Alexander Payne

Alexander Payne

Birth name: Constantine Alexander Payne
Born: February 10, 1961
Age: 60
Birthplace: Omaha, Nebraska, U.S.
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Alexander Payne (/peɪn/; born Constantine Alexander Payne; February 10, 1961) is an American film director, screenwriter, and producer, known for the films Election (1999), About Schmidt (2002), Sideways (2004), The Descendants (2011), and Nebraska (2013). His films are noted for their dark humor and satirical depictions of contemporary American society. Payne is a two-time winner of the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, and a three-time nominee of the Academy Award for Best Director.

Payne was born in Omaha, Nebraska, the son of Peggy (née Constantine) and George Payne, restaurant owners.[1][2][3] Payne is the youngest of three sons[4] and grew up in what is now known as the Dundee-Happy Hollow Historic District, the same neighborhood as billionaire Warren Buffett.

His father is of Greek and German descent, and his mother is of Greek ancestry.[5][6] His paternal grandfather, Nicholas "Nick" Payne, anglicized the last name from Papadopoulos.[7] His family comes from three areas in Greece: the island of Syros, Livadia, and Aegio.[8]

Payne's family was part of the fabric of Omaha, which he references as part of his upbringing.[9][10] His grandfather was a founder of The Virginia Cafe, with Payne's father taking over the restaurant. Payne went there regularly as a child. The restaurant was destroyed in a fire in 1969; the W. Dale Clark Library is now located on the site.[9]

Payne's paternal grandmother, Clara Payne (née Hoffman), was from a German Nebraska family from Lincoln, Nebraska.[10]

In Omaha, Payne attended Brownell-Talbot School, Dundee Elementary School, and Lewis and Clark Junior High. He graduated from Creighton Prep for high school in 1979.[11] At Prep, Payne wrote a humor column for his high school newspaper and was the editor of the high school yearbook.[12]

Payne then attended Stanford University, where he double majored in Spanish and history.[7] As a part of his Spanish degree, he studied at Spain's University of Salamanca. He later lived a few months in Medellin, Colombia, where he published an article about social changes between 1900 and 1930.[13] Payne received his MFA in 1990 from the UCLA Film School.



In the 1960s, Payne's father received a Super 8mm projector from Kraft Foods as a loyalty reward,[3][14] and eventually passed it on to his son when Alexander was about 14 years old.[12][15][16]

A short time after getting his MFA from UCLA Film School—and after his successful thesis film, The Passion of Martin had attracted industry attention—Payne got a writing/directing deal with Universal Pictures. The ensuing screenplay, which was turned down, would ultimately become About Schmidt.[7] He says that he cleared about $60,000, which was enough to fund his simple lifestyle at the time for about five years.[6]

Payne has said he sees his talent as being one of learned economy, referring to the essay written by Tennessee Williams on The Catastrophe of Success.[16]

Citizen Ruth (1996)

Payne worked in various capacities on films and television before he co-wrote and directed his first full-length film, Citizen Ruth (1996).

Election (1999)

His second film, Election, starring Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon, which takes aim at politics and education in America, attracted attention when New Yorker film critic David Denby named it the best film of 1999. Payne was nominated for an Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay for Election.

About Schmidt (2002)

In 2003 he received a Golden Globe for his screenplay for About Schmidt, which was also nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. To the surprise of many who kept track of Hollywood news,[17][18] Payne and his writing partner Jim Taylor were not nominated for an Oscar for the About Schmidt screenplay.

Sideways (2004)

He won both the Academy Award and Golden Globe in 2005 for Best Adapted Screenplay for Sideways, while the film also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy. In total, Sideways received five Academy Award nominations.

The Descendants (2011)

Payne returned to directing in 2011 after a seven-year hiatus with the film The Descendants, starring George Clooney. He also co-wrote the screenplay, winning the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Nebraska (2013)

Payne's Nebraska, starred veteran character actor Bruce Dern and SNL comedian Will Forte.[19] It was released on November 15, 2013.[20]

Downsizing (2017)

Payne has said that during his seven-year hiatus between Sideways (2004) and The Descendants (2011), he, along with working partner Jim Taylor, were developing the satire Downsizing, which Payne has described as "a large canvas, science-fiction social satire" and "an epic masterpiece." The film, about an impoverished married couple who decide the way ahead lies in shrinking themselves, was to star Paul Giamatti and Reese Witherspoon, but was superseded by The Descendants and Nebraska.[21][22] In March 2016, Witherspoon was replaced by Kristen Wiig and Giamatti by Matt Damon.[23] Hong Chau, Christoph Waltz, Udo Kier, Neil Patrick Harris, and Jason Sudeikis also starred.[24] Paramount Pictures released the film on December 22, 2017.[25][26] It has received mixed reviews, with many critics describing it as the weakest film of Payne's career.[27]

Additional work

Payne executive produced the short film RUN FAST. Anna Musso, his long-time assistant and protege, wrote and directed the film, which shot in March 2014. The project was partially funded by a Kickstarter campaign.[28]

In 2000, he did an uncredited polish-up of the screenplay for the comedy hit Meet the Parents. In 2001, Payne wrote a draft of Jurassic Park III.

