Alexander Payne

About Schmidt

Interviewed by Alec Cawthorne

Alexander Payne is perhaps best known for writing and directing the 1999 Reese Witherspoon comedy "Election". It's been a quiet couple of years since then, but his latest project "About Schmidt" looks set to secure him a place on the Hollywood A-List.

One critic describes this film as a "merciless portrayal of the ordinary". Do you agree?

I don't know. It may be painful but I think it's funny.

Was Jack Nicholson your first choice for Schmidt?

Yeah, Jack was my first choice. Sure. Why not? He's a good actor. A very good actor. Actually Jack came with the package. They sent me the book and Jack had already read the book on which the movie was a little bit based. I knew he'd be the first actor to read the script once it was finished. I had no assurances he'd accept the part but he did.

How did the rest of the cast come on board?

Many months passed between Jack's acquiescence and when I began casting. I just met a lot of actors, thought about who'd be good and cast them.

What was the biggest challenge for you in making this movie?

What is filmmaking but groping in the dark?! It's hard to say I set out to make a particular type of film. You begin a film more with questions than with direct intentions. It's more of an exploration and discovery.

Was any of the film improvised?

No, we pretty closely followed the script. Maybe a word here and there thrown in but we stuck pretty much to the script. I co-wrote the script so I like the dialogue recited pretty much as written. You know, when in doubt just recite the dialogue!