6 Things to Know About Director Sidney Lumet

Sidney Lumet and Julia Roberts in 2005
Sidney Lumet and Julia Roberts in 2005
 Courtesty of TriStar Pictures

Director Sidney Lumet, who passed away from lymphoma at the age of 86 on Saturday, left behind a storied Hollywood career, one that lasted more than 50 years.

Lumet, known for helming films like Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico and Network, received five Oscar and seven DGA nominations for his work, receiving an honorary Academy Award in 2005 for his “services to screenwriters, performers and the art of motion pictures.” The New York native was also known to capture memorable performances from his actors.

Here are six things you didn’t know about the American filmmaker:

1. Lumet received an Oscar nomination for directing his first feature film: In 1957, Lumet made his feature-directing debut with the film, 12 Angry Men, about a dissenting juror in a murder trial who convinces the others that the case isn’t as clear-cut as it seems, and received his first Oscar nomination for best director. Up to that point, the then 33-year-old director had only worked on off-Broadway productions and helmed episodic television, like Danger, You Are There and Omnibus, just to name a few.

12 Angry Men would be a benchmark in Lumet’s career, leading him to receive Academy Award nominations for best director — though never winning — for 1975’s Dog Day Afternoon, 1976’s Network and 1982’s The Verdict. Though he directed 1981’s Prince of City, he was nominated for an Oscar for penning the screenplay with Jay Presson Allen.

2. The filmmaker let Phillip Seymour Hoffman choose his role in 2007’s Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead: In an interview prior to the release of his last film which revolved around two brothers, played by Hoffman and Ethan Hawke, Lumet revealed that he let Hoffman pick who he wanted to play. “I sent the script to Phil, he said, ‘Which part do you want me to play?’ I said, you pick. He laughed — but really, I meant it. I told him he could play either brother,” Lumet said at the time. The crime drama received critical raves and was selected as one of the year’s 10 most influential American films by the American Film Institute at the AFI Awards.

3. He is the quintessential actor’s director: In an interview earlier this year, Ali MacGraw, who starred in Lumet’s 1980 feature Just Tell Me What You Want, called him “every actor’s dream.” “I thought, ‘Oh my god, I’m so lucky to be able to work with this level of expertise,’ ” she reminisced, saying later, “Sidney and Jay [Presson Allen] knew exactly what they were going for. ... And so what I had was instant, instant trust. So anything either of them asked me to do, I did — and that’s a luxury. I mean, it doesn’t happen very often that you say, just tell me where to jump and how high.”

4. Filmmaking is a family business: Daughter Jenny Lumet is following in her father’s footsteps. She wrote the critically acclaimed 2008 family drama, Rachel Getting Married, which earned star Anne Hathaway an Oscar nomination. Jenny Lumet’s screenplay won her the New York Film Critics Circle Award, the Toronto Film Critics Association Award and the Washington, D.C. Area Film Critics Association Award. Jenny Lumet had a leading role in Sidney’s film Q&A, a 1990 crime film that also starred Nick Nolte and Timothy Hutton.

5. The director foresaw more international voices in the future of film: While Lumet may be known for making gritty New York films, like 1964's The Pawnbroker, that isn’t exactly how he views the next wave of filmmakers. “We were shooting out in Astoria, and one day I was watching all these kids standing outside a school near the studio,” Lumet said in an interview. “It was just marvelous: Indian girls in saris, kids from Pakistan, Korea, kids from all over. So I think you’ll see more directors from these communities, telling their stories. You know, I started out making films about Jews and Italians and Irish because I didn’t know anything else.”

6. Lumet penned a memoir about his life in the movies: Making Movies, published in 1996, is a key tool for an insider’s account of the pivotal elements of filmmaking.

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