ^ Lefkowitz, David. [1] "Calista Flockhart Has a bash Off-Bway w/LaBute, June 24 – July 25", playbill.com, June 24, 1999
  11. ^ [2] Times & Seasons, An Interview with Neil LaBute
  12. ^ Dunkley, Dana Harris,Cathy; Harris, Dana; Dunkley, Cathy (May 14, 2001). "Pretty shingle inks first-look deal". Variety. Retrieved April 11, 2021.
  13. ^ Salamon, Julie. [3] "THEATER; A Response to 9/11 So Unheroically Human", The New York Times, December 15, 2002
  14. ^ Hernandez, Ernio. [4] "Neil LaBute's 'Mercy Seat' Opens Off-Broadway, Dec. 18", playbill.com, December 18, 2002
  15. ^ [5] Ben Brantley, THEATER REVIEW: Yes, He Survived Sep 11, bu What's in It for Him?, The New York Times, December 19, 2002
  16. ^ Baitz, Jon Robin (Spring 2003). "Neil Labute". Bomb. Retrieved July 22, 2011.
  17. ^ [6] Archived May 18, 2015, at the Wayback Machine Reasons to be Pretty Listing on Broadway, playbillvault.com, accessed May 8, 2015
  18. ^ Hurwitt, Robert (March 31, 2013). "'Reasons to be Pretty' review: Growing up". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved May 14, 2014.
  19. ^ Radcliffe, Allan. "Filthy Talk for Troubled Times at Basic Mountain, Edinburgh Festival" – via www.thetimes.co.uk.
  20. ^ [7] Dan Bacalzo, REVIEW: The Break of Noon, theatermania.com, November 22, 2010
  21. ^ [8] The Break of Noon Opening Night, broadwayworld.com
  22. ^ "Bush Theatre". Archived from the original on July 4, 2011. Retrieved October 12, 2014.
  23. ^ [9] Season (2012) profilestheatre.org
  24. ^ [10] Olivia Clement, The Way We Get By with Amanda Seyfried and Thomas Sadoski Opens Tonight, playbill.com, May 19, 2015
  25. ^ Newmark, Judith. "Writer Carter Lewis shines at LaBute New Theater Festival".
  26. ^ Newmark, Judith. "Neil LaBute lends his name—and a new show—to St. Louis theater festival".
  27. ^ Kennedy, Marina. "BWW Review: LABUTE NEW THEATER FESTIVAL at 59E59 Six Fascinating New Plays".
  28. ^ Weisberg, Sam. "New York playwright and filmmaker Neil Labute opens up about "Some Girls"". Screen Comment.
  29. ^ [11] Ellen Fagg Weist, STRONG VOICES, Salt Lake Tribune, August 14, 2016, p. D1
  30. ^ Paulson, Michael (February 15, 2018). "Off Broadway Theater Cuts Ties With Neil LaBute". The New York Times. Retrieved February 16, 2018.
  31. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (September 28, 2018). "'The I-Land' Starring Kate Bosworth, Natalie Martinez & Alex Pettyfer Among 3 Sci-Fi Series Ordered By Netflix". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved September 28, 2018.
  32. ^ Ramos, Dino-Ray (August 20, 2019). "'The I-Land' Teaser: Netflix Sets Release Date For Kate Bosworth Sci-Fi Series With Fyre Fest Flair". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved August 20, 2019.
  33. ^ [12] Archived July 4, 2008, at the Wayback Machine broadwayplaypubl.com
  34. ^ [13] hackwriters.com
  35. ^ [14] npr.org
  36. ^ [15] Jailbait Evokes a More Human Neil LaBute, Village Voice, April 7, 2009
  37. ^ Jones, Alice (May 28, 2008). "First Night: Fat Pig, Trafalgar Studios, London". The Independent. Archived from the original on December 2, 2008.
  38. ^ [16] Neil LaBute has a Thing About Beauty, The New York Times, March 25, 2009
  39. ^ "American Academy of Arts and Letters - Literature Awards Press Release". Archived from the original on March 13, 2015. Retrieved March 27, 2015. Press Release. artsandletters.org
  40. ^ Griffin, Alice. "Neil LaBute". TheaterPro.com. Retrieved December 12, 2013.
  41. ^ Vasquez, Dorothy Burk (October 18, 2012). "'Stars in Shorts' Makes Short Films Attractive to Viewers Worldwide". PopMatters.
  42. ^ "Full Circle Episode List". IMDB. Retrieved September 18, 2015.

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