Alexander Payne, your latest film "Nebraska" has been nominated for six Oscars! So, what do you think your chances are at the Academy Awards this Sunday night?
"Of Winning? Zero."
Nada? Not for Best Picture, Cinematography, or Original Screenplay? Not for your directing? Not for June Squibb as Best Supporting Actress? Or for Bruce Dern as Best Actor?
"The only one who has a chance is Bruce and even then it’s pretty darn tough," Payne told Yahoo Movies over the phone recently while promoting this week's Blu-ray release of the film.
Payne isn't just being modest, he's being honest. "It’s because it’s just not going to happen. You’ve got all those heavy hitters. Cuarón's going to win Best Director. And one of those films will win Best Picture. And then Bruce has a chance but people are loving McConaughey and DiCaprio as well, so it’s tough."
[Related: 2014 Oscars: Complete List of Nominees]
When it comes to cashing in at the Oscars, Payne has every right to be skeptical. Prior to "Nebraska," his films have been nominated 13 times while only winning two Best Adapted Screenplay awards, one for "The Descendants" and one for "Sideways." Not that those awards are chopped liver, but he's probably learned to manage expectations.
Also, the odds aren't exactly in Payne's favor. According to the online gambling site Bovada, Payne's chances of winning Best Director are 100 to 1, and the odds of "Nebraska" winning Best Picture are 200 to 1.
As you can see in the fascinating Q&A below, Payne's take on the Oscars is as refreshingly honest as his films tend to be. So we believe him when he says: "Look, it doesn’t matter. As you know, the nominations are what’s important. That’s what gives you a little bounce in your step."
Perhaps Payne will defy the odds and find a little more reason to bounce when the Oscars are handed out this Sunday.
See Alexander Payne discuss casting Bruce Dern in our Blu-ray clip below:
[Related: 3 Tweets #Oscars Edition: 'Nebraska']
If the nomination gives you a little bounce in your step, the rest of it is…
Good for the ego and good for business. Last word on that, what’s nice is that a little film like this, a fairly austere film in black and white with no major stars has remained part of the discussion. That’s what’s important.
Why do you think it’s remained part of the discussion?
Well I don’t know. I guess people have liked it. Not a whole lot, I mean it hasn’t made a ton of money, but it’s gotten some good reviews and I think some people find it touching. At least that's what I'm told. I’ll tell you this: It has a hell of a lot more laughs than the slave movie. You’ve got to have a comedy in there. I think people liked "Wolf of Wall Street" because it’s a good comedy.
Would you consider "Nebraska" a comedy?
Yeah. I make comedies. But it’s not a joke fest. I mean comedy is an infinite form. What’s a comedy? What’s a drama? But I try to direct for humor and laughs, you bet. If you didn’t laugh once then I guess we should get off the phone.
See the theatrical trailer for Alexander Payne's "Nebraska"
Oh, I laughed. Speaking of laughs, how did you know that Will Forte, MacGruber, would be such a good actor?
I didn’t know. I saw his audition and I thought he did extremely well in the audition. It was a taped audition. Then I invited him into the office and he was even better. I just believed him. He personally has a sweetness which comes through on screen.
Your Academy Awards are for writing, but you decided not to write this one. How come?
Well because thank God I didn’t have to write this one. I mean I did a rewrite on it before shooting to make it more personal and tailor it to my sensibility, but I never entered filmmaking dead set on writing all of my own material. I’ve only written for myself out of desperation and never finding a screenplay that I wanted to direct. It’s fantastic to find an already written screenplay that you want to make.
Now, would winning a directing Oscar mean more to you than winning a writing Academy Award? Or do Academy Awards not really mean anything?
Of course they mean something. Anybody who says they don’t mean anything is lying. Look, I’m sure if it ever happens it’ll be very pleasant, but it’s also very pleasant that I’ve been nominated three times in a row as a director. So, it’s a very good feeling.
I mean obviously you don’t set out to make a film that’s Academy Award winning, but…
I know. It pisses me off when I read some review and the guy goes, “Oh, it’s obviously designed to be Oscar bait.” What the hell does that mean? I read some review of "Nebraska" goes Oscar bait. Yeah. Black and white, no stars. Yeah. Good for you.
What do you set out to do when you begin a project? I mean obviously you have something that the Academy loves, what do you think that's been?
When I begin a project I’m not thinking about Academy Awards, I’m thinking about the movie exclusively.
Do you think that kind of focus is what the Academy likes?
I have no idea, man. The other thing is the standards of what a good movie is are fairly low these days. If my movies had been coming out in the ’70s who knows if they would have received the same Academy Award attention if that’s the focus of what you’re writing about. But today, because all the major studies are basically making Roger Corman films, anything that comes along in the year that’s got more literate or adult intentions gets more attention.
I mean it’s not just subject matter though. There’s a completeness to your film, that’s why I love it. There’s so many layers there and there’s more to it than just fluff. There’s so much more to it than a Roger Corman film. How do you ensure that it’s so layered?
Well, isn’t that my job as a director? I don’t know. I mean it’s just your sensibility. Obviously, a lot of it is in the screenplay and I will not begin any form of production until the screenplay is finished. The screenplay has to be very, very tight. Then casting, casting takes a long time. I can’t begin to shoot once I’ve got the right leads for the film and so on and so forth. Then if you find layering in it then I can’t say how, all I can say is thank you.
No, thank you. And best of luck. I think you’ve got a better shot than you think you do.
Thank you, but don’t put any money on it.
Tune in to Yahoo's live Oscars pre-show this Sunday at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT, and then watch the big show on ABC.
See Alexander Payne and his cast discuss "Nebraska":