Oscar-winning director, and cricket fanatic, Sam Mendes recalls how he missed “the greatest cricket match ever played” as he had to leave England’s 2019 World Cup final win over New Zealand early.
Mendes, director of 1917, American Beauty and James Bond movies Skyfall and Spectre, among others, joined England’s victorious captain that day, Eoin Morgan, and Michael Atherton and Rob Key on a very special edition of the Sky Cricket ‘lockdown’ podcast.
Listen in the player below or by downloading: iTunes | Spotify | Spreaker
With England’s remarkable Super Over win as the backdrop to the discussion, Morgan and Mendes also trade stories on their leadership roles in their respective professions, their difficult beginnings in the job and the biggest influences on their careers.
Mendes didn’t want reminding of his experience of that day at Lord’s though, saying: “Just where the game got interesting, the point at which Ben Stokes came out to bat the first time, I had to leave!
“My wife, a very fine classical trumpeter, was running the Cheltenham Music Festival and had asked me earlier in the year to do an interview in Cheltenham Town Hall about music in film.
“She said, ‘what about the Sunday?’ I was shooting 1917 at the time, so it had to be a weekend but, then about the weekend before, this horrible realisation dawned on me that it was the same day as the final.
“The chances of [England] getting to the final and winning it were fairly high, but the chances of it being the greatest cricket match ever played in history were about a million to one.
“Making me feel slightly better was, in the next box along, Tim Rice also had to leave at exactly the same time as he had to go to the premiere of The Lion King at Leicester Square with his grandchildren.
“I paraphrase here, but I think he said to me ‘I’ve never hated my grandchildren more’.”
England would go on to lift the trophy after a thrilling Super Over finish, and Morgan talks on the podcast about just how he managed to stay so calm under pressure and the role the Black Caps played in starting England’s white-ball turnaround four years prior.
Morgan recalls that group-stage exit at the 2015 World Cup, having taken over as captain only a month prior to the tournament, while Mendes too recounts a disastrous start to his first gig as a director on American Beauty.
Listen in the player above, or by downloading here – you can also listen at this link – and read on for more fascinating insight from the pair.
Morgan: “My experience was fast-forwarded because of that  World Cup. It was a baptism of fire and a massive eye-opener.
“I went away from what I would normally do; I normally take in information, culminate my own decision, am very clear in the direction I want to go, and then try to empower guys around me.
“During that World Cup, I was trying to please different people because I wasn’t comfortable in the role and confident in the decisions I was making.
“The humiliation of that World Cup, the extreme nature of it meant that we never wanted to go back to that place and fail in our own way.
“You then map out a plan of what is our way, and how we’re going to get there.”
Menders: “It has taken me a long time to get comfortable [as a director].
“The first three days of American Beauty were pretty disastrous but, in a weird way, I was lucky that it was all very clearly wrong. On the first day, I forgot to say cut.
“That was a very steep learning curve for me.
“In a way, you could argue, like Eoin was saying, the basis of building a successful team was feeling what it was to fail – and failing in its most extreme form sometimes clarifies things.”
Morgan: “The first thing that I tried to build was that level of trust that wasn’t there in the past.
“The level of risk you’re asking guys to take, particularly batsmen; you’re asking them to be vulnerable, fail more often than not and yet continue to buy into our way of thinking in order to win a World Cup.
“You treat it like you would do any relationship. You tell people where you’re going, what you’re doing, you do exactly what you say and you’re honest. That’s where the trust starts from.
“It completely breaks down if you ask someone to bowl at the death, when you’ve told them they’re going to get the new ball and bowl in the middle overs, Or if you drop a player within three games when they’ve done exactly what you’ve asked them to, just the performance or result wasn’t there.
“Building that trust over a long period of time has proven extremely beneficial. It’s about building an environment where players feel comfortable enough to express themselves.”
Mendes: “The big difference between sport and film or theatre, or anything I do, is the psychological difference of sportsmen being right on the edge. We get a second chance; we get to go again if we mess up.
“The collaboration is all about making everybody feel – particularly the actors – that they own it, that they’re not fulfilling some figment of my imagination, that their character is theirs.
“One of the few things I say is, ‘there is not right or wrong, there is only interesting and less interesting’. You can’t make a mistake, but there might be something I think you could do better.
“You’re trying to take out the negatives, and that allows people to take risks. Make them feel like they own the role and then they’ll begin to feel like they have a greater understanding of the character than yours or anyone else’s.”
Morgan: “Brendon McCullum is somebody I’m very tight with and have learnt a huge amount from. I’d say him and Andrew Strauss.
“Baz inspired me a lot. Particularly in that 2015 World Cup. New Zealand always seem to manage to punch above their weight – since 2007, they’ve reached every semi-final of a World Cup.
“That is a huge feat! They’re getting the most out of what they have, a population of about four and a half million and in a country where rugby dominates.
“Having played under Straussy too, there are attributes I try to take from him, one in particular.
“I used to find myself thinking ‘how does he manage to land his message every time he speaks?’ The skill of being able to articulate well and have something land is actually in the listening.
“Not a lot of leaders do it – they just go out and talk about where they’re going, but don’t actually listen to a lot of feedback – but Straussy was absolutely brilliant at it.
“That’s something I’ve learnt. You don’t always have to talk just because it’s the morning of a game or because you’re ‘the leader’. Bring people up around you and, certainly, I think we’ve done that, with leaders like Joe Root, Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Jonny Bairstow, Jason Roy.
“There’s a number of guys who I’d be comfortable handing over the reins to at different stages.”
Mendes: “As a director, one of the strange and difficult things is, you don’t get to see other directors work.
“As the theatre director Peter Brooks says, ‘the only way you become a director is to call yourself one and then just persuade everyone that is in fact the case. I don’t have a diploma that says, ‘I’m a professional director’, It’s just an act of will.
“As Eoin just said, so much of it is about listening to other people. It took me a long time as a young director to learn when to shut up. I think its nerves more than anything else; you’re so eager to impress and give off the sense that you know what you’re doing.
“Any captain can say to a batsman, ‘I want you to go and score a century’. That’s not captaincy, not leadership. That would be the equivalent of saying to an actor, ‘I want you to be frightening, to move me, to be really funny in this scene’.
“That’s not directing. You begin to work out how to indirectly steer people.”
Morgan: “Virat Kohli in the field when he’s captaining, he’s up and down like a Yo-Yo, I don’t know how he doesn’t cry halfway through. It’s crazy!
“I can’t operate like that. I can’t make decisions if I’m screaming or shouting and living every ball on the edge.
“I actually found that out when I was a very young player. Playing against Essex at Lord’s in a Championship game, I was 96 not out, having not yet scored a hundred for Middlesex. Danish Kaneria was bowling, and I thought it was a great idea to run down the wicket and try to hit him over the Pavilion for six.
“I missed the ball by about a foot, was stumped and ushered off by all the Essex fielders. I lost my rag, was screaming and shouting all the way through the Long Room, up the stairs and into the changing room.
“John Emburey, who was the coach at the time, gave me the all-time spray of my life. I thought I was going to get sacked.
“It simply doesn’t work for me. Being emotional about decisions makes me make erratic calls.”
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