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Joe Wright

10 Directors to Watch

AGE: 33
PIC INSPIRATION: “Blue Velvet.” “It tapped into levels of the subconscious that I didn’t realize it was possible to tap into. It was poetic cinema, and it blew my mind. I watched the tape 27 times in a row.”
Agents: Sue Rogers (ICM, London); Beth Swofford (CAA, Los Angeles)

Wright may be just 33, but few British directors have made as assured and mature a debut as his adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Pride & Prejudice.”

“I have never worked with as well-prepared a director,” says the pic’s experienced producer, Paul Webster. “Joe has strong ideas, but he also listens very well. He builds a team ethos, but he understands when to lead.”

Wright seems to have been born for the director’s chair. His parents run the Little Angel puppet theater in Islington, north London. He started acting as a child — he even had a line in Hugh Hudson’s 1984 movie “Revolution,” which was the first time he met Donald Sutherland, whom he would cast two decades later in “Pride & Prejudice.”

He trained as a filmmaker at London’s St. Martins art school, then moved swiftly from BAFTA-nommed shorts to critically acclaimed TV dramas — “Nature Boy,” “Bob and Rose” and “Bodily Harm.” But it was his BBC miniseries “Charles II” that won him a BAFTA Award and persuaded Working Title to offer him “Pride & Prejudice.”

“I’ve always wanted to direct,” Wright says. “I liked the idea of forging a company and teamwork … and I like the visual arts. I like the moment an actor takes your breath away, and I like making pictures.”

His own thesping experience makes him very comfortable around actors, which isn’t always the case with directors. “I treat actors like a company, like another department in the film. I really like actors, and they don’t scare me,” he says.

Nonetheless, as a feel-good romance, “Pride” was a big departure for this intense and serious-minded young man. “I had never done a happy ending before. I was nervous (about) them, they didn’t fit with my view of what storytelling is all about.” But Austen converted him — so much so that he sees the human need for happy endings as the essential theme of his next project, an adaptation of Ian McEwan’s much darker novel “Atonement.”

“Happy endings are a stand against oblivion,” he says, quoting from “Atonement.” “It’s about the idea of atoning for the significant sins of your life by creating a wish-fulfillment happy ending.”

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