Worked With:

Michael Sheen

John Madden Biography


Home > Actors > M > Madden, John > Biography


Birth Name: John Madden
Born: 04/08/1949
Birth Place: Portsmouth, England, GB


Born April 8, 1949 in the coastal town of Portsmouth in Hampshire, England, Madden began his education at Clifton College, an independent school in Bristol. One of his classmates was his friend and fellow filmmaker Roger Michell of "Notting Hill" (1999) fame. After graduation from the University of Cambridge in 1970, he traveled to the United States to develop radio dramas for Earplay, a National Public Radio project. The anthology series featured adaptations of established material, including all three "Star Wars" films, as well as original works by leading playwrights Edward Albee, David Mamet and Arthur Kopit. Madden won the Prix Italia - the leading world radio broadcasting award - for his adaptation of Kopit's "Wings." He eventually directed the drama for stage at the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, CT in 1976, before the production traveled to Broadway and London. A string of successful stints as a stage director soon followed, including Jules Feiffer's "Grown Ups" and Christopher Durang's "Beyond Therapy" (1982). During this fruitful period, Madden also taught in the acting and playwriting programs at Yale University.

In 1982, Madden returned to England to direct television, where he specialized in adaptations of theatrical works and historical dramas, though projects like "Wings" (PBS, 1983), "Grown-Ups" (Showtime, 1985) and "The Return of Sherlock Holmes, Series I" (PBS, 1987) were seen on other side of the Atlantic. Madden returned to helming episodes of PBS' acclaimed "Masterpiece Theatre," including "A Wreath of Roses" (1989), while also directing five of 10 parts of the U.K. series "After the War" (1990). After directing "The Infernal Serpent" episode of "Inspector Morse, Series IV" for "Mystery!" (PSB, 1991), he returned to 1880s Victorian England with "The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes: The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax" (1992). Meanwhile, Madden made his feature film debut with "Ethan Frome" (1993), an adaptation of the Edith Wharton novel about a young woman (Patricia Arquette) who drives a wedge between a husband (Liam Neeson) and his sickly wife (Joan Allen). Though not a box office success, it proved Madden's talents could be easily translated to the big screen.

Madden went on to direct his second feature, "Golden Gate" (1994), which starred Matt Dillon as a 1950s federal agent who becomes involved with a Chinese woman (Joan Chen) whose father he put in jail. Back on television, Madden made more notable small screen productions, most notably several episodes of "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" (ITV, 1984-1994), with Jeremy Brett as the Baker Street sleuth, and "Prime Suspect 4: The Lost Child" (ITV, 1995), which earned star Helen Mirren an Emmy Award for Best Actress. He won a BAFTA Award for his TV movie, "Truth or Dare" (BBC, 1996), which focused on a young lawyer (Helen Baxendale) drawn into sadistic head games by a trio of college friends led by a seductive psychopath (John Hannah). He followed up with his first feature hit, "Mrs. Brown" (1997), a moving period drama about the relationship between Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) and her servant, the Scotsman John Brown (Billy Connolly). Produced by the BBC and originally intended for broadcast on BBC One, the film was acquired by Miramax and released on the big screen, turning the film into a surprise global hit with Oscar nominations and Golden Globe wins for Dench.

The following year, Madden hit his stride with "Shakespeare in Love" (1998), an imaginative comedy-drama about a young William Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) struggling to write "Romeo and Juliet" and his muse (Gwyneth Paltrow), a young woman who disguises herself as a man in order to act on the Elizabethan stage. A deft combination of comedy and romance that featured one strong performance after another, from Fiennes and Paltrow to Geoffrey Rush and Oscar-winner Judi Dench as Queen Elizabeth, "Shakespeare in Love" nonetheless shocked just about everyone at the Academy Awards, where it was accused of stealing the Best Picture Oscar from Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan" (1998). Still, it was one of the biggest hits on both sides of the pond and remained one of Madden's finest efforts. He followed up by replacing director Roger Mitchell, who suffered a heart attack during pre-production on "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" (2001), a World War II-era drama about an Italian translator (Nicolas Cage) who finds himself on the Greek-occupied island of Cephallonia where he falls in love with the daughter (Penelope Cruz) of the island's physician (John Hurt). Despite the talent in front of and behind the camera, the film failed to connect with critics and audiences alike.

Over the course of the next decade, Madden's subsequent projects resulted in the same reaction as "Captain Corelli's Mandolin." He directed Paltrow - who reprised her 2002 stage role - in "Proof" (2005), which was based on David Auburn's Pulitzer Prize-winning play and had the benefit of Anthony Hopkins in a leading role. But the film, a character drama about the daughter (Paltrow) of a famed mathematician (Hopkins) who fights to prove that a historically significant theorem is her work and not that of her father, was largely ignored upon release. He followed that with "Killshot" (2009), a crime thriller based on Elmore Leonard's 1989 novel that went into development with Madden attached as director way back in 1997. Cameras finally rolled in 2005 with Mickey Rourke starring as a hitman pursuing a suburban couple (Diane Lane and Thomas Jane) that has seen him at work. Unfortunately, the film did poorly in test screenings, with many stating that the plot was too confusing, and led to another three years of revisions before limping to a straight-to-DVD release.

Madden returned to form with his next film, "The Debt" (2011), a remake of a 2007 Israeli spy thriller about a retired Mossad agent (Helen Mirren) who is forced by one of her old partners (CiarĂ¡n Hinds) to hunt down a Nazi war criminal she had pursued over 30 years ago. Co-starring Tom Wilkinson and Jessica Chastain as Mirren's younger self, "The Debt" was slated for a late 2010 release by Miramax in order to be considered for Oscar season, only to be delayed until the following year due to non-related business dealing of their parent company, Disney. Still, "The Debt" was praised by critics for its cerebral take on a well-worn genre, giving Madden a much-needed boost after three consecutive debacles. He continued the trend of earning acclaim for his next film, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (2012), a warmhearted comedy-drama about a group of British retirees who pool their resources to spend their twilight years at the exotic Marigold Hotel in India, only to discover it's not as advertised. Featuring a cast that included Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy, the film was praised for substance, wit and uplifting tone.

By Shawn Dwyer