'Descendants' director talks career, next film
Alexander Payne, right, poses with "The Descendants" star George Clooney.
March 15th, 2012
03:43 PM ET

'Descendants' director talks career, next film

Alexander Payne's "The Descendants" was one of the most-talked about films of the past awards season, and it indeed led to accolades for the director.

Adapted from the book of the same name, "The Descendants," now available on DVD and Blu-ray, was nominated for a total of five Academy Awards and won for best adapted screenplay, which Payne co-wrote with Nat Faxon and Jim Rash.

Starring George Clooney as Matt King, "The Descendants" follows the  self-described "backup parent" after his wife's boating accident near their Hawaiian home leaves her in a coma.

King becomes primary caregiver to his 10-year-old daughter for the first time since she was 3, and when he learns his wife's condition will not improve and she will die, Matt collects his other daughter from boarding school so they can say goodbye and grieve as a family.

A descendant of Hawaiian royalty, Matt simultaneously hammers out a sensitive real estate deal involving the family's inherited land while dealing with guilt over having been a distant dad and husband.

We talked to Payne about adapting the film, his career and the fact that he's so good-looking.

CNN: What were some of your early jobs in film and television?

Alexander Payne: I was in film school until I was almost 30. When I got out of film school I got a writing/directing deal from Universal. I wrote the first draft of what became, 10 years later, "About Schmidt." And then I just kind of flopped around until "Citizen Ruth," which was about four or five years after film school.

CNN: Most of your films have been about Nebraska - until "The Descendants." Why Hawaii?

Alexander Payne: Mostly because I liked the book. And I like to travel. And I like sort of combining narrative with documentary and capturing a documentary sense of place in my films. When I think about doing a movie I think about what's the story, and where does it take place.

CNN: Is it true that George Clooney was considered for a part in "Sideways" but lost out because he was "too famous"?

Alexander Payne: Yes, that's part of the reason I didn't want to cast him in "Sideways." But also, Thomas Haden Church was uniquely suited to that part. There's only one Thomas Haden Church. And that part was uniquely suited to him. I considered George Clooney among many actors for that part, and the reason I didn't think he was right was because I didn’t believe the most famous and handsome movie star in the world was a washed-up TV actor. I didn't want that to be the joke of the film.

CNN: You can be seen making an omelet in the DVD extras. Are you a good cook?

Alexander Payne: That would be for others to say, but I do enjoy cooking. So you watched those awf-, those DVD extras? What did you think? You don’t think all those extras destroy the illusion of the film? I think you have to be careful with them, that they don't destroy the illusion of the film. I don’t do commentaries, for example. The only reason those extras exist is because a friend of mine shot it. None of that crap has existed on my previous films.

CNN: You co-wrote both "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" and "Jurassic Park III." They don't seem like "Alexander Payne" movies. How did those jobs come about?

Alexander Payne: They were writing jobs for Jim Taylor and me. In fact, our first foray into that was an uncredited rewrite on "Meet The Parents." And then "Jurassic Park III" came from the same studio because we had done such a good job on "Meet The Parents."

And to tell you the truth, who knows what other writers had passed before they came to us because they needed help with the characters. The problem with that script at the time was not with the dinosaurs, but the humans. And they thought we did good character work.

"Chuck and Larry" - we wrote that in four weeks way before Adam Sandler ever got involved. We were quite proud of the draft we did. We did it for then-director David Dobkin, who had just done "Wedding Crashers." Then Sandler came in and changed everything.

CNN: What can you tell us about the next film?

Alexander Payne: I'm trying to cast a movie tentatively called "Nebraska." It's a father-son road trip from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska. I'm having a little trouble finding actors I find appropriate for it. There are a couple parts in it that are very, very hard to cast, because the characters, as suggested by the screenplay, are very specific people. But that's what I'm trying to do. And chipping away on a few other projects.

CNN: You made one of the most popular election films ever ("Election"). Any thoughts about the upcoming presidential election?

Alexander Payne: Obama's gonna win it.

CNN: Anything I'm not asking that you'd like me to ask?

Alexander Payne: How is it that you're so devastatingly handsome?

CNN: And how is it that you're so devastatingly handsome?

Alexander Payne: I don't know. Shucks. Cut it out. Knock it off.

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Filed under: George Clooney • movies • Oscars 2012

soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. Steffi

    I think they let the oldsters out so they can go to the 4pm senior special at Country Buffett.

    March 15, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Cow

    Woooooo – those 2 old codgers look miiighty oooold. Why aren't they in a nursing home? I bet they were let out one of those day passes. Hope they don't wet their depends.

    March 15, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  3. nbafan

    boooorrrrrriinnng! make more batman clooney!

    March 15, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |

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