CANNES, France — Writer-director Alexander Payne has been nominated for three screenplay
In a word: "relief."
"Writing is wonderful, I've mined some things out of myself, but I'm interested in the art of directing," Payne said here this week, ahead of the festival premiere of "Nebraska," his latest movie. "What I've written has been out of desperation, to have something to direct."
The impressive "Nebraska," starring
"Nebraska," beautifully shot in expressive widescreen black and white by
Nelson, a first-time screenwriter, has family roots in Nebraska, and the story resonated with Payne, himself a native of the state.
"Bob is a writer from Snohomish, Wash. — which I like to say because Bob & Ray used to say it — but his parents were from a small town in Nebraska," Payne related over lunch in a quiet hotel dining room, with
"In the intervening years, my parents have aged, we've all been aging," said Payne, 52. "As a son with two older parents, I was able to draw on some of my own experience. I've lived a lot of the elements in the film — not literally, but the emotions."
(Payne said he did some uncredited work on the script. "In a way, it's the same process of adapting a book," he said. "You get to have dialogue with the author.")
To play the film's obsessive, always difficult father Woody Grant, Payne chose 76-year-old Dern, who is often cast in darker roles. "I like how he looks," the director said. "He could convey both orneriness and sweetness, as well as a certain childlike quality that could come with old age."
A more unexpected choice was Forte, of
Certain to make a strong impression is June Squibb, who plays Woody's wife, Kate, an acerbic, exasperated woman who never says anything nicer to anyone than "you dumb cluck."
Squibb, a New York stage actress, portrayed
Payne has never found it a problem to work with actors who have gone over the top in other people's movies. "These guys are pros," he explains, "and the best actors need to know from their director what film they're in. You ask them to do it a certain way and then you edit it. That's why God gave us more takes."
As he's done in his previous movies, Payne and his casting director, John Jackson, also make liberal use of nonprofessionals in key roles, especially when the film gets to Nebraska. "I like to lavish attention on subsidiary characters," Payne said, "and he's my secret weapon."
What Payne also likes is shooting in his home state.
"It interests me," he says with a smile. "It doesn't matter where you set a film so it might as well be a place you know well, so you get the details right. The Czech director Jiri Weiss once said to me, 'Oh my dear, you have Nebraska. It's like having your own little
So it has proved to be, and never more so than with this sparkling new film.