Combining intriguing moral and ethical metaphors with dark portraits of the underside of American life, writer and director Neil Labute became one of the most controversial new filmmakers to emerge in the 1990s, offering a perspective that was intelligent and possessing a brutally clear focus.
Neil Labute was born in Detroit, MI, on March 19, 1963. When Labute was a child, his family moved to Spokane, WA, and during his high school days in the Pacific Northwest he developed a keen interest in both writing and theater. After graduating from high school, Labute received a scholarship from Brigham Young University, a college in Provo, UT, which was founded and is still overseen by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known to many as the Mormons. Labute received a degree in Theater and Film at B.Y.U., and converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints while a student. Labute went on to graduate work at the University of Kansas and New York University, and participated in a writing workshop at London's Royal Court Theatre, as well as attending the Sundance Institute's Playwright's Lab at N.Y.U. Labute first began writing and staging original plays while studying at Brigham Young, and in 1993 he returned to B.Y.U. to premier his drama In the Company of Men, a startling and controversial tale of two businessmen who conspire to emotionally destroy a receptionist at their firm. In 1997, Labute decided to adapt In the Company of Men for the screen, and on a budget of only 25,000 dollars, shot the film in two weeks in and around Fort Wayne, IN, with a friend from his college days, Aaron Eckhart, who played Chad, one of the businessmen. In the Company of Men was accepted at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival, and to Labute's surprise, it won the Filmmaker's Trophy as Best Dramatic Feature; the film was picked up for national distribution, and went on to gross 2.9 million dollars.
Following the success with In the Company of Men, Labute next wrote and directed Your Friends & Neighbors, an examination of the sexual and emotional failings and frailties of three couples; it was also based on one of Labute's earlier plays, entitled Lepers. Shot on a relatively lavish five-million-dollar budget, Your Friends & Neighbors, while not as widely acclaimed as In the Company of Men, received solid reviews and confirmed his status as an exciting new talent in filmmaking. Labute was also one of several new filmmakers chronicled in the documentary Independent's Day. In 2000, Labute refocused his attentions to the stage with Bash: Latterday Plays, a collection of three short plays (which, like his two films, was adapted from a previous Labute stage production entitled Bash: A Gaggle of Saints). Bash, starring Calista Flockhart and Paul Rudd, proved to be a hot ticket in its New York off-Broadway run, and a performance of the play was taped for later broadcast on the Showtime premium cable network. That same year, Labute released his third feature film, which was also his first film which he did not write -- Nurse Betty, a dark but sweet comedy about a slightly touched woman chasing her dreams after the murder of her husband, while being followed by the gunmen who did in her spouse. Nurse Betty proved Labute could work with a lighter touch, and became a respectable box-office success. Labute's next project, Possession (2002), was another departure for him, in that it focused mainly on romance and elements of period drama. After that, he returned to the themes of his earlier films, writing and directing The Shape of Things (2003), which he had originated as a play in London.
In perhaps his most substantial departure to date, Labute confounded fans and critics by taking a stab at the horror genre by serving as writer and director of the 2006 remake, The Wicker Man. Though many of Labute's previous efforts could well have been considered horror films in the sense that they portrayed man as the ultimate emotional monster, The Wicker Man marked the first time the director had entered the genre proper and, considering the longstanding cult-status of the original, expectations among genre enthusiasts were fairly high for the dramatic frightener.
When not busy with his work, Labute lives with his wife and two children in Fort Wayne, IN.