Earlier this year, we revealed that Alexander Payne would be following up "The Descendants," which was only in post-production at the time, with his gestating father-son road-trip story "Nebraska," with Casey Affleck and Robert Forster loosely being eyed for the leading roles (wishlist stage essentially). Little had been heard about the project since then, but now that the George Clooney-led 'Descendants' gears up to hit theaters after impressing audiences and critics during recent festival appearances, it appears that Payne is getting "Nebraska" into motion.
Vulture reports that Payne has managed to negotiate his way into shooting the Paramount film completely in black and white, but in return must slash his budget in half to $10 million and secure a big name in the paternal leading role. Actors reportedly being thrown around are a who's who list, with Forster still linked but now sitting along side the impressive trio of Jack Nicholson (Payne's lead in "About Schmidt"), Robert Duvall and, the most surprising candidate, the retired Gene Hackman.
While any of these men would be a great lead, the retired Hackman, who hasn't appeared in a movie since 2004's "Welcome to Mooseport" and has become a fiction author, would likely be the big get.
In 2008 Hackman revealed that he had quietly bowed out of the game. "I guess you could call it retired. I haven't worked for four years now. And I don't miss the business," he said. "I miss the process of being on-set with actors when things get cooking. But there's so much crapola in order to get there. It's just too painful. At my age, they would have me playing grandfathers and great grandfathers. That's not a heck of a lot of fun."
We hope for Payne's sake that he's been courting the actor for several months. Originally penned by Robert Nelson and in development by Payne since 2004, "Nebraska" centers on an aging alcoholic father who thinks he’s won a million dollar Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes prize. He is unbowed when his family tries to dissuade him from making the long trip from Montana to Nebraska to cash in his winnings. So his estranged 20-something son—who doesn’t believe the ticket is a winner—is forced to go along with him for the ride to keep him out of trouble, in an opportunity to bond with his father after years of separation.
It's quite easy to imagine any of the aforementioned candidates playing the father in this story, and considering the amazing performances from all of Payne's male leads thus far, it's a role that will surely not be short of interest. Last we heard, Payne was touching up Nelson's script with help from "Cedar Rapids" helmer Phil Johnston and wouldn't begin casting until he was satisfied with it, so it remains to be seen whether Payne has thrown out feelers to any actors yet. We spoke to Forster during the recent press rounds for the "Jackie Brown" Blu-Ray release, and while he had just appeared in Payne's 'Descendants,' the actor said he hadn't been approached about the gestating project.
"I haven’t talked to him about it," Forster said. "I have heard about it, and if ever he comes to me and says, 'I’ve got a movie for you,' even with one or two scenes, I will jump on it. This guy is, like Quentin [Tarantino], a very unusual guy. He’s the only guy that ever called me up and invited me to be in his movie. Quentin handed me a script, and both of those are unique events in my career."
After some brief inquiries a few months ago, we heard that Affleck had never been approached and he was just a potential idea. Another name that's been floating around is Paul Rudd, but casting likely depends foremost on the male patriarch, because without him there's no film.
In case you're curious, Payne still has his highly-ambitious sci-fi dramedy "Downsizing" in the works and hopes to make it one day, and personally, we can't be more thankful for the director's new found productivity. A shoot next April is apparently being eyed for "Nebraska," which would see Payne back in full operational mode after a near seven-year absence.
-- Additional reporting by Todd Gilchrist.