×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Alexander Payne on ‘The Descendants’

Eye on the Oscars: The Director - Alexander Payne

Alexander Payne wasn’t sure he was the man to make “The Descendants.” At the time the novel came into his office, he was busy writing another project called “Downsizing” and found it difficult to “dislodge” from it. But after that script proved tough to finance, Payne says, “I sat down anew with the book, reading it and re-reading it to see if I could climb inside.”

“It was a big job,” Payne says. “One thing was the emotional story of a fellow 50-year-old, but was I also ready to take on this documentary project, of presenting Honolulu and that class of people correctly? It’s a unique social cultural fabric and I was daunted by it. And I felt a pitchfork constantly behind my back to get it right.”

But “The Descendants” afforded Payne the opportunity to employ one of his favorite storytelling devices: first-person narration. “I like voiceover; I like literature and film,” says Payne, referencing a slew of classic examples from the history of cinema, including Billy Wilder, Terrence Malick and Stanley Kubrick. “I think it’s one of the greatest contributions to film.”

“The Descendants” also may be considered far less cynical than Payne’s earlier social satires, such as “Citizen Ruth” and “Election.” One wonders, at middle age, is Payne going soft?

“I do what the story requires,” he responds. “This one is not ‘Election.’ It’s made by the same guy, with the same light touch.”

Indeed, the film still includes Payne’s familiar tonal mix of dark humor and sensitive humanism — which requires a lot of work to get right. “It’s all about refining,” says Payne, who recalls they were in post for a year on “Election.” “The Descendants” took no fewer than nine months to edit.

“Getting the music right took a long time,” Payne says. “It was an interesting challenge that the editor and I had put to ourselves: Can we score this movie entirely with Hawaiian music, and can it be used appropriately to support comedy or support pathos or a weird combination of both? It was a lot of trial and error.”

EYE ON THE OSCARS: THE DIRECTOR
Helmers hot to globe trot
Woody Allen | Stephen Daldry | David Fincher | Michel Hazanavicius | Terrence Malick | Bennett Miller | Alexander Payne | Jason Reitman | Martin Scorsese | Steven Spielberg
In the Mix

More Scene

  • Margot Robbie, Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron.

    Charlize Theron Could Win Second Oscar for Playing Megyn Kelly in 'Bombshell'

    Charlize Theron walked on stage before a screening of “Bombshell” at West Hollywood’s Pacific Design Center on Sunday night and announced to the crowd, “I’m about to s— myself.” The Oscar winner had good reason to be nervous. The screening of the Jay Roach-directed drama about the fall of Fox News boss Roger Ailes was [...]

  • Charlize Theron speaks at the GEANCO

    Charlize Theron Talks 'White Privilege,' Growing Up During Apartheid in South Africa

    Charlize Theron, during an onstage discussion with her “Gringo” costar David Oyelowo about philanthropy at Thursday’s annual fundraiser for Nigerian children’s educational and health program GEANCO, said she was a beneficiary of “white privilege” while growing up in Apartheid-torn South Africa. “I obviously am a white person who benefited from my white privilege,” Theron said [...]

  • Lyliana Wray, Sam Ashe Arnold, Miya

    ‘Are You Afraid of the Dark’ Revival Team on Living Up to the Series’ Legacy

    The 2019 revival of “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” centers around the Carnival of Doom, a place that star Jeremy Ray Taylor (“It Chapter Two”) describes as “beautiful on the outside, but…in the middle of it, there are definitely dark secrets. Variety caught up with the young star during a carnival-themed celebration at Row DTLA [...]

  • Charlize Theron'The Addams Family' film premiere,

    Charlize Theron Speaks Immigration, Diversity in ‘The Addams Family’

    They’re creepy, they’re kooky, and they’re an allegory for immigration in America.  Charlize Theron discussed the changing face of the nuclear family and her animated film, “The Addams Family,” with Variety at the movie’s recent premiere at the Century City Mall in Los Angeles. “When you think of [the Addams] being around since the sixties, [...]

  • Emma Stone attends the Los Angeles

    Emma Stone Talks 'Cruella' Transformation, New 'Zombieland' Sequel

    Despite inevitable comparisons to Glenn Close’s iconic turn as Cruella de Vil in 1996’s “101 Dalmatians,” Emma Stone teased that her take on the infamous villain in the upcoming “Cruella” movie will be very distinctive. “It comes long before her story,” Stone told Variety at the premiere of “Zombieland: Double Tap” at the Regency Village [...]

  • Gwyneth Paltrow arrives at the 2019

    Gwyneth Paltrow Honored at amfAR Gala

    Gwyneth Paltrow received one of this year’s courage awards at amfAR’s annual gala on Thursday night in Los Angeles. Paltrow’s longtime friends Dan Bucatinsky and Don Roos presented her with the award. “I didn’t prepare anything because I don’t think I really believe in thank you speeches, but I did want to thank amfAR for this,” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content