Director Alexander Payne is taking a big leap with Downsizing

Out on Dec. 22, satiric Downsizing explores such dark concepts as extinction and sustainability.

Downsizing, starring Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig, is chock full of simple size gags.

Paramount Pictures

Downsizing, starring Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig, is chock full of simple size gags.

He may be best known for crafting such unassuming character-studies as Nebraska and Sideways, but now filmmaker Alexander Payne has made his biggest movie to date — by going really small.

In the upcoming sci-fi satire Downsizing, Payne skewers American society by casting Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig as a humdrum Omaha couple that sign up for better living through a radical venture that shrinks them to action-figure size.

“My co-writer Jim Taylor and his brother Doug used to talk about if you were small you could have a big house on only eight square feet and all your bills would be small,” laughed Payne of the premise’s origin conceived over 10 years ago.

Over the years, the absurd idea always stuck with Payne and began to build potential once he treated it with modern realism. “It could be a solution to overpopulation, climate change and all those things — everything kind of fell from there.”

While Payne had a blast critiquing such dark concepts as extinction and sustainability, he also admits the movie’s simplest gags may be the films’ most pleasing aspect.

“The spatulas is one of the biggest laughs in the movie,” said Payne referencing a scene involving a micro-sized Matt Damon being picked up à la pooper-scooper. “All these crazy ideas had a headlong collision into each other (and) as you can imagine, we had many ideas we couldn’t shoehorn into this film.”

Those ideas also presented Payne with a challenge he had yet to fully realize in his storied career — playing with visual effects. Given that he’s an Oscar-winning scribe, you might expect those more technical aspects of the job to be less appealing to Payne. The 56-year-old, however, insists he loves every part of the process.

“The great thing about film is 300 or 400 artists gathering toward a common goal and they often never even meet each other,” said Payne. “I get to meet them all, try to foment their talent and just point them in the right direction. It’s not creating, it’s directing all of these other folks toward the same thing. It’s really beautiful and unique in the world.”


The director on Damon: “He looks like somebody you could’ve gone to high school with,” said Payne. “What makes him a great movie star is that he can seem normal but in a magnetic way.”

Downsizing the effects: “All movies have visual effects these days to remove a boom microphone from a shot,” said Payne. “I didn’t really care about needing to use visual effects, it’s just this story required them.”

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