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From left: Shailene Woodley, George Clooney, Amara Miller and Nick Krause on Kauai in a scene from The Descendants. Clooney stars as Matt King, a lawyer coping with his wife's coma, his estranged children and relatives pushing him to sell family real estate. The family drama is director Alexander Payne's first film since 2004's Sideways, and was adapted from a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings.
The movie's King family surveys the land they own on Kauai. Producers had wanted to shoot the entire $20 million project on Oahu — even the Kauai scenes — but director Payne felt that would undercut the film's realism. After production designer Jane Ann Stewart walked Payne through a shaggy, colorful Kauai bar and restaurant called Tahiti Nui, Payne convinced producers to let him film on Kauai as well.
Co-star Shailene Woodley says she is indebted to star George Clooney "for teaching me the importance of being worldly."
She also benefited from getting to know Clooney before lensing began. Says Woodley: "That added to the chemistry onscreen because there was no intimidation factor for us kids. We got to know who he was as a person, and he suddenly became just a George and not George Clooney."
"It's like calling out the National Guard," says director Payne of filming on boats. Star George Clooney, who had experience with water shoots on The Perfect Storm, understood Payne's predicament.
Says Clooney: "You're in Hawaii, so the weather changes pretty quickly, and you have two moving parts at the same time that are not controlled by you — they're controlled by the moon. It was frustrating for him because he wanted it just to be a couple of people going out on a boat."
Director Alexander Payne sought to create "a calm, eye-of-the-hurricane feeling" amid the chaos of shooting on location in Hawaii. He admits that on any film, he fears "that the often unwieldy means of production will interfere with the intimacy of what I'm shooting."
The short, frequent rain showers, which had the crew adopting the native habit of raising their hands and saying, "Blessings," were welcomed by Payne, who was also eager to subvert the standard sunshine-and-mai tais perception of the islands.
Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor's script won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay. The wine country tale, starring Paul Giamatti and Thomas Hayden Church, was also nominated for best supporting actor (Church), best supporting actress (Virginia Madsen) and best director (Payne).