CULTURE

Payne talks ‘About Schmidt’

Filmmaker Alexander Payne loves watching movies so much that they can lead him to forget his appointments. Such was the case last week with a telephone interview he had scheduled with Kathimerini – while he was at the film festival of Gothenburg in Sweden – to talk about his new film «About Schmidt,» a bittersweet social starring Jack Nicholson which is due to open in Greece’s movie theaters on Friday. But the films Payne wanted to see kept him away from the phone until he left Sweden for Berlin, on a promotional trip for his film. It was a surprise to hear him speak Greek, albeit not fluently, and to introduce himself as Alexandros Papadopoulos, his family name before his Greek grandfather emigrated to the United States in the 1910s. Payne’s family established its new home in Omaha, Nebraska, where Payne continues to live with his own family. «About Schmidt,» which also features star actors Kathy Bates, Hope Davis and Dermot Mulroney, has already earned two Golden Globes – one for Payne and his writing partner Jim Taylor for the screenplay, and another for Nicholson, who has also been nominated for an Oscar along with supporting actress Bates. The main character of the film is a retired insurance executive, a man of few interests and of little interest himself. «The screenplay was not a new idea,» says Payne about why he chose such a character. «I started writing it 11 years ago, while I was still at film school. The basic idea was to make a comedy about the existential crisis of a pensioner. «I’ve met quite a few people like Schmidt. The truth is that he’s not really my type. But, if I did meet him, I would respect him, I would try to understand him.» Though the film makes one consider the position of the elderly in society, especially in the workplace, Payne argues that it was not his intention to make a film that was a social commentary. «I am more interested in human nature in general. I believe that this movie can say something to younger audiences as well. They can look at Schmidt as an example of what to avoid in life.» Working with Nicholson is an enviable achievement, and Payne says, getting his cooperation «was a lot easier than I had imagined. I did not have him in mind when I wrote the screenplay, but the combination was good and his positive response nearly immediate. The screenplay’s final draft was done on Friday and by the next Wednesday, he had agreed to act in it.» Payne did not witness any of the difficult behavior that Nicholson has been rumored to display on film shoots. «Over the period of time that we worked together,» he says, «he was always on time and polite and we developed a good relationship, without that meaning that we became good friends.» Nicholson’s agreement to do «About Schmidt» helped boost Payne’s budget, which was set at $32 million – an amount which is not huge for a Hollywood production, but it was certainly big enough for this film and more than Payne ever had made available to him. Of course, the lion’s share of the budget went to Nicholson’s fee. «On the one hand, he deserved it because he is very good, and on the other, Jack Nicholson’s name works very well with the public,» admits Payne. «Nicholson was also important to the production company (New Line) and I was able to have full control over the end result.» What about the future? «I have written about half the screenplay for my next movie, which is centered on two men who decide to go on a journey tasting wines. I haven’t thought of possible stars. It’s still too soon.» Does he plan to come to Greece for Friday’s opening? «Unfortunately I can’t right now, but there is a chance that I’ll come to the Thessaloniki Festival (next November). I would really like to be on the jury and I have already talked about it with Michel Demopoulos (the festival’s director), but the studio thought it was too soon for me to go to festivals. I’ll be back soon though.»