One of America's most celebrated independent filmmakers, JOHN SAYLES' most recent film was "Lone Star," a stirring multi-generational drama set in a Texas border town, starring Chris Cooper, Elizabeth Peña, Matthew McConaughey and Kris Kristofferson. The film was one of the best reviewed films of 1996 as well as a commercial success, and Sayles received his second Academy Award nomination (after "Passion Fish") for Best Original Screenplay.
Born in 1950 in Schenectady, New York, Sayles received a B.A. in psychology from Williams College in Massachusetts. Living in a number of different cities, he worked various jobs while pursuing a career as a writer. His first published story, "I-80 Nebraska," won an O. Henry Award. He then wrote a novel, Pride of the Bimbos (1975), followed by Union Dues (1977), which received a National Book Award nomination.
Interested in writing for films, Sayles got his start with Roger Corman's New World Pictures, for whom he wrote "Piranha," "The Lady in Red" and "Battle Beyond the Stars." In 1978, with only $60,000 (money he had earned screenwriting) Sayles directed his first feature, "Return of the Secaucus Seven," the story of a reunion of a group of sixties student activists. The film turned out to be an unexpected success, winning the Best Screenplay Award from the Los Angeles Film Critics.
Sayles' second film was "Lianna," the story of a woman coming to terms with her lesbianism. This was followed by "Baby, It's You," about a star-crossed high school romance between a college-bound girl (Rosanna Arquette) and a working-class boy (Vincent Spano). The satirical "The Brother from Another Planet," follows the experiences of a mute black extra-terrestrial whose ship crash lands in New York City.
His next two projects were stories about which he had long been passionate, "Matewan" and "Eight Men Out." Sayles had written both of these years before he was able to film them because the projects were considered commercially risky. Finally, in 1986, "Matewan," the story of a 1920 miners' strike in West Virginia, went before the cameras. The following year, the movie was a featured entry in the Director's Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival. Sayles also wrote a book about the experience, entitled Thinking in Pictures: The Making of the Movie "Matewan." "Eight Men Out," based on the book by Eliot Asinof which detailed the 1919 baseball World Series scandal, explored the controversy from numerous vantage points, including those of the players, the gamblers and the journalists. It is one of only two scripts (the other being Rosalie Fry's "The Secret of Roan Inish") he has directed based on material from another source.
Sayles' next film, "City of Hope," wove together numerous characters in a story of corruption in a fictional New Jersey town. He scaled down his dramatic canvas for his next picture, the intimate "Passion Fish," about a paralyzed former TV soap star and her live-in nurse. Starring Mary McDonnell and Alfre Woodard, the film earned McDonnell an Oscar nomination for Best Actress and Sayles a nomination for Best Screenplay. Sayles shifted direction again with the Irish folktale "The Secret of Roan Inish," based on a children's book by Rosalie Fry. The story of a young girl who discovers a link between Celtic legends and her family's past, it became one of Sayles' most successful films.
In 1979, Sayles published a collection of his short stories, The Anarchists' Convention, and in 1991 a third novel, Los Gusanos, about Cubans in Miami. In 1981, Sayles wrote and directed a pair of one-act plays, "New Hope for the Dead" and "Turnbuckle," at the Boat Basin Theater in New York. He works frequently in Hollywood as a script doctor, and has written numerous screenplays for other directors including "Alligator," "The Howling," "The Challenge," "Enormous Changes at the Last Minute," "The Clan of the Cave Bear," "Wild Thing," "Breaking In" and "Men of War." On television, he has written "A Perfect Match" and "Unnatural Causes" and created the pilot and series "Shannon's Deal" for NBC. He also directed three Bruce Springsteen videos: "Born in the U.S.A.," "I'm on Fire" and "Glory Days."
Sayles often works as an actor in his films, notably in "The Return of the Secaucus Seven," "Lianna," "The Brother From Another Planet," "Matewan," "Eight Men Out" (as Ring Lardner) and "City of Hope." He has also acted in "Hard Choices, "Something Wild," "Little Vegas," "Malcolm X," "Straight Talk," "Matinee," "My Life's in Turnaround," "Gridlock'd" and TV's "Unnatural Causes" and "Mathnet: The Case of the Unnatural." In 1983, Sayles received the John D. MacArthur Award, given each year to twenty Americans in diverse fields for their innovative work.