Mike Leigh, OBE (born 20 February 1943) is an English writer and director of film and theatre. He studied theatre at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and did his early acting with the Royal Shakespeare Company. He began as a theatre director and playwright in the 1960s, and then in the 1970s, he made the transition to television plays, many of which were characterized by a gritty "kitchen sink realism" style. Some of his well-known films include Life is Sweet (1990), the Gilbert and Sullivan biography Topsy Turvy (1999), and the bleak working-class drama All or Nothing (2002). His most notable works are arguably Naked (1993) for which he won the Best Director award at Cannes, the BAFTA-winning (and Oscar-nominated) Palme d'Or winner Secrets & Lies (1996) and Vera Drake (2004).
Leigh begins projects without a script; instead, he sets out a basic premise, and lets the ideas develop through improvisation by the actors, who explore their character.
Leigh was born in Broughton, Salford, Lancashire, the son of Phyllis Pauline (née Cousin) and Alfred Abraham Leigh, a doctor in an overwhelmingly working-class area of Salford (near Manchester). Leigh was brought up in a Jewish immigrant family (whose surname was originally "Lieberman", but was anglicised before Leigh's birth). Initially trained as an actor at RADA, Leigh went on to start honing his directing skills at East 15 Acting School where he met the actress Alison Steadman.