Though his primary profession is as a renowned playwright, the versatile and prolific Tom Stoppard has also carved out a distinguished secondary career as a screenwriter.
Born in Czechoslovakia, Tom Straussler and his family moved to Singapore in 1939 and then to India in 1941 to escape World War II's Axis powers. After his father was killed in Singapore, his mother married a British officer, and the renamed Stoppard family moved to England in 1946. Stoppard began his writing career at age 17, and worked as a journalist from 1954 to 1960. During the early '60s, Stoppard shifted to drama criticism and then fiction plays for TV, radio, and the stage. His 1966 play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead turned Stoppard into a theater sensation when it opened in London in 1967. Complex, philosophical, and hilarious, Stoppard's retelling of Hamlet from the point of view of two minor characters wittily upended the Shakespeare text with a strong dose of Samuel Beckett-style existentialism.
In the subsequent decades, Stoppard wrote numerous plays remarkable for their wordplay, intelligence, humor, and erudition, whether he was dealing with absurdist farce (Travesties ), modern love (The Real Thing ), international politics (Every Good Boy Deserves Favor ), or sex and science (Arcadia ). Along with his original plays, Stoppard also translated a number of theatrical works by other European writers, including Vaclav Havel and Arthur Schnitzler. Though he once described his screenplays as more craft than art, Stoppard's literate film adaptations of various works by major authors have matched him with some of the most esteemed directors in international cinema, beginning with Joseph Losey's The Romantic Englishwoman in 1975.
Displaying his protean talents, Stoppard adapted Vladimir Nabokov for Rainer Werner Fassbinder's English language black comedy Despair (1978), Graham Greene's spy novel The Human Factor (1979) for Otto Preminger, J.G. Ballard's World War II story Empire of the Sun (1987) for Steven Spielberg, and E.L. Doctorow's gangster saga Billy Bathgate for Robert Benton. Making a foray into the art of original screenplays, Stoppard's collaboration on Terry Gilliam's outrageous, darkly comic science fiction-fantasy Brazil (1985) earned the Tony Award-winning playwright his first Oscar nomination for screenwriting. Stoppard notched another "first" when he agreed to step behind the camera as director in order to secure financing for the 1990 film adaptation of his own Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Featuring rising British actors Gary Oldman and Tim Roth in the title roles, Rosencrantz earned Stoppard the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. Humorous reinterpretations of Shakespeare (as well as original screenplays) proved to be auspicious for Stoppard once again, when the costume comedy Shakespeare In Love (1998), about a blocked Will Shakespeare and his Juliet-esque inspiration, earned Stoppard and Marc Norman the Best Original Screenplay Oscar. Stoppard has been married twice and has four children.