Mimi Leder cut her creative teeth in television as an Emmy award-winning producer/director before she got the chance to take on big-budget feature films in the late '90s.
Leder was inspired by her father, independent director Paul Leder, to study at the American Film Institute. The first female cinematographer to graduate from the AFI, Leder began her career in TV as a script supervisor. Leder moved to the director's chair with an episode of L.A. Law in 1986, branching out into TV movies with the student nurse drama Nightingales in 1988. Balancing TV features and series, Leder worked on the Emmy-friendly drama series China Beach during the early '90s and directed several telefilms, including two Cybill Shepherd child crime dramas, There Was a Boy (1993) and Baby Brokers (1994).
Leder moved into the 1990s TV pantheon when she began working as a director and co-executive producer on the top-rated, award-winning hospital series ER in 1994. Equally skilled at handling the series' renowned rapid-fire pace and its intense emotional drama, Leder won an Emmy in 1995 for her direction of ER's "Love's Labour's Lost." After several years on the series, Leder's ability as an action director convinced Steven Spielberg to hire her to helm fledgling studio Dreamworks SKG's first theatrical feature, The Peacemaker (1997). Featuring George Clooney, Nicole Kidman, and a big budget, The Peacemaker became a moderate hit, prompting Spielberg to tap Leder for an even larger project, Deep Impact (1998). The summer of 1998's first asteroid blockbuster, Leder distinguished Deep Impact from the later Armageddon (1998) by giving it a more serious, character-driven tone as the central ensemble contemplates the impending doom. Audiences, though, were perhaps more eager to see the climactic wave engulf New York City. Either way, Leder proved she could handle large-scale, effects-driven action; she received the Franklin J. Schaffner Alumni Award from the AFI in 1999. Leder decided to avoid typecasting by going in a different direction with her next feature, the high-minded drama Pay It Forward (2000). Despite the A-list cast of Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and Haley Joel Osment, however, Pay It Forward earned scathing reviews for its blatantly manipulative sentiment and audiences stayed away.
Leder is married to actor/writer Gary Werntz and has one daughter.