Alexander Payne is back in the Oscar race with “Downsizing,” his long in development social satire about an ordinary man (Matt Damon) who decides to improve his lot in life by shrinking himself in an effort to combat overpopulation and climate change. Gold Derby recently spoke with Payne, actress Hong Chau, composer Rolfe Kent, and editor Kevin Tent about their work on the fantastical film.
“I thought it would be fun to do something more ambitious, and maybe something with a kind of political, social satire bent,” reveals Payne, who originally wanted to do the film as a followup to “Sideways.” After a decade of “getting a bunch of ‘no’s’ and having it coalesce and fall apart,” the project is finally making its way to the big screen. Payne won Oscars for writing “Sideways” (2004) and “The Descendants” (2011). He also contended for writing “Election” (1999), directing “Sideway,” “The Descendants,” and “Nebraska” (2013), and producing “The Descendants.”
Chau has reaped Golden Globe, SAG Awards, and Critics Choice nominations for her supporting performance as Ngoc Lan Chan, a Vietnamese activist who is shrunk by the government against his will. Although she scores a lot of big laughs from her heavy accent and prosthetic leg, Chau worked hard to make her more than just a broad stereotype. “I think with comedy in general, characters tend to be heightened, but the only way for comedy to also work is for it to feel real and for it to feel grounded in some way,” Chau explains. “So that was the challenge with the character… to be grounded but to also be a little bit larger than life and comedic.”
Kent, who reaped a Golden Globe bid for Payne’s “Sideways,” didn’t view “Downsizing” as science fiction. “The high concept part of it is, to my mind, a distraction,” he divulges. “It’s still very much a social satire, very much about the absurdity of human beings.” Like all of Payne’s films, the one is about “the grandiose gestures, and the absurdity of them.” When it came to his work, “Alexander’s first brief to me was don’t feel like film music. Feel like beautiful classical music. That idea stayed throughout.”
“It’s really exciting to see it finally get to the big screen,” says Tent, a frequent collaborator of Payne’s who contended at the Oscars for “The Descendants.” Despite its intricate special effects — new terrain for the director and his editor, Tent states, “The way we approached our editing was the way we’ve always done our editing on all of Alexander’s other movies. We were really motivated by performance. Those were why we made the choices we made, almost constantly.”
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