Cast & Crew
At the age of sixty-six, Warren R. Schmidt retires from his job as assistant vice-president at the Woodmen of the World insurance company in Omaha, Nebraska. A man whose identity derives from his position at work and status as wage earner for his wife Helen and grown daughter Jeannie, Warren faces a life of leisure with bewilderment. At his retirement party, he responds to the laudatory toasts from his coworkers by fleeing into a nearby bar to drink alone. Later, he receives a congratulatory phone call from Jeannie, who is engaged to Randall Hertzel, a waterbed salesman whom Warren considers undeserving of his daughter. The next morning, Helen fixes him breakfast in their Winnebago, which they plan to drive across the country, but Warren remains indifferent to everything until he finds himself responding to a television advertisement for Childreach, an organization that sponsors needy children in Third World countries for a donation of twenty-two dollars per month. After a few more days of puttering, he puts on a suit and returns to his office, where his replacement cheerfully indicates that Warren's presence is completely unnecessary. Dejected, Warren returns home, where he finds a packet from Childreach with a photo of his "foster" child, Ndugu Ombo, a six-year-old Tanzanian boy, and a request that he send Ndugu a letter. As Warren begins writing a description of his life, his true feelings pour out about the "snotty kid" who has replaced him at work, his failure to achieve his dreams, his beloved daughter's upcoming marriage to an idiot and his wife's irritating, controlling habits. After running an errand, however, Warren returns to find Helen dead of a blood clot, and in his grief realizes how much he loved her. He remains busy over the next few days planning the funeral and consoling Jeannie, who arrives in Omaha with Randall. Randall's clumsy, cloying attempts at kindness frustrate Warren, especially after the young man offers to "invest" Warren's money in a pyramid scheme. When Jeannie is ready to leave, Warren, who is unaccustomed to being alone, tries desperately to induce her to stay and postpone her wedding, at one point even lying that Helen did not approve of Randall. Jeannie, shocked but unconvinced, responds by questioning Warren's substandard casket choice. After she leaves, Warren wanders around his increasingly disarrayed house, expressing in a letter to Ndugu his grief and fear that he will soon die. While wistfully exploring Helen's closet, Warren unearths a box containing love letters to her from his best friend, Ray Nichols. In a fury, he discards all of Helen's clothes and confronts Ray with the letters, despite his friend's plea that the affair ended thirty years ago. Newly invigorated, Warren enacts his sense of freedom by urinating while standing, an act Helen had forbidden. He then packs up the Winnebago and leaves for Denver, hoping to spend more time with Jeannie. When he calls her with his plan, however, Jeannie firmly insists that he stay away until a few days before the wedding. Chagrined, Warren heads to his hometown of Holdrege, Nebraska, only to find that his childhood house has been replaced by a tire store. He goes on to his alma mater, Kansas University, along the way writing to Ndugu, urging the boy to follow in his footsteps and pledge a fraternity. At a campground in Kansas, John and Vicki Rusk, Canadians staying in the adjoining campsite, invite Warren for dinner. He enjoys their hospitality, but when John leaves to buy beer, Warren mistakes Vicki's empathy for a flirtation and attempts to kiss her. Vicki responds in horror, prompting Warren to flee the campground and drive all night. On the road, he attempts to leave a conciliatory phone message for Ray, but the answering machine malfunctions. Despondent, Warren spends the night atop the Winnebago, where he asks Helen for forgiveness and sees a shooting star that he assumes is a sign. He awakens with a clear sense of purpose: to put a stop to Jeannie's wedding. With this in mind, Warren heads to the Denver home of Randall's mother Roberta. Roberta's earthy gregariousness disturbs Warren, especially after she voices her pride in Randall's "sensitiveness," which she feels derives from her having breastfed him for five years. They have dinner with Jeannie, Randall and his relatives, including his verbose father Larry, Roberta's ex-husband, during which Warren despairs further at Jeannie's choice for a new family. He finally corners his daughter on the porch after dinner and reveals that he does not approve of her marriage. Jeannie, who loves her father but considers him distant and difficult, orders him either to support her or leave. That night, he throws his back out while sleeping on Randall's waterbed, infuriating Jeannie further. Roberta nurses Warren with soup, not realizing that he is pained further by her candid discussion of Jeannie's sex life with Randall. Before the wedding rehearsal that night, Roberta gives Warren a prescription pain reliever that keeps him pleasantly doped until after dinner. He then enjoys her hot tub, but after she joins him, naked, and places her hand on his leg, Warren retreats to the Winnebago. He endures the wedding the next day without comment, and when it is his turn to give a speech, falters briefly, but finally, turning to his grateful daughter, delivers a moving speech invoking Helen and her blessing upon the marriage. As he drives back to Omaha, Warren composes a letter to Ndugu stating that he has failed, not only in his quest to save Jeannie but in his life as a whole. He questions if he has made any difference to anyone. At home, a despondent Warren leafs through his mail, where he finds a letter from Ndugu's caretaker, Sister Nadine Gautier. Sister Nadine writes that Ndugu, an orphan who can neither read nor write, has enclosed a drawing for his "foster father." The picture, which depicts a man holding the hand of a small boy under a shining sun, causes Warren to weep with the sudden understanding that he has made a mark on at least one life.
