Neil LaBute

Neil LaBute
Neil LaBute
Born March 19, 1963 (1963-03-19) (age 48)
Detroit, Michigan, United States

Neil N. LaBute[1] (born March 19, 1963) is an American film director, screenwriter and playwright.


Early life

LaBute was born in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Marian, a hospital receptionist, and Richard LaBute, a long-haul truck driver.[2][3] LaBute is of French Canadian, English and Irish ancestry,[3] and was raised in Spokane, Washington. He studied theater at Brigham Young University (BYU), where he joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At BYU he also met actor Aaron Eckhart, who would later play leading roles in several of his films. He produced a number of plays that pushed the envelope of what was acceptable at the conservative religious university, some of which were shut down after their premieres. However, he also was honored as one of the "most promising undergraduate playwrights" at the BYU theater department's annual awards.[4] LaBute also did graduate work at the University of Kansas, New York University, and the Royal Academy of London.


LaBute's exposure to and interest in the film industry came with a viewing of The Soft Skin (La Peau Douce 1964), said the director to Robert K. Elder in an interview for The Film That Changed My Life.[5]

It exposed me, probably in the earliest way, to “Hey, I could do that.” I’ve never been one to love the camera or even to be as drawn to it as I am to the human aspect of it, and I think it was a film that speaks in a very simple way of here’s a way that you can tell a story on film in human terms. It was the kind of film that made me go, “I could do this; I want to tell stories that are like this and told in this way.” And so it was altering for me in that way, in its simplicity or deceptive simplicity.[6]

In 1993, he returned to Brigham Young University to premiere his play In the Company of Men, for which he received an award from the Association for Mormon Letters. He taught drama and film at IPFW in Fort Wayne, Indiana in the early 1990s where he adapted and filmed the play, shot over two weeks and costing $25,000, beginning his career as a film director. The film won the Filmmakers Trophy at the Sundance Film Festival, and major awards and nominations at the Deauville Film Festival, the Independent Spirit Awards, the Thessaloniki Film Festival, the Society of Texas Film Critics Awards and the New York Film Critics Circle.

LaBute has received high praise from critics for his unsettling portrayals of humans.[citation needed] In the Company of Men portrays two misogynist businessmen (one played by Eckhart) cruelly plotting to romance and emotionally destroy a deaf woman. His next film Your Friends & Neighbors (1998), with an ensemble cast including Eckhart and Ben Stiller, was a shockingly honest[citation needed] portrayal of the sex lives of three suburban couples. In 2000 he wrote an off-Broadway play entitled Bash: Latter-Day Plays, a set of three short plays (Iphigenia in orem, A gaggle of saints, and Medea redux) depicting essentially good Latter-day Saints doing disturbing and violent things. One of the plays was a much-talked-about one-person performance by Calista Flockhart.[citation needed] This play resulted in his being disfellowshipped from the LDS Church. He has since formally left the LDS Church.[7]

LaBute's 2002 play The Mercy Seat was one of the first major theatrical responses to the September 11, 2001 attacks.[citation needed] Set on September 12, it concerns a man who worked at the World Trade Center but was away from the office during the attack — with his mistress. Expecting that his family believes that he was killed in the towers' collapse, he contemplates using the tragedy to run away and start a new life with his lover. Starring Liev Schreiber and Sigourney Weaver, the play was a commercial and critical success.[citation needed] While hesitant to term The Mercy Seat "political theater", Labute said, "I refer to this play in the printed introduction as a kind of emotional terrorism that we wage on those we profess to love." He dedicated this edition to David Hare, in response to Hare’s "straightforward, thoughtful, probing work."[8]

LaBute's The Wicker Man, was an American version of a British cult classic. His first horror film, it starred Nicolas Cage and Ellen Burstyn and was released on September 1, 2006 by Warner Bros. Pictures to scathing critical reviews and mediocre box office.[citation needed] It has spawned several memes, mostly concerning Cage's hammy acting and overdone lines.[citation needed]

His next play, reasons to be pretty, played Off-Broadway May 14-July 5, 2008 in a production by MCC Theater at The Lucille Lortel Theatre. LaBute's first ever Broadway production is reasons to be pretty which began previews at the Lyceum Theatre on March 6, 2009 with an opening on April 2, 2009. The play was nominated for three 2009 Tony Awards—including Best Play, Best Leading Actor in a Play (Thomas Sadoski), and Best Featured Actress in a Play (Marin Ireland) -- but did not win in any category. reasons opened to good reviews and continued to pick up fans, but, not enough to sustain its existence on Broadway. The producers ended the run early, with the last performance on June 14, 2009.

