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nebraskaIn conversation with Alexander Payne.

To promote his new film, NEBRASKA, Academy Award winning, writer/director, Alexander Payne, stopped by Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox to speak about his career and to introduce his latest film to an eager and appreciative audience. Payne was more than enthusiastic to discuss all topics, including script, actors and his process. While most of the conversation and audience Q&A would revolve around his previous films, Payne made sure to bring the conversation back to NEBRASKA whenever he could. (You can read Black Sheep’s glowing review of NEBRASKA right here.)

NEBRASKA is Payne’s sixth feature film and his first to be shot in black and white. Payne knew he wanted to make the film in black and white the first time he read the script, but Paramount, the studio making the film, was not so hot on the idea. When asked if he would have been willing to shoot in colour, Payne replied, “No, I thought ‘to hell with it; we’ll revisit this in a few years.’ I didn’t want to make it in colour.” But why black and white in the first place and why now, Payne was asked. His response: “I didn’t want more time to elapse in my life without having made a black and white film. I felt it was time, and this was the story for it. I didn’t know when I would have in my midst a story which lent itself so perfectly to black and white, which would also be a cheapie. It had all the elements. In my mind, it was crying out for it. Black and white is king.”


In addition to veteran actor, Bruce Dern, the film also starts “SNL” alum, Will Forte. Forte had never really acted in a drama before, which caused one audience member to ask Payne when Forte came to mind. Payne said, “I believed in him. I never would of thought of him in a million years, but he put himself on tape for an audition and I liked in that audition tape perhaps what you liked in the film. His believability, simplicity, sincerity, sweetness, damage. He just felt like someone I’d bump into walking around Omaha. Like someone I went to high school with.”

Payne, being such a great comedic writer, has some very funny and interesting anecdotal lines during the conversation. Here are a few of the real gems …

In response to showing NEBRASKA to his mother: “She asked, ‘why can’t you make more films like ELECTION?’”

On his use of a different production designer than he used on his previous films: “I thought it would be fun to sleep around a little bit.”

When asked about the scene in THE DESCENDANTS where George Clooney’s character Matt yells at his comatose wife: “First of all, it’s stolen from LAST TANGO IN PARIS.”


“You’d be surprise how many actors don’t have their damn dialogue memorized. It bugs the shit out of me. It’s not like they’re making pizzas and have a paper route AND acting!”

Payne’s response to being asked why so many of his films feature characters running: “Yes, it’s a fetish. My perverse sexual satisfaction.”

It is easy to see that Payne is a brilliant director who has no problem joking about his films and his process. He is modest, and will acknowledge an audience member who makes a point about one of his films that he has never thought of himself. Though, with his latest film, Payne really has nothing to be modest about. NEBRASKA is a beautiful film, and easily one of the best released this year. But then again, as the director said himself, “They’re just movies”

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