|Birth Day:||February 20, 1943|
|Birth Place:||Salford, Greater Manchester, England, United Kingdom|
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Outside school Leigh thrived in the Manchester branch of Labour Zionist youth movement Habonim. In the late 1950s he attended summer camps and winter activities over the Christmas break all round the country. Throughout this time the most important part of his artistic consumption was cinema, although this was supplemented by his discovery of Picasso, Surrealism, The Goon Show, and even family visits to the Hallé Orchestra and the D'Oyly Carte). His father, however, was deeply opposed to the idea that Leigh might become an artist or an actor. He forbade him his frequent habit of sketching visitors who came to the house and regarded him as a problem child because of his creative interests. In 1960, "to his utter astonishment", he won a scholarship to RADA. Initially trained as an actor at RADA, Leigh started to hone his directing skills at East 15 Acting School where he met the actress Alison Steadman.
Leigh responded negatively to RADA's agenda, found himself being taught how to "laugh, cry and snog" for weekly rep purposes and so became a sullen student. He later attended Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts (in 1963), the Central School of Art and Design and the London School of Film Technique on Charlotte Street. When he had arrived in London, one of the first films he had seen was Shadows (1959), an improvised film by John Cassavetes, in which a cast of unknowns was observed 'living, loving and bickering' on the streets of New York and Leigh had "felt it might be possible to create complete plays from scratch with a group of actors." Other influences from this time included Harold Pinter's The Caretaker—"Leigh was mesmerised by the play and the (Arts Theatre) production"— Samuel Beckett, whose novels he read avidly, and the writing of Flann O'Brien, whose "tragi-comedy" Leigh found particularly appealing. Influential and important productions he saw in this period included Beckett's Endgame, Peter Brook's King Lear and in 1965 Peter Weiss's Marat/Sade, a production developed through improvisations, the actors having based their characterisations on people they had visited in a mental hospital. The visual worlds of Ronald Searle, George Grosz, Picasso, and William Hogarth exerted another kind of influence. He played small roles in several British films in the early 1960s, (West 11,Two Left Feet) and played a young deaf-mute, interrogated by Rupert Davies, in the BBC Television series Maigret. In 1964–65, he collaborated with David Halliwell, and designed and directed the first production of Little Malcolm and his Struggle Against the Eunuchs at the Unity Theatre.
In 1965, he went to work at the Midlands Art Centre in Birmingham as a resident assistant director and had the opportunity to start experimenting with the idea that writing and rehearsing could potentially be part of the same process. The Box Play, a family scenario staged in a cage-like box, "absorbed all sorts of contemporary ideas in art such as the space frames of Roland Pichet..it was visually very exciting," and two more 'improvised' pieces followed.
Leigh wrote, in 1970, "I saw that we must start off with a collection of totally unrelated characters (each one the specific creation of its actor) and then go through a process in which I must cause them to meet each other, and build a network of real relationships; the play would be drawn from the results." After Stratford-upon-Avon, Leigh directed a couple of London drama school productions that included Thomas Dekker's The Honest Whore at E15 Acting School in Loughton – where he met Alison Steadman for the first time. In 1968, wanting to return to Manchester, he sub-let his London flat and moved to Levenshulme. Taking up a part-time lectureship in a Catholic women teachers training college, Sedgley Park, he ran a drama course and devised and directed Epilogue, focusing on a priest with doubts, and for the Manchester Youth Theatre he devised and directed two big-cast projects, Big Basil and Glum Victoria and the Lad with Specs.
In September 1973, he married actress Alison Steadman; they have two sons: Toby (born February 1978) and Leo (born August 1981). Steadman appeared in seven of his films and several of his plays, including Wholesome Glory and Abigail's Party. They divorced in 2001. The actress Marion Bailey is his current partner.
His 1986 project codenamed 'Rhubarb', for which he had gathered actors in Blackburn, including Jane Horrocks, Julie Walters and David Thewlis, was cancelled after seven weeks rehearsals and Leigh returned home. "The nature of what I do is totally creative, and you have to get in there and stick with it. The tension between the bourgeois suburban and the anarchist bohemian that is in my work is obviously in my life, too...I started to pull myself together. I didn't work, I simply stayed at home and looked after the boys." In 1987 Channel 4 put up some money for a short film and, with Portman Productions, agreed to co-produce Leigh's first feature film since Bleak Moments.
