Born Constantine Alexander Payne, he began his life in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1961. He is the youngest of three brothers and had parents that were active people: his mother being a professor specializing in romance languages and his father running a Greek restaurant. The restaurant was a notable landmark until it succumbed to a fire in 1969. His father passed on a Super 8mm projector to him when he was 14, opening the door to his future career. Payne also penned a humor column during his tenure at Creighton High, graduating in 1979.
Alexander Payne held a double-major in Spanish and History while going to Stanford University, receiving his B.A. in 1984. His continuing studies placed him throughout the world, being a resident of the University of Salamanca in Spain before living in Medellin, Columbia, for a time. He went to UCLA Film School after leaving Columbia and gained an MFA in 1990. The film that achieved his goal, The Passion of Martin, went on to be shown at the Sundance Film Festival. Despite landing a developmental deal with Universal, he continued to do freelance production after his education ended.
The first film that Payne produced with his writing partner, Jim Taylor, was Citizen Ruth. Released in 1996, the plot centers around both sides of the abortion debate and how there is a tendency of radicalization among the people involved. Although his first film was not highly regarded, Alexander Payne succeeded with Election in 1999. He has also crafted works with high profile talent, including About Schmidt, starring Jack Nicholson, and Downsizing, starring Matt Damon. The duo have even won an Academy Award in the category of Best Adapted Screenplay for Sideways.
His films often mix humor with drama, and are located in his home state more often than not. The concepts of “sense of place” and making road trips of self-discovery are also consistent elements in Payne’s features. He has also lent his expertise as a producer to others and served as Executive Producer for HBO’s Hung. Alexander Payne was a board member for the non-profit theater Film Streams.