Academy Award Winning Director, Alexander Payne

July 11th, 2012

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Alexander Payne (born Constantine Alexander Payne; February 10, 1961) is an American film director and screenwriter, known for films like Sideways (2004) and Election (1999). 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 (née Constantine) and George Payne, restaurant owners. He is of Greek descent (his grandfather Anglicized the last name from Papadopoulos). He was the youngest of three sons and grew up in the same neighborhood as billionaire Warren Buffett. Payne attended Creighton Preparatory School high school and later 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). Payne got his MFA in 1990 from the UCLA Film School.

Payne worked in various capacities on films and television before he wrote and directed his first full-length film Citizen Ruth in 1996. His 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. 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. 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. He won both the Academy Award and Golden Globe in 2005 for Best 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. 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 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.

Payne’s films often revolve around adultery in marriage and relationships. He also tends to set 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. He 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.

In 2012, he was named as a member of the Jury for the Main Competition at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.
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.
Feature films


Citizen Ruth (1996)
Election (1999)
About Schmidt (2002)
Sideways (2004)
The Descendants (2011)


Jurassic Park III (2001)
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (early draft only) (2007)


The Assassination of Richard Nixon (2004)
King of California (2007)
The Savages (2007)
Cedar Rapids (2011)
The Descendants (2011)

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 (1991)

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