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David Mamet

David Alan Mamet


Director, Writer, Screenwriter, Playwright
“I thought quite a bit about the Hitchcock formula of having danger come from a place where it can’t possibly come,” 

In a recent interview regarding his 1998 film, The Spanish Prisoner, Mamet confesses that real-life characters and events may have inspired it, maybe even partially inspired by what he terms the “Hitchcock Formula.”  “I thought quite a bit about the Hitchcock formula of having danger come from a place where it can’t possibly come,” says Mamet. “And having salvation come from the place it can’t possibly come.” 

Mamet classified the film as a “light thriller.”  “The light thriller is much closer to the tradition of comedy. The film of comedy is such that in every scene, the hero makes a misstep and yet is rescued at the end by forces of good, or by God, or by a dues ex mechina. Tragedy is exactly the opposite. At each step, the hero seems to be doing the correct thing, but at the end of the movie ends up consigned to perdition, or death, or disgrace, because of some internal flaw. So film noir is much closer to tragedy and the light or Hitchcockian thriller is much closer to comedy.”

At the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, after the release of his The Spanish Prisoner, he noted on the amount of Mamet knockoffs at the festival:  

‘ Talent borrows, genius robs.’

“It’s all very flattering, but it’s also natural. Someone like me, who’s been writing for a long time, naturally people coming up will look and say that’s a good idea. Just like I would look at the works of Harold Pinter or Sammual Beckett and say that’s a good idea. The old phrase is ‘ Talent borrows, genius robs.’ I don’t mind if somebody wants to write like me. The only thing that disturbs me is if they do it better.” 

Mamet makes few distinctions between working on the stage and the screen; He believes both involve putting the material on its feet and seeing how it plays. With movies, that’s done in the editing room or sometimes on the set. With plays, it’s done during rehearsals. In neither case does he see himself handicapped by being both the writer and the director.  

“There are two stages,” Mamet says, “First I write the best script I can and then I put on my directors hat and say, ‘What am I going to do with this piece of crap?’” 

As an author he is also enjoying great success. In 1997 he published two books, “True and False,” a prickly and exhortatory treatise for young actors about the trials of their chosen profession; and a novel, “The Old Religion,” which purports to trace the thoughts of Leo Frank, the Jewish factory manager in Georgia, who in 1915 was wrongly convicted of and executed for the rape and murder of one of his employees, as he waited out his torment in prison. 

“There was a lot of violence, but the greatest violence was emotional."

Mamet has been involved in two marriages. The first time to Lindsay Crouse who starred in House of Games. They have two daughters together, Willa and Zosia. Now teen-agers, they reside with their mother in California. His second and current marriage is to Rebecca Pidgeon, who has acted in his productions of The Water Engine (1992), Homicide (1991), and The Winslow Boy (1999), as well as the original theatre production of Oleanna. She also composed the music for the film version of Oleanna. She is a well-known singer/songwriter in the pop/folk music world, and that she has even co-written some songs with her husband. They have one daughter, Clara now six. They have houses in Vermont and Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

He has a sister, Lynn Mamet, who also shares her brothers’ passion as a screenwriter, and a half-brother Tony Mamet, who is a musician and actor. 

Mamet’s childhood years were not what one would call normal. His mother, Lenore Mamet, left her husband, a labor lawyer, for one of his colleagues, and the two children (David and Lynn) lived with their mother and stepfather until young David had had enough and moved in with his father. In neither household however, did there seem to be a respite from the burden of trying to please the apparently unappeasable adults.

“Suffice it to say we are not the victims of a happy childhood,” Lynn Mamet said. “There was a lot of violence, but the greatest violence was emotional. It was emotional terrorism. In my estimation we are survivors of a travel route that included a 1950’s version of Dachau and Bergen-Belson, and that we both still bear the numbers on our arms. In that sense, when [Mamet] writes, he wears short sleeves.” 

As close as the two siblings are - “ I would take a bullet for him,” Lynn Mamet professes- their experiences were not the same. Where her brother grew up loving and admiring their real father, Bernard, who died nearly eight years ago, she always hated him. She, on the other hand, has forgiven her stepfather; while her brother has not. 

One last thought on Lynn and David Mamets life, spoken by Lynn Mamet: “In dealing with our demons, we have identified different people as the devil. My response to that is it doesn’t matter who we single out; there was a devil, and as a result we will never run out of stories. The very thing that could have destroyed us and driven us to silence ultimately led us to open our veins on white bond and make a living.”

David Mamet's awards
His awards include the Joseph Jefferson Award, 1974; Obie Award, 1976,1983; New York Drama Critics Circle Award, 1977, 1984; Outer Circle Award, 1978; Society of West End Theatre Award, 1983; Pulitzer Prize, 1984; Dramatists Guild Hall-Warriner Award, 1984; American Academy Award, 1986; Tony Award, 1987. Along with these awards there have been multiple other nominations in the recent years.
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