Critics have responded to his plays as having a misanthropic tone.[9][10][11] Rob Weinert-Kendt in The Village Voice referred to LaBute as "American theater's reigning misanthrope."[12] The New York Times said that critics labeled him a misanthrope, on the release of his film, Your Friends & Neighbors. The UK's Independent newspaper dubbed him "America's misanthrope par excellence."[13] Citing In the Company of Men and The Shape of Things, critic Daniel Kimmel identified a thread running through his work: "LaBute is a misanthrope who assumes that only callous people who use and abuse others can survive." Critics labeled him a misogynist after his In the Company of Men.[14]

LaBute directed Death at a Funeral, a remake of a 2007 British film of the same name. It was written by Dean Craig (who also wrote the original screenplay) and starred Chris Rock.

LaBute wrote a new Introduction and new scenes for the Chicago Shakespeare Theater production of The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare from April 7 to June 6, 2010. LaBute framed the classic play in overtly metatheatrical terms and added a lesbian romance in a subplot.

LaBute's first produced play, Filthy Talk for Troubled Times (1989)--a series of biting exchanges by two 'everyman' in a bar—is was staged from June 3–5, 2010 by MCC Theater in Manhattan as a benefit for MCC's Playwrights' Coalition and their commitment to developing new work. LaBute also directed the reading.

MCC will be the home to the World Premier of The Break of Noon. It will run from October 28-December 22, 2010. The play starts the 25th season of MCC. The play will then open in Los Angeles at the Geffen Theater, again directed by Bonney, from January 25-March 6, 2011 (Opening night: February 2, 2011). The show stars Tracee Chimo, David Duchovny, John Earl Jelks, and Amanda Peet. The show was directed by Jo Bonney, set design by Neil Patel, costume design by ESosa, lighting design by David Weiner, original music by Justin Ellington, sound design by Darron L.West, special effects by Matthew Holtzclaw, dialect coach Stephen Gabis, wig design by J. Jared Janas & Rob Greene, production manager B.D. White, production stage manager Christina Lowe, general manager Ted Rounsaville, casting by Telsey + Company, and publicity by O&M Co.[15]

The Unimaginable, a new short play by LaBute, will premier as part of the Terror 2010 season at the Southwark Playhouse in London, England from October 12-October 31, 2010.

He will also be partaking in the Bush Theatre's 2011 project Sixty Six Books where he has written a piece based upon a chapter of the King James Bible[16]


LaBute's style is very language-oriented. His work is terse, rhythmic, and highly colloquial. His style bears similarity to one of his favorite playwrights, David Mamet. LaBute even shares some similar themes with Mamet including gender relations, political correctness, and masculinity.[17]


LaBute also provides a guest audio commentary for the DVD release of sex, lies, and videotape, alongside Steven Soderbergh.[citation needed]

Theater productions

The live stage performance rights for most of these plays are licensed by Broadway Play Publishing Inc.


  1. ^
  2. ^ Jordan, Pat (March 29, 2009). "Neil LaBute Has a Thing About Beauty". The New York Times. Retrieved May 20, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b Bigsby, C. W. E. (2007). Neil LaBute: stage and cinema. Cambridge University Press=. pp. 2, 235. ISBN 0521882540. 
  4. ^ People in the arts . The Deseret News. Sunday, May 6, 1984
  5. ^
  6. ^ LaBute, Neil. Interview by Robert K. Elder. The Film That Changed My Life. By Robert K. Elder. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2011. N. p2.48. Print.
  7. ^ Times & Seasons » An Interview with Neil LaBute
  8. ^ Baitz, Jon Robin. "Neil Labute". BOMB Magazine. Spring 2003. Retrieved 22 July 2011.
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ Jailbait Evokes a More Human Neil LaBute, Village Voice April 7, 2009
  13. ^ The Independent, "First Night: Fat Pig, Trafalgar Studios, London: A heart-warming tale from America's master misanthrope" "
  14. ^ "Neil LaBute has a Thing About Beauty," The New York Times, March 25, 2009
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ Sherwin, Adam (March 30, 2011). "'Mad Men' saved from real-life advertising row". The Independent (London). 

External links

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