×

Director to Watch: Sam Taylor-Wood

Made transition from artist to filmmaker

It took Sam Taylor-Wood awhile to work out that she wanted to direct films. She first earned fame as an artist, specializing in multiscreen video and photography, one of a stellar generation dubbed the YBAs, or Young British Artists.

It was only when Ray Winstone, who had appeared in one of her early works, suggested making a movie about the poet William Blake that she began to consider features.

I think the idea has been slowly percolating over a good few years,” says Taylor-Wood. “I was always interested in film, but I never knew how to go about becoming a filmmaker. I feel like I became an artist by default. I went to art college, but my interest was always more towards film than painting or sculpture.”

The Blake idea came to nothing, but Taylor-Wood met Anthony Minghella on the jury for the British Independent Film Awards, and he offered to act as her mentor. She directed the short film “Love You More” for him “as a steppingstone, to see if I was up to it,” she says. Selection for Cannes, Sundance and a BAFTA nomination proved that she was.

Popular on Variety

When she read Matt Greenhalgh’s script for the John Lennon biopic “Nowhere Boy,” she immediately knew it was the film for her, and she pursued the producers relentlessly until they agreed. “It was something I could see visually,” she says.

Yet her direction is surprisingly restrained, with a classical focus on character and story rather than stylistic flourishes. “I felt like I really had to drive a story. I couldn’t be too indulgent, too self-conscious,” she says. “There was a lot we shot that was more along the lines of my conceptual work, but it quickly fell on the cutting-room floor.”

She says film directing feels natural to her in a way that creating her conceptual art never quite did. Collaborating with Greenhalgh, cinematographer Seamus McGarvey (with whom she previously shot all her artworks) and editor Lisa Gunning was “gratifying on so many levels.” She hasn’t found her next project yet but says, “I’d like to make something about someone who hasn’t existed, so that I don’t have to tread so carefully and can feel a little bit more creative freedom. I’d love to make a thriller.”

VITAL STATS

AGE: 42

HOMEBASE: London

INSPIRED BY: “Seeing a Cassavetes film, ‘Woman Under the Influence,’ when I was about 19. I was thunderstruck by it. It was the first time I’d seen a film that wasn’t ‘Batman’ or ‘The Thing.’ It completely shifted my ground, made me start thinking about filmmaking. It fed a lot into my artwork.”

REPS: Agents: Jeremy Barber and Jeremy Zimmer (UTA); Michael McCoy (Independent in London)

More Scene

  • Sean Penn CORE Gala

    Sean Penn Offers to Take Selfies in Exchange for $5,000 Donations to Disaster Relief

    A decade after the catastrophic 7.0 Haiti earthquake left between 50,000 and 100,000 dead and nearly a million people displaced, Sean Penn hosted the 10th anniversary CORE (Community Organized Relief Effort) gala, raising funds for international disaster relief at the Wiltern Theatre on Wednesday night in Los Angeles. “We’re not here tonight because we want [...]

  • Allison Janney Viola Davis

    Viola Davis & Allison Janney React to Lack of Diversity in 2020 Oscar Nominations

    Monday morning’s Oscar nominations rebooted the #OscarsSoWhite conversation, reigniting discussion about representation after women were shut out of the directing category and only one person of color — Cynthia Erivo — was nominated in the acting categories. At the premiere of Amazon Original’s “Troop Zero” at The Grove in Los Angeles on Monday evening, the [...]

  • Star Trek Picard Premiere

    'Picard' Stars Reveal Which 'Star Trek' Character They Would Get Drunk With

    The cast and creators of “Star Trek: Picard” turned out for the show’s premiere at the ArcLight Cinerama Dome on Monday night. In the spirit of the festive atmosphere of the night, Variety asked them which “Star Trek” character, past or present, they’d most like to pound a few Romulan ales with at the local [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez Laura Dern

    Inside the 2020 Critics' Choice Awards: What You Didn't See on TV

    ‘Twas the night before Oscar nominations and all through the ballroom, the Barker Hanger was buzzing as critics mixed and mingled with A-listers inside the 25th Annual Critics’ Choice Awards on Sunday night. Life Achievement winner Eddie Murphy, #SeeHer honoree Kristen Bell, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Bong Joon Ho were among the big names who played [...]

  • Taye Diggs Critics Choice

    Critics' Choice Awards: The Complete Winners List

    The 25th annual Critics’ Choice Awards gala, hosted by Taye Diggs, was broadcast live on The CW on Sunday night. It was a good night for both Netflix and HBO, with the studios taking home trophies for movies and shows like “The Irishman,” “Marriage Story,” “When They See Us,” “Watchmen” and “Succession.” “Once Upon a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content