‘Downsizing’ Director Alexander Payne on Casting: “I love having my mind blown”

“She can do it all on take one. It was as clear as the nose on our faces.” – Director Alexander Payne on Hong Chau

Though filmmaker Alexander Payne’s latest film Downsizing stars Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig, like many of Payne’s films the rest of the cast is made up of lesser-known actors. Speaking with the South China Morning Post, Payne speaks about his casting process for Downsizing and what he saw in actress Hong Chau, who plays a major role in the film.

Payne admits that he doesn’t keep up with a lot of current entertainment, so he relies on casting to find faces he isn’t familiar with. He explains, “My casting director and I look for actors who are funny, dramatic and surprising. Everything comes down to that, and I rely very much upon the audition process to give me that direction. I don’t watch a lot of contemporary movies or TV, so I rely on the casting process to tell me who is out there. I have only a vague idea of who the character might be in my head while I’m writing, so I love having my mind blown.”

Speaking about Hong Chau, who appears in Downsizing, Payne says, “She steals the movie. We knew it when we were shooting. She can do it all on take one. It was as clear as the nose on our faces.”

Payne recalls one scene in which Chau nailed her performance. He explains, “It was a close-up, and it was take one. I could never do it, not with all the lights and burly men with walkie-talkies around you, and the unblinking Cyclops of the camera looking right in your grill. She did it.”

He goes on to explain how as a filmmaker he needs to find a balance between big-name talent to get funding and new faces that can perform effectively. He says, “I needed someone who is an actor and also a star. I needed an actor who could do the part well and be convincing as an everyman, and a star to help me get financing. The rest of the current A-list film stars don’t look like people to me. They look too much like movie stars. I needed someone who looked like someone I might go to high school with. I’m so grateful he said yes.”

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