Payne served as an executive producer on the films King of California and The Savages. He also teamed up once again with writing partner Jim Taylor to write a draft of the screenplay for the film I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, a comedy directed by Dennis Dugan, and starring Adam Sandler and Kevin James. Payne disliked the final product, stating that Adam Sandler rewrote so much of the story that almost all of what Payne and Taylor wrote was gone.

Payne was also executive producer of the acclaimed 2014 film Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter directed by David Zellner.


Payne's films often revolve around middle-aged or older men who reach a breaking point in their lives, enter into transformative existential crises, and then emerge in the end as changed people, for better or worse. Some unexpected life experience forces the central male figure to "crack" and see the world in a new and surprising way. This theme appears in Election, About Schmidt, Sideways, The Descendants, and to a lesser extent in Nebraska, via the son, one of two main characters. His movies also tend to involve infidelity, road trips or travel, tragedy, despair, disappointment, and crises of masculinity. He has set many of his films in Omaha, which happens to be his home town. His films sometimes include scenes of historical landmarks, black and white photographs, and museums, and he often uses amateur actors for minor roles.[7][29] His films tend to have a strong connection to a physical environment, for instance California wine country or midwestern plains or Hawaii, and have a gentle and sedated pace to them, often aided by ambient or atmospheric music. Nearly all of his films are dramas that nonetheless incorporate significant comedic elements and portray characters that are vulnerable and flawed but also likable.

Payne is on the short list of directors who have final cut rights for their films.[30]

In 2005, he became a member of the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Directors Branch).


Main article: List of awards and nominations received by Alexander Payne

In 2012, he was named as a member of the Jury for the Main Competition at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.[31] His 2013 film Nebraska was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.[32] With his Academy Award nomination for Nebraska in 2014, Payne has been nominated seven times, winning the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay twice.

In 2014, The Location Managers Guild of America honored Alexander with their inaugural Eva Monley Award for his masterful use of location as another character.

Personal life

Payne married Korean-Canadian actress Sandra Oh on January 1, 2003, after dating her for three years, and directing her in Sideways. On March 12, 2005, a publicist announced their separation. The divorce was officially finalized on December 22, 2006,[33] although the former couple took more than two years to settle their finances.[34][35][36] In 2015, Payne married Maria Kontos, a Greek philologist he met while visiting the Aigio region of Greece where some of his ancestors originated.[37] He became a father for the first time at the age of 56 in 2017.[38]

Payne is on the Board of Directors of an Omaha non-profit film theater, Film Streams.[7] He maintains a passion for preservation. In recent years, he helped preserve a historic film theater in Scottsbluff, Nebraska.[39]

Payne was co-owner (along with friend Ann Beeder) of King Fong (now permanently closed), a Chinese restaurant in Omaha.[40]

Payne is a long-time supporter[41] of the Nebraska Coast Connection, a social networking organization that meets monthly in Culver City, CA. In November 2013, he held a special screening of Nebraska for the group's members at the Sherry Lansing Theatre on the Paramount Studio's lot.[42]


Feature films

Year Film Credited as Notes
Director Writer Producer
1996 Citizen Ruth Yes Yes
1999 Election Yes Yes Independent Spirit Award for Best Director
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (with Jim Taylor)
2001 Jurassic Park III Yes
2002 About Schmidt Yes Yes Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Director - Motion Picture
2004 The Assassination of Richard Nixon Yes
Sideways Yes Yes Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (with Jim Taylor)
Gotham Award for Best Feature
Independent Spirit Award for Best Director
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Director
Nominated — Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Director
Nominated — Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing - Feature Film
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Director - Motion Picture
2007 I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry Yes Early draft only
Nominated — Razzie Award for Worst Screenplay (with Barry Fanaro and Jim Taylor)
King of California Yes
The Savages Yes
2011 Cedar Rapids Yes
The Descendants Yes Yes Yes Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (with Nat Faxon and Jim Rash)
Nominated — AACTA International Award for Best Film
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Director
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Picture (with Jim Burke and Jim Taylor)
Nominated — BAFTA Award for Best Film
Nominated — Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Director
Nominated — Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing - Feature Film
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Director - Motion Picture
Nominated — Gotham Award for Best Feature
Nominated — Independent Spirit Award for Best Director
Nominated — Producers Guild of America Award for Best Theatrical Motion Picture
2013 Nebraska Yes LMGA Eva Monley Award
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Director
Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Best Director — Motion Picture
Nominated — Independent Spirit Award for Best Director
2017 Wilson Yes
Downsizing Yes Yes Yes
Crash Pad Yes Executive producer

Short films

  • Carmen (1985)
  • Paris, je t'aime (segment 14th arrondissement) Also appeared as Oscar Wilde in the segment entitled "Père-Lachaise"

Student films

  • The Passion of Martin (1990)


Levinson, Julie, ed. Alexander Payne Interviews. University Press of Mississippi, 2014.

  • Payne, Alexander, and James Zemaitis. The Coffee Table Coffee Table Book. London: Black Dog Pub, 2003. ISBN 978-190-103304-5[43]
  • Payne, Alexander, and Jim Taylor. The Sideways Guide to Wine and Life. New York: Newmarket, 2005. Illustrated by Rex Pickett. ISBN 978-155-704686-4

[ Source: Wikipedia ]

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