As an actor, his stint at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, MN, where he played a bit part in "Guys and Dolls", led to the chorus of "Les Miserables" and 18 months on the road and on Broadway. Not caring to spend the rest of his days waiting for callbacks, he decided to pursue directing and rose rapidly from the fringe-theater world of folding chairs and do-it-yourself sets to the promised land of Broadway.
Elliott's critical breakthrough came with his Off-Broadway production of Mike Leigh's "Ecstacy" (1995), which he followed quickly with Stephen Bill's "Curtains" (Off-Broadway, 1996) and Arthur Miller's "The Ride Down Mount Morgan" (Williamstown Theatre Festival, 1996). He made his Broadway debut with a critically lauded, revisionist revival of Noel Coward's "Present Laughter" (1996), starring Frank Langella. Later that same season, he guided Lili Taylor, Amy Irving and Jeanne Tripplehorn in a production of Chekhov's "Three Sisters" (1997) at the Roundabout Theatre that met with a mixed critical reception. The former film major has been courted by Hollywood and has been mentioned to direct the film version of Jane Hamilton's novel "A Map of the World".
Unafraid to work with actors others regard as difficult (i.e., Frank Langella and F Murray Abraham) and fearless enough to tell a legend like Arthur Miller that his play needed work, Elliott has established his signature--seamless ensemble work, close attention to visual detail, and an affinity for a character's baser instincts. His innate sense of what makes characters tick, particularly their sexuality, allowed him to coax actress Michael Learned into a revealing hot pink bathing suit for the Miller play and create a sensation at Playwright's Horizon by having actor Tim Olyphant lie naked on a bed, legs spread and exposed in the most vulnerable way imaginable. Elliott's subtle work with actors, coupled with his visual sense, may bode well for a career in Hollywood. He segued to the big screen at the helm of "A Map of the World" (1999), an adaptation of Jane Hamilton's novel about the after effects of a tragedy on the families involved.