Alexander Payne

Filmmaker Alexander Payne is responsible for such critically acclaimed films as Sideways (2004), The Descendants (2011) and Nebraska (2013).


Born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1961, director and screenwriter Alexander Payne studied filmmaking at the University of California, Los Angeles. Not long after graduating in 1991, he made his first feature film, Citizen Ruth (1996). Payne then looked at high school politics in Election (1999). Three years later, he returned to the big screen with About Schmidt, starring Jack Nicholson. More critically acclaimed films soon followed, including Sideways (2004), The Descendants (2011) and Nebraska (2013).

Early Life and Career

Born on February 10, 1961, in Omaha, Nebraska, filmmaker Alexander Payne is known for such critically acclaimed film as Sideways (2004), The Descendants (2011) and Nebraska (2013). His mother was a college professor and his father ran a restaurant. While his parents hoped he would join a respected field, such as law or medicine, Payne graduated from Stanford University with degrees in history and Spanish literature.

After university, Payne attend the University of California, Los Angeles' prestigious film school. From the very beginning, he aspired to become a director. Payne created The Passion of Martin for his thesis at UCLA and graduated with his M.F.A. degree in 1990. The following year, his film was shown at the Sundance Film Festival, where earned raves.

Rising Film Talent

For his first feature film, Payne sought out the comedy in controversy. He explored issues related to abortion in Citizen Ruth (1996) with Laura Dern as the film's star. In addition to directing the movie, Payne also wrote the screenplay with Jim Taylor.

Changing direction, Payne turned his satirical eye to politics in Election (1999), an adaptation of a novel by Tom Perrotta. Reese Witherspoon stars an overachieving Omaha high school student out to win class office, and Matthew Broderick is one of the school teachers in this critically acclaimed comedy. Again working with Jim Taylor on the script, Payne and his co-writer picked up an Academy Award nomination for their screenplay.

Payne also received mostly positive reviews for his examination of aging in About Schmidt (2002). In the movie, Jack Nicholson stars as a Nebraskan actuary coping with retirement. He is soon faced with the death of his wife, played by June Squibb, and he must find his way on his own. The film is adapted from the Louis Begley novel of the same name.

Award-Winning Filmmaker

Stepping away from his usual Midwestern setting, Payne picked up his first Academy Award for his California wine country comedy Sideways (2004). He and frequent writing partner Jim Taylor won best adapted screenplay for translating Rex Pickett's novel for the big screen. Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church star as a pair of friends who go on a transformative road trip together.

Seven years lapsed between Sideways and Payne's next project The Descendants (2011). During this time, Payne's marriage to actress Sandra Oh ended and contributed a segment to Paris, Je T'Aime (2006). He also worked in television, serving as an executive producer for the series Hung starring Thomas Jane. Payne directed the show's pilot as well.

The Descendants stars George Clooney as a Hawaiian lawyer who finds himself facing the impending death of his comatose wife while trying to cope with learning about her infidelity. The film earned great accolades from critics and added another Academy Award for adapted screenplay to Payne's mantle.

Continuing to excel as a filmmaker, Payne returned to his home state for the family dramatic comedy Nebraska (2013), in turn helping Bruce Dern give one of the best performances of his career. Dern plays Woody Grant, an elderly man who believes that he has won $1 million from a sweepstakes mailing. Woody takes his youngest son, played by actor/comedian Will Forte, on a trip to go collect his winnings while Woody's wife (June Squibb) tries to get him to snap back in reality. Both Payne, his cast and the film itself received Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations.

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