Drawing on the outsider view that, as he once asserted, arose from his New Zealand roots, Andrew Niccol established his reputation as a writer/director with a gift for exploring techno-paranoia and isolation in Gattaca (1997) and The Truman Show (1998).
Born and raised in New Zealand, Niccol learned the filmmaking craft as a TV commercial director in Great Britain. After making ads for ten years, Niccol decided to relocate to Hollywood in order to make movies that "lasted longer than 60 seconds." Though he wrote the screenplay for The Truman Show before Gattaca, it was the latter film that became Niccol's Hollywood debut as a writer as well as director. A sleek tale of the near future and the troubling reach of science, Gattaca pitted imperfect, naturally birthed, wannabe astronaut Ethan Hawke against a system that favored the genetically engineered perfection aptly embodied by Uma Thurman and Jude Law. Though critics and the Academy admired Gattaca's visual craft and intelligence, American audiences were less than taken with its measured tone and philosophical bent; Niccol's freshman effort was better received in Europe.
Niccol's screenplay for The Truman Show, however, became an unalloyed success. Co-produced by Niccol, directed by fellow down under talent Peter Weir, and famously featuring Jim Carrey in his first "straight" starring role, The Truman Show's vision of a TV-made man who is the unwitting star of a life manufactured for perpetual broadcast was lauded by the critics for its smart satire of contemporary media culture. After becoming the rare summer blockbuster that also had a brain, The Truman Show earned three Oscar nominations, including Best Original Screenplay for Niccol. After this one-two punch, Niccol was set to direct and produce his screenplay Simone (2000).
Another take on The Truman Show's fascination with media-made "reality" and fantasy, Simone starred Al Pacino as a desperate Hollywood filmmaker who gets more than he bargained for when his digitally created eponymous bombshell becomes a celebrity sensation. After sitting on the shelf for two years, Simone was finally released in August 2002 to mixed reviews that either damned it as a leaden, obvious satire that let Pacino chew too much of the fabulous-looking scenery, or praised it as a savvy indictment of contemporary star culture. Regardless of the few positive notices, Simone languished at the late summer box office.