Mendes joined the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he made a name for himself directing many successful plays featuring well-known actors. In 1990 he became the artistic director of Donmar Warehouse, which he transformed into one of the most flourishing theatres in London, directing a number of award-winning productions.
He won the Golden Globe as well as the Academy Award for best director for his film debut American Beauty (1999). This success was followed by an array of other highly successful films, alongside theatre productions. In 2000, Mendes received the Alfred Toepfer Foundation’s Shakespeare Prize and was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by the Queen in recognition of his ‘services to drama’. In 2005 his lifetime achievement was awarded by the Directors Guild of Great Britain.
In 2018, he directed The Lehman Trilogy at the National Theatre’s Lyttleton stage, to great critical acclaim. The Lehman Trilogy is an epic play on the dynasty of German-Jewish immigrants building a banking Empire in the USA, adapted by Ben Power from the play by Stefano Massimi. The title role of Chaim (Henry), the eldest and first of the Orthodox Jews to leave Germany, is played by Simon Russell Beale.