×
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

  • Nicole KidmanWarner Bros. Pictures World Premiere

    How James Wan Convinced Nicole Kidman to Star in 'Aquaman'

    While some actors dream of playing a superhero, that wasn’t the case for the cast of “Aquaman.” “I knew nothing about this,” Amber Heard, who plays Mera in the James Wan-directed action film, told Variety at the movie’s Los Angeles premiere. “I knew nothing about comic books in general. I didn’t know anything about this [...]

  • Hugh Jackman'To Kill a Mockingbird' Broadway

    'To Kill a Mockingbird's' Starry Opening: Oprah, Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and More

    The Shubert Theatre in New York City last was filled on Thursday night with Oscar winners, media titans, and, of course, Broadway legends who came out for the opening of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The starry guest list included Oprah Winfrey, Barry Diller, “Les Misérables” co-stars Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Gayle King, [...]

  • Clint Eastwood and Alison Eastwood'The Mule'

    Clint Eastwood: Why Alison Eastwood Came Out of Acting Retirement for Her Dad

    Clint Eastwood’s daughter Alison Eastwood was done with acting after appearing in 2014’s “Finding Harmony.” Or so she thought. It was a Friday night and she and her husband were heading to dinner when her father’s producer Sam Moore called. “He [says], ‘You know, your dad wants you to do this film,” Alison recalls. “I [...]

  • John CenaSports Illustrated Sportsperson of the

    John Cena on WWE's Acceptance by Hollywood and the Professional Sports World

    John Cena says the WWE is finally getting the attention it deserves by Hollywood and the professional sports world. “I’m just glad that no longer are we looked down upon, not only by the sport industry, but by the performing arts industry,” Cena told Variety on Tuesday night in Beverly Hills at Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of [...]

  • Steve Carell Welcome to Marwen

    Steve Carell on New Film 'Welcome to Marwen' and Reprising His 'Anchorman' Character

    In 2000, Mark Hogancamp was nearly beaten to death by five men outside of a bar. Left with brain damage and little money to afford therapy, Hogancamp began creating miniature doll versions of himself, his friends, and his attackers as a way to cope. This true story inspired the 2010 documentary “Marwencol” and the upcoming [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content