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About The Production
On the heels of their first two films -- Citizen Ruth, a comedy set in the world of abortion protesting, and Election, a savagely funny look at high school student council politics -- comes About Schmidt, a darkly comic tale of a severely depressed and alienated sixty-six-year-old man.

When Election was released in 1999, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor were recognized as "perhaps the only true social satirists now working in American movies" (David Denby, 4/26/99). Payne and Taylor's characters would stick out like sore thumbs in a line up of major motion picture heroes. They don't even qualify as anti-heroes -- they're just people like everyone else, normal people with selfishness, petty ambitions, and uncertain ethics. "I know that Jim and I feel very acutely the pathetic side of our own lives, and we try to turn it into the stuff of comedy," says writer/director Payne. Co-writer Jim Taylor adds, "Most true comedy comes out of pain, out of some uncomfortable situation."

"He's just a nice Midwestern guy who has played by the rules he was instructed to play by," says Payne. "What interested me was taking everything away from the man -- his career, his marriage, his daughter, his fatherhood, all the institutions that had given him some semblance of meaning. Without those things, maybe a man is forced to find the bedrock of who he really is. And maybe at his age it's too late. Maybe he lacks the necessary tools anyway."

"I also like the idea of a crossroads in a person's life," Payne continues. "It's a time when you're passing from one phase of your life into another, and in the best scenario you're supposed to feel proud and be looking forward to what is to come, but all you really usually feel is emptiness and alienation. And alienation is good fodder for comedy."

Payne had in fact written an earlier script for Universal that covered similar ground called The Coward. "I'd started it in film school," he recalls, "and finished it for a studio, but they weren't interested in making it. I went on to make two other films, but I never forgot about it. And ultimately I was able to combine it in with ideas from Louis Begley's About Schmidt."

About Schmidt is the synthesis of that early The Coward screenplay and the novel About Schmidt by Louis Begley. Producers Harry Gittes and Michael Besman had envisioned the project with Jack Nicholson from the start. Besman gave Gittes the book to read. "I liked it immediately for Jack," says Gittes, who had produced Goin' South for Nicholson, a film which Nicholson directed as well as starred in. "About Schmidt is all about human behavior, and human behavior is what Jack Nicholson is all about."

Besman, whose background includes years as a studio executive, had a well-honed skepticism about the likelihood of getting an actor of Nicholson's stature to even read the book, never mind agree to be in the film. As Besman recalls, "Harry read it pretty quickly and said ‘It's great. It's great for Jack.' I just figured, ‘Nothing will ever happen,' because it almost never does. A few weeks later Harry came back and said ‘Jack loves the book.'"

Jack Nicholson is one of a few figures in Hollywood whose name is sufficient to conjure up a bevy of images - the detective J.J. Gittes, the sailor, the young Southern lawyer, the crafty mental patient, the retired astronaut,<

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