Neil Labute

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Neil LaBute

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

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 shocking portrayal of the sex lives of three yuppie couples in the big city. 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. This play resulted in his being disfellowshipped from the LDS Church. He has since formally left the LDS Church.[7]

In 2001, LaBute wrote and directed the play The Shape of Things, which premièred in London and starred Paul Rudd and Rachel Weisz. It was turned into a film in 2003 with the same cast and director. Set in a small university town in the American Midwest, it focuses on four young students who become emotionally and romantically involved with each other, questioning the nature of art and the lengths to which people will go for love. In the play and film, Weisz’s character manipulates Rudd’s character into changing everything about himself and discarding his friends in order to become more attractive to her. She even pretends to fall in love with him, prompting an offer of marriage, whereupon she cruelly exposes and humiliates him before an audience, announcing that he has simply been an “art project” for her MFA thesis.

LaBute’s 2002 play The Mercy Seat was one of the first major theatrical responses to the September 11, 2001 attacks. 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. 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]

His next play, reasons to be pretty, played Off-Broadway from May 14 to July 5, 2008, in a production by MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. It went on to Broadway, with previews at the Lyceum Theatre on March 6, 2009, and 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. The production’s last performance was on June 14, 2009. In March 2013, the play was mounted at the San Francisco Playhouse.[9]

Critics have responded to his plays as having a misanthropic tone.[10][11][12] Rob Weinert-Kendt in The Village Voice referred to LaBute as “American theater’s reigning misanthrope”.[13] 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”.[14] Citing In the Company of Men and The Shape of Things, critic Daniel Kimmel identified a thread running through his work: “Neil LaBute is a misanthrope who assumes that only callous and evil people who use and abuse others can survive in this world.” Critics labeled him a misogynist after the release of In the Company of Men.[15]

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 between two “everyman” characters in a bar – 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. Originally when it premiered in New York City at the Westside Dance Project, the entire audience stood up and booed afterward. One audience member cried out, “Kill The Playwright!”

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.[16]

The Unimaginable, a new short play by LaBute, premiered as part of the Terror 2010 season at the Southwark Playhouse in London, UK from October 12 – 31, 2010.

He also took part in the Bush Theatre’s 2011 project Sixty Six Books, for which he wrote a piece based upon a book of the King James Bible[17] In 2012 Labute joined Chicago-based store front theatre company Profiles Theatre as a Resident Artist [18] In 2013, Neil LaBute was named one of the winners of the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Arts and Letters Awards in Literature.[19]


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.[20]



  • Filthy Talk For Troubled Times (1989)
  • In the Company of Men (1992)
  • Bash: Latter-Day Plays (1999)
  • The Shape of Things (2001)
  • The Distance From Here (2002)
  • The Mercy Seat (2002)
  • Autobahn (2003)
  • Fat Pig (2004)
  • This Is How It Goes (2005)
  • Some Girl(s) (2005)
  • Wrecks (2005)
  • In A Dark Dark House (2007)
  • reasons to be pretty (2008)
  • Helter Skelter/Land of the Dead (2008)
  • The Break of Noon (2009)
  • The New Testament (2009)
  • Some White Chick (2009)
  • The Purple Marmoset (2009)
  • The Furies (2009)
  • In a Forest, Dark and Deep (2011)
  • Lovely Head & Other Plays (2013)
  • Reasons to Be Happy (2013)
  • The Way We Get By (2015)




  • In the Company of Men (1997)
  • Your Friends & Neighbors (1998)
  • Tumble (Sundance short-narrated by Neil Labute-2000)
  • Nurse Betty (2000)
  • Bash: Latter-Day Plays (2001) (TV)
  • Possession (2002)
  • The Shape of Things (2003)
  • The Wicker Man (2006)
  • Lakeview Terrace (2008)
  • Death at a Funeral (2010)
  • Sexting (2010) (short)[21]
  • Stars in Shorts (2012)[21]
  • Seconds of Pleasure (pre-production)[22]
  • Some Velvet Morning (2013)
  • Dirty Weekend (2014)




  1. “Neil LaBute Biography (1963-)”. Retrieved 2014-04-07.
  2. Jordan, Pat (March 29, 2009). “Neil LaBute Has a Thing About Beauty”. The New York Times. Retrieved May 20, 2010.
  3. Bigsby, C. W. E. (2007). Neil LaBute: stage and cinema. Cambridge University Press=. pp. 2, 235. ISBN 0-521-88254-0.
  4. People in the arts . The Deseret News. Sunday, May 6, 1984
  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 (Spring 2003). “Neil Labute”. Bomb. Retrieved July 22, 2011.
  9. Hurwitt, Robert (March 31, 2013). “‘Reasons to be Pretty’ review: Growing up”. San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  13. Jailbait Evokes a More Human Neil LaBute, Village Voice April 7, 2009
  14. The Independent, “First Night: Fat Pig, Trafalgar Studios, London: A heart-warming tale from America’s master misanthrope” “
  15. “Neil LaBute has a Thing About Beauty”, The New York Times, March 25, 2009
  20. Griffin, Alice (n.d.). “Neil LaBute”. Retrieved 2013-12-12.
  21. Vasquez, Dorothy Burk (October 18, 2012). “‘Stars in Shorts’ Makes Short Films Attractive to Viewers Worldwide”. PopMatters.
  22. Sherwin, Adam (March 30, 2011). “‘Mad Men’ saved from real-life advertising row”. The Independent (London).

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