Alexander Payne (born February 10, 1961 in Omaha, Nebraska) is an American film director and screenwriter of Greek descent (his Greek name is Alexandros Papadopoulos). His films are noted for their dark sense of humor and satirical depictions of contemporary American society. His films also revolve around adultery in marriage and relationships. He also tends to set his films in Omaha, Nebraska. He has scenes of historical landmarks and museums in his films, and tends to use actual people for minor roles (real cops play cops, real teachers play teachers, etc.). He frequently incoporates telephone monologues as a dramatic device. He also tends to cast actor Phil Reeves in his films. He is on the short list of directors who have final cut rights for their films. In 2005 he became a member of the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Directors Branch). His writing partner is Jim Taylor.
Payne grew up in the same neighborhood as billionaire Warren Buffett, also an Omaha native. He went to Creighton Prep for high school, where he was a member of a broadcasting club where members worked in different capacities for Omaha radio station KFAB. He attended Stanford University, where he double majored in Spanish and History. As a part of his Spanish degree, he studied Spanish Philology at the University of Salamanca (Spain). After finishing up his undergraduate studies, Payne took a few years off before he went back to school in 1988 for graduate studies. He cites Hal Ashby as his influence to pursue film. Payne got his MFA in 1990 from the UCLA Filmschool in Theater Arts. He worked in various capacities on films and television and worked as a script editor for Universal Studios before he wrote and directed his first full-length film Citizen Ruth in 1996.
His film Election, starring Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon, which takes aim at politics and education in America, attracted attention when New Yorker film critic David Denby named it the best film of 1999. Payne was nominated for an Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay for Election. In 2000 he did an uncredited polish-up of the screenplay for the comedy hit Meet The Parents. In 2001 Payne wrote Jurassic Park III. In 2003 he received a Golden Globe for his screenplay for About Schmidt which also won the Best Adapted Screenplay award from the Writer's Guild of America. To the surprise of many who kept track of Hollywood news, Payne and his writing partner Jim Taylor were not nominated for an Oscar for the About Schmidt screenplay. He won both the Academy Award and Golden Globe in 2005 for Best Screenplay for Sideways while the film also won the Golden Globe for Best Picture - Musical or Comedy. In total, Sideways received five Academy Award Nominations. Payne will next direct the upcoming film Nebraska and serve as an executive producer on the new films The King of California and The Savages.
He is good friends with fellow directors Jay Roach, Spike Jonze and David O. Russell.
He married Korean-Canadian actress Sandra Oh in 2003 and on March 12, 2005, the couple's publicist comfirmed their separation.