Date of Birth: February 10, 1961
Born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, Alexander Payne became interested in filmmaking at the age of six, when his father was given an 8mm camera. Payne received a Bachelor of Arts in History and Spanish literature from Stanford University before going on to study at UCLA’s filmmaking program, graduating with a Master of Fine Arts. His 60-minute thesis film, The Passion of Martin (1989), garnered interest from inside the industry and was shown at several film festivals, including Sundance.
Payne filmed his first feature back home in Omaha. He directed and co-wrote the script for Citizen Ruth (1995), which debuted at Sundance and starred Laura Dern. It made the round of International film festivals, picking up several awards including the "New Generation Award" from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.
His next film, Election (1999), starred Reese Witherspoon and was Payne’s first film to earn a wide release. Payne and his co-writer, Jim Taylor, won several "Best Screenplay" awards from various film societies, and as well, were nominated for an Oscar®. In addition, Payne won the "Best New Director" award from the Valladolid International Film Festival.
Becoming well-known for his films about off-beat characters, Payne was quoted as saying, "There’s a reluctance to have unsympathetic characters or a downer ending. This business about how we need to see more heroes in movies...I hate that."
Staying true to his beliefs, he directed and co-wrote About Schmidt (2002) with Jack Nicholson in the title role as a retired widower searching for meaning in his life. Before the film even opened in wide release, it had already received several awards, including Best Screenplay and Best Picture from The Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards. Payne also won a Golden Globe for his screenplay and received Academy Award nominations for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. In 2012 he received three more Academy Award nominations, this time for his film The Descendants (2011)—Best Director, Best Screenplay based on other material and Best Motion Picture. In 2014, Alexander received another Academy Award nomination for Best Directing for his film Nebraska (2013). His latest stint in the director's chair was for the film Downsizing (2017).
On New Year's Day in 2003, he married longtime girlfriend, Canadian actress Sandra Oh, but the marriage didn't last long, ending in divorce in 2006.