Alexander Payne

Alexander Payne Biography

Alexander Payne (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.

Early life

Payne was born in Omaha, Nebraska, the son of Peggy (ne Constantine) and George Payne, restaurant owners. Payne is the youngest of three sons 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. His paternal grandfather, Nicholas "Nick" Payne, anglicized the last name from Papadopoulos. His family comes from three areas in Greece: the island of Syros, Livadia, and Aegio.

Payne's family was part of the fabric of Omaha, which he references as part of his upbringing. His grandfather was one of the original owners who founded The Virginia Cafe, with Payne's father taking over the restaurant. Payne grew up going there regularly as a child. The Virginia Cafe was a well-known Omaha restaurant that was noteworthy for its connection to historic events in Nebraska at the time: the 1935 streetcar strike, significant sales of Liberty Bonds during the Second World War, and its place"?from WWII through Vietnam"?for "last meals"? to soldiers en route to basic training. It was also open 24-hours a day, which was not common at the time. The Virginia was destroyed in a fire in 1969"?the W. Dale Clark Library is located at its former site.

Payne's paternal grandmother, Clara Payne (ne Hoffman), was from a German Nebraska family from Lincoln, Nebraska.

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. At Prep, Payne wrote a humor column for his high school newspaper and was the editor of the high school yearbook.

Payne then attended Stanford University, where he double majored in Spanish and History. As a part of his Spanish degree, he studied at the University of Salamanca (Spain) and later he lived a few months in Medellin (Colombia) where he published an article about the development and the social changes between 1900 and 1930. Payne got his MFA in 1990 from the UCLA Film School.


Payne's journey into filmmaking "began in the 1960s when his father, owner of The Virginia Restaurant in downtown Omaha, received an 8mm projector from Kraft Foods as a bonus for being a good customer." Payne said that when he was about 14 years old he got a used Super 8mm film camera.

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. He said, "I could write anything I wanted and if they want it I would direct it. I was paid for that $125,000 of which because of taxes, agent and lawyer, you keep about half. So, that was about $60,000 which I lived on for five years because I never changed my lifestyle from that of a student. And then I did a couple of film jobs and also, during film school, I worked as a catering waiter."

Payne sees his talent as being one of learned economy. He refers to the essay written by Tennessee Williams on The Catastrophe of Success.

Citizen Ruth (1996)

Payne worked in various capacities on films and television before he 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, 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 adapted screenplay.

Nebraska (2013)

Payne's most recent project, entitled Nebraska, starred veteran character actor Bruce Dern and SNL comedian Will Forte. It was released on November 15, 2013.


Payne's next project is Wilson, an adaptation of the Daniel Clowes' graphic novel slated to shoot in San Francisco next fall.

Additional work

Payne will next executive produce the short film RUN FAST. Anna Musso, his long-time assistant and protege, will direct from her own screenplay. The film will shoot in March 2014. The project recently launched a kickstarter campaign to raise financing, and rewards include an Alexander Payne autographed poster, autographed DVD of your choice, or lunch with Mr. Payne.

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 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's films often revolve around adultery in marriage and relationships. He has set many of his films in Omaha. He has scenes of historical landmarks and museums in his films, and tends to use non-actors for minor roles (real cops play cops, real teachers play teachers, etc.). He frequently incorporates telephone monologues as a dramatic device. He also tends to cast actor Phil Reeves in his films.

Inspired by silent comedies, Payne uses realism in his films. "Sentimentality is a dirty word to me." He strives for adult commercial American film inspired by 1970s cinema "where acting style more approximates real life and is relatively free of contrivance and device."

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

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

His writing partner is Jim Taylor. Payne describes the writing set-up, saying "they always worked in the same room -- 'Dick van Dyke style' -- usually with one monitor and two keyboards, but sometimes with two monitors and two keyboards that are connected and make it look 'like we're playing Battleship.'"


In 2012 he was named as a member of the Jury for the Main Competition at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. His 2013 film Nebraska was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. With the "Nebraska"? Academy Awards nomination in 2014, Payne has been nominated for the 6th time.

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, although the former couple took more than two years to settle their finances.

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

Payne, along with childhood friend Ann Beeder, bought downtown Chinese restaurant, King Fong. King Fong was known for its inlaid pearl tables, and had a secret speak easy upstairs and Chinese dcor.


Feature films

Year Film Credited as Notes
Director Writer Producer
1996 Citizen Ruth
1999 Election Independent Spirit Award for Best Director
Nominated "? Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (with Jim Taylor)
2001 Jurassic Park III
2002 About Schmidt Nominated "? Golden Globe Award for Best Director - Motion Picture
2004 The Assassination of Richard Nixon
2004 Sideways 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 and Larry Early draft only
2007 King of California
2007 The Savages
2011 Cedar Rapids
2011 The Descendants Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (with Nat Faxon and Jim Rash)
Nominated "? AACTA International Award for Best Film
Nominated "? Academy Award for Best Picture (with Jim Burke and Jim Taylor)
Nominated "? Academy Award for Best Director
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 Pending "? Academy Award for Best Director
Pending "? Independent Spirit Award for Best Director
Nominated "? Golden Globe Award for Best Director - Motion Picture

Short films

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

Student films

  • The Passion of Martin (1990)


  • Payne, Alexander, and James Zemaitis. The Coffee Table Coffee Table Book. London: Black Dog Pub, 2003. ISBN 978-190-103304-5
  • 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

This webpage uses material from the Wikipedia article "Alexander_Payne" and is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Reality TV World is not responsible for any errors or omissions the Wikipedia article may contain.



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