The funniest question Alexander Payne said he was asked Sunday evening, after winning his second Academy Award, was in the press room just after collecting the trophy.
“Somebody asked me, ‘What did you say to your mother in Hawaiian?' ” Payne recalled at lunchtime Monday from his Topanga Canyon home in Los Angeles.
True, “The Descendants,” for which Payne won his adapted-screenplay Oscar, was set in Hawaii.
But his parents are of Greek ancestry. In dedicating his award to his mother, Peggy, who accompanied him to the award show, Payne said, “Se agapao poly,” which in Greek means simply, “I love you very much.” He's not fluent in Greek, but he knew she'd appreciate the gesture. His father stayed in Omaha.
And what is the nicest thing about winning your second Oscar?
“I think I was less freaked out this time,” he said. “I was able to look into the audience and be a little more relaxed and personal in my remarks, I felt. You don't have all that crushing sense of all those people watching on television.”
In fact, he said, unlike at other award shows, the lights are kept up on the audience at the Academy Awards. When he thanked his mother and George Clooney, a best-actor nominee for “The Descendants,” he could look directly into their eyes while delivering his acceptance speech.
Winning, by the way, feels just as great this time as it did the first time, he said.
How did the Academy Award show go from Payne's perspective?
“I don't know how it felt watching it on TV, but we liked the show. We thought it was funny and zipped along at a pretty good pace.”
Payne said he started Oscar Sunday with a long walk, alone, through Topanga State Park near his home.
At midday, longtime Omaha friends joined him and his mother at his home to enjoy the evening together. Dr. Ann Beeder, now of New York City, grew up with Payne. So did Hal Koch, who was accompanied by his wife, Ashlee.
The group arrived at the Academy Awards nearly two hours early, at about 3:45 p.m., in an SUV. (“Better too early than too late,” Payne said, since security and limo lines take time.) Payne, who has avoided the red carpet in the past, strolled it with his mother this time. They took pictures but didn't do interviews.
Was it agony waiting nearly two hours for his category to be called?
“I was surprised it came up so soon,” he said. “The show went by quickly. Really, a part of me wants it to come up quickly and another part hopes it never comes up.”
Afterward, his mother retired for the evening while the Koches and Beeder joined Payne at a parade of after-parties.
First it was the Governors Ball, with fancy eats by chef Wolfgang Puck. Then a party thrown by Fox Searchlight, the studio that produced “The Descendants,” and a separate screening party for the film's crew. The night was capped at the Vanity Fair party and one thrown by Madonna.
Payne said he couldn't recall a single interesting encounter with a celebrity that night, “though everybody says congratulations.” His entourage arrived back home around 5 a.m. Did he have to rise early today for more press or events?
“No, no, no, no, no,” came the instant reply. They slept till 11, then joined his mother for some coffee and the morning papers.
Oscar, he said, was resting on the kitchen table, “and I have no idea what I'm going to do with them.” His first Oscar has been hiding in a drawer. (“In case somebody walks through the house, you don't want them too tempted.”)
Asked if there was more promotional work ahead for “The Descendants,” Payne was quick to say, “I'm finished. I'm now staring into the abyss.”
But the timeline is not quite set for his next film, titled “Nebraska.”
“I'm still trying to cast it,” he said. “I'd be ready to start filming by 4 this afternoon, but I don't know yet when that will happen.”
Maybe a little rest first, after the crush of award season?
“I don't want to. I want to get to work.”
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