Though he earned his place atop the Hollywood food chain directing mainstream comedies with teenybopper Lindsay Lohan in the leads, director Mark S. Waters started his career with "House of Yes" (1997), a dark comedy about incest and obsession. While a movie that pokes fun at incest might not be the surest path to fame and glory, "House of Yes" did earn Waters plenty of critical kudos and recognition at film festivals, particularly Sundance, where star Parker Posey won the 1997 Best Acting Award. Waters soon learned, however, that art and commerce stand in stark opposition, existing outside and sometimes despite each other, a realization that led him to make standard Hollywood fare before dipping his t back into darker waters.
Born in South Bend, Indiana, Waters grew up in a lower-middle class home that split when his parents divorced. He later attended the University of Pennsylvania as a pre-med, but drifted into avant-garde theater midway through. After graduating in 1986, he went to San Francisco to act and direct theater. He gradually drifted away from acting to focus on directing, first off-Broadway productions, then Super8 films (his dark side was evident in one short about a woman who ignores her husband performing aut rotic asphyxiation because of a chocolate addiction.) Then on a whim, he joined the directing program at the American Film Institute and began learning his craft alongside Darren Aronofsky, Scott Silver and Todd Field. He graduated with his master's degree in 1994.
Two years after leaving AFI, Waters began filming "House of Yes," an adaptation of an obscure play by Wendy MacLeod. At first, MacLeod was wary of his proposal to turn her dark comedy into a film-a string of lackluster productions in New York and London cast doubt in the playwright's mind. But Waters gave the nervous writer final script approval along with a little option money. She agreed and Waters began making his film. Focusing on the temperamental daughter (Posey) of a dysfunctional family obsessed with Kennedy's assassination-right down to wearing Jackie's pink suit and pillbox hat-the film plunged headfirst into the topic of incest while retaining its irreverent and often hilarious humor. Miramax reportedly paid $2 million for the distribution rights, but predictably-at least to Waters and MacLeod-the film failed to capture the interest of middle-class suburbia. It did well in New York and San Francisco, however, but it wasn't enough to cover the costs incurred by Miramax.
Waters had grand ambitions for his next feature, "Head Over Heels" (2001), a romantic comedy starring Monica Potter and the once-ubiquitous Freddie Prinze, Jr. But as soon as shooting began, Waters and producer Robert Simonds began warring with each other over what kind of film they were making. Neither backed down, forcing onto the public a movie both hated. Added to the mix was releasing the movie after a string of Prinze flops, resulting in a poorly reviewed movie that flopped at the box office. Meanwhile, Waters was dumped by studios and production companies on directing projects he had in development, quickly finding himself in what he called "movie jail." Waters did, however, revive his sagging career by directing "Warning: Parental Advisory" (VH-1, 2002), a comedic drama that focused on the sincere, but misguided government crusade to label vulgar music videos and albums.
The director's fortunes turned for the better with his next film, "Freaky Friday" (2003), a remake of the 1976 film about a mother and daughter who mysteriously switch bodies, forcing each to walk a mile in the others' sh s. Initially, Waters was unenthusiastic about the project, to say the least, and went into meetings with a fatalistic attitude. After pointing out myriad problems with the script, he told the producers why they shouldn't hire him. To his surprise, they were thrilled with his take on the material and hired him. Starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan, "Freaky Friday" become one of those rare remakes that matched-if not exceeded-the quality of the original. It also grossed $110 million in domestic box office. Waters finally had a hit.
With the confidence a successful film inevitably brings, Waters went into his next film, "Mean Girls" (2004), with more enthusiasm. Based on the parental self-help book Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman-an odd choice for an adaptation-"Mean Girls" focused on a naïve teenager (Lohan again) who transfers to a school in a small town outside Chicago after growing up in Africa. Though taken in by the school's rich girl clique, she's scorned by their leader (Rachel McAdams) after going on a date with her former boyfriend (Jonathan Bennett). Written with Tina Fey ("Saturday Night Live"), who came up with the idea of adapting Wiseman's book, "Mean Girls"-once dubbed "Heathers" with a heart-was lauded by critics for its scathing commentary on high school cliques and female backstabbing. The movie also became Waters' second box office hit, taking in over $85 million.
For his next project, Waters left the world of teenage girls behind with his next movie, "Just Like Heaven" (2005), a supernatural romantic comedy about a romance between a man (Mark Ruffalo) whose sublet apartment has an uninvited occupant (Reese Witherspoon) who may be a ghost. While the film was light on comedy, Waters delivered an acceptably involving romance, aided and abetted by the charismatic charms of his stars and supporting players.
In 2000 Waters married actress Dina Spybey, who changed her professional name to reflect their union. The two collaborated on several projects, including the telepic "Warning: Parental Advisory" (VH1, 2002) and the features "Freaky Friday" (2003) and "Just Like Heaven" (2005), in which the actress delivered one of her best performances as Reece Witherspoon's conflicted suburban housewife sister.
Director (Feature Film)
Writer (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Special Thanks (Feature Film)
Directorial debut, "The House of Yes" starring Freddie Prinze Jr. and Parker Posey; also adapted the screenplay
First foray into TV with "Warning: Parental Advisory" (VH1) starring Jason Priestly and Mariel Hemingway; about the 1985 Senatorial hearings on indecency in music
Second directorial attempt, "Head Over Heels," again starring Freddie Prinze Jr.
Returned to the big screen to direct the remake of Disney's "Freaky Friday" starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan
Re-teamed with Lindsay Lohan for the comedy "Mean Girls"; scripted by SNL alumni Tina Fey (also co-starred)
Directed the romantic comedy "Just Like Heaven" starring Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo
Helmed the fantasy film, "The Spiderwick Chronicles" based on the series of children's books by Holly Black
Directed the romantic comedy, "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past"
Produced the romantic comedy, "500 Days of Summer"
Directed Jim Carrey in the live-action comedy, "Mr. Popper's Penguins"