In 1988, Mike Leigh and producer Simon Channing Williams founded Thin Man Films, a film production company based in London, to produce Mike Leigh's films. They chose the company name because both founders were the opposite of it. Later in 1988, he made High Hopes, about a disjointed working-class family whose members live in a run-down flat and a council house. Leigh's subsequent films such as Naked and Vera Drake are somewhat starker, more brutal, and concentrate more on the working-class; another of his recent films, however, is a modern-day comedy, Happy-Go-Lucky. His stage plays include Smelling A Rat, It's A Great Big Shame, Greek Tragedy, Goose-Pimples, Ecstasy, and Abigail's Party.
Leigh has cited Jean Renoir and Satyajit Ray among his favourite film makers. In addition to those two, in an interview recorded at the National Film Theatre at the BFI on 17 March 1991; Leigh also cited Frank Capra, Fritz Lang, Yasujirō Ozu and even Jean-Luc Godard, "...until the late 60s." When pressed for British influences, in that interview, he referred to the Ealing comedies "...despite their unconsciously patronizing way of portraying working class people" and the early 60s British New Wave films. When asked for his favorite comedies, he replied, One, Two, Three, La règle du jeu and "any Keaton". The critic David Thomson has written that, with the camera work in his films characterised by 'a detached, medical watchfulness', Leigh's aesthetic may justly be compared to the sensibility of the Japanese director Yasujirō Ozu. Michael Coveney: " The cramped domestic interiors of Ozu find many echoes in Leigh's scenes on stairways and in corridors and on landings, especially in Grown-Ups, Meantime and Naked. And two wonderful little episodes in Ozu's Tokyo Story, in a hairdressing salon and a bar, must have been in Leigh's subconscious memory when he made The Short and Curlies (1987), one of his most devastatingly funny pieces of work and the pub scene in Life is Sweet..."
Leigh has been nominated at the Academy Awards seven times: twice each for Secrets & Lies and Vera Drake (Best Original Screenplay and Best Director) and once for Topsy-Turvy, Happy-Go-Lucky, and Another Year (Best Original Screenplay only). Leigh has also won several prizes at major European film festivals. Most notably, he won the Best Director award at Cannes for Naked in 1993 and the Palme d'Or in 1996 for Secrets & Lies. He won the Leone d'Oro for the best film at the International Venice Film Festival in 2004 with Vera Drake.
He was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1993 Birthday Honours, for services to the film industry.
In 2002, Leigh became Chairman for his alma mater, London Film School. Leigh remained Chair until March 2018, where he was succeeded by Greg Dyke.
The anger inherent in Leigh's material, in some ways typical of the Thatcher years, softened after her departure from the political scene. In 2005, Leigh returned to directing for the stage after many years absence with his new play, Two Thousand Years at the Royal National Theatre in London. The play deals with the divisions within a left-wing secular Jewish family when one of the younger members finds religion. It is the first time Leigh has drawn on his Jewish background for inspiration.
He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2008.
Leigh is an atheist and a Distinguished Supporter of Humanists UK. He is also a republican. In 2014, Leigh publicly backed "Hacked Off" and its campaign for UK press self-regulation by "safeguarding the press from political interference while also giving vital protection to the vulnerable."
In 2015, he accepted an offer from English National Opera to direct the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Pirates of Penzance (cond: David Parry, design: Alison Chitty, starring: Andrew Shore, Rebecca de Pont Davies and Jonathan Lemalu). The production then toured Europe, visiting Luxembourg (Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg), Caen (Théâtre de Caen) and Saarländisches Staatstheater.
In 2018, Leigh released another historical feature, Peterloo, based on the 1819 Peterloo Massacre.
In November 2019, along with other public figures, Leigh signed a letter supporting Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn describing him as "a beacon of hope in the struggle against emergent far-right nationalism, xenophobia and racism in much of the democratic world" and endorsed him ahead of the 2019 UK general election. In December 2019, along with 42 other leading cultural figures, he signed a letter endorsing the Labour Party under Corbyn's leadership in the 2019 general election. The letter stated that "Labour's election manifesto under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership offers a transformative plan that prioritises the needs of people and the planet over private profit and the vested interests of a few."
In February 2020, it was reported that he would begin shooting his latest film in the Summer.
Currently, Mike Leigh is 79 years, 4 months and 5 days old. Mike Leigh will celebrate 80th birthday on a Monday 20th of February 2023.
Find out about Mike Leigh birthday activities in timeline view here.