As a director, Payne has always considered his personal work a contribution to the art form. He has consistently been dedicated to contributing the quality of work his audiences expect. This goes back to his earliest film, 1984’s Citizen Ruth, which was produced on a very low budget, and a second time, with even less, during the prolific period of 1997-2001. He continues to deliver masterpieces that examine and explore both the human condition and the events of our day. This universal message is best articulated in his most recent film, The Big Short, which was produced on a meager budget and starred Christian Bale.
To make a movie about ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances, by doing so, he depicts reality in all its variety and complexity. Through the examination of life’s frailty, Payne shows that there is always hope, even in the face of certain death. In contrast to some other directors’ tendency to oversell the comic potential of their material, Payne has a genius for finding the story and character beats that will deliver a powerful punch while always maintaining enough momentum to sustain a well-made drama.
When asked by Entertainment Weekly to comment on how he achieves that balance, he replied, “Millions of people are going to see the movie, and they’ll see these people for themselves”. Alexander Payne has been a keynote speaker for the Cannes Film Festival and is frequently invited to the Academy Awards.
Affectionately known as “The Professor,” Payne and his wife, Lorenza, have been together for 30 years. During the first quarter of 2018, Alexander Payne joined Steven Spielberg, Drew Barrymore, Steven Spielberg, and David Edelstein in a roundtable discussion on the art and business of making movies. Nebraska is a blend of drama, comedy, and family drama, which tells the story of Cliff Booth (George Clooney), a working-class father, and Lou Bloom (Bryan Cranston), a fading politician running for the U.S. Senate.
Born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, Payne has been an advocate of using filmmaking to tell more human stories. In the mid-’90s, Payne made his feature film directorial debut with the drama/comedy-drama Sideways, starring Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church. Payne won the Best Original Screenplay award at the Sundance Film Festival for the film, as well as an Academy Award for Best Director.