James Micheal Connor
Judith Kathryn Hart
Reverend Robert Kem
James J. Crawley
Mary Beth Nelson
Thomas Michael Belford
Larry "weasel" Cain
Andrew Wayne Carson
Mark Hunshik Choi
Patrick Cyccone Jr.
Mike "sluggo" Grooms
Robert Ellison Knight
John Latenser V
M. Martin Quittenton
Gary "jonboy" Roberts
Lawrence "sparky" Root
Albert G. Ruben
Jane Ann Stewart
Noel Paul Stookey
R. Michael Stringer
Bernard "ski" Szymanski
Jeanne Van Phue
Best Supporting Actress
In the closing credits, the producers thank Childreach/Plan, Julie Ginsberg and Kathy Sheppard of the Omaha Film Commission Office, Laurie Richards of the Nebraska Film Commission Office, the Omaha Police and Fire Departments, Double Tree Guests Suites in central Omaha and Winnebago Industries. The closing credits also note that The Private Navy of Sergeant O'Farrell film clip was used courtesy of Pearson Tevlevision, "Guiding Light" footage appeared courtesy of Proctor & Gamble Productions, Inc., and "The Rush Limbaugh Show" outtakes were courtesy of Premiere Radio Networks. Intermittent narration by Jack Nicholson, as "Warren Schmidt," is heard throughout the film as Warren writes letters to "Ndugu."
In December 1998, according to a Daily Variety news item, Columbia optioned Louis Begley's novel About Schmidt with Alexander Payne attached as director. In July 2000, however, Daily Variety reported that Columbia had passed on the script, deeming it, according to a September 2002 Premiere article, "too depressing." The Daily Variety article noted that Fox Searchlight and Universal had expressed interest in the script, but it was eventually acquired by New Line, and produced on an estimated budget of $30 million.
As noted in the studio press materials, Payne had started writing a script entitled The Coward in film school, later completing it for Universal, which declined to buy the final screenplay. Years later, when Payne began collaborating with co-screenwriter Jim Taylor on the adaptation of About Schmidt, they planned to borrow certain elements from The Coward and "found themselves using more and more material from the earlier script, including Schmidt's lengthy correspondence with Ndugu." Many reviews noted that the final film bears only a slight resemblance to the novel, which focuses on a man named Albert Schmidt who retires from a Manhattan law practice, opposes his daughter's upcoming marriage to a Jewish man and carries on an affair with a young waitress. Payne stated in a May 22, 2002 Los Angeles Times interview that the only elements of the book remaining in the picture were "the character's last name and the idea that he has an only daughter who's about to marry a boob, a guy who has something of an overbearing mother." In December 2000, Begley published a sequel to his novel entitled Schmidt Delivered.
Although a April 16, 2001 article in US Weekly states that Nicholson rewrote the dialogue in one scene to echo that of a famous scene from his 1970 film Five Easy Pieces (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films 1961-70), in which a waitress informs Nicholson's character that there are "no substitutions" for his order, that scene was not included in the final film. An December 18, 2000 Daily Variety article states that Nicholson took a pay cut to star in the film, allegedly in exchange for "a big share of any profits." As quoted in the Entertainment Weekly review, Nicholson asserted that he "rooted the character of Warren Schmidt... in the man's comb-over." Reviewers agreed that Schmidt marks one of the strongest performances in Nicholson's long career, due in part to the actor's success in putting aside his trademark mannerisms.
For About Schmidt, Payne assembled many of the same crew members with whom he had worked in his two previous films, Citizen Ruth and Election, including Taylor, production designer Jane Ann Stewart, cinematographer James Glennon, editor Kevin Tent, composer Rolfe Kent and casting directors Lisa Beach and John Jackson. As with his previous films, Payne shot this film primarily in Omaha, Nebraska, his hometown. He stated in studio press materials that he cast many locals in small parts, including the Dairy Queen worker, who works at the real-life Dairy Queen shown in the film. Many reviewers applauded About Schmidt's attempt to portray realistic people and places, a characteristic focus for Payne. In the press notes, Payne stated that "American life is atypical in Los Angeles and New York. There's a huge continent in between."
The film includes a commercial for Childreach (www.childreach.org), the organization featured in the film, a real-life non-profit that links sponsors with children in need throughout the world. Organization spokesperson Angela Lansbury narrates the commercial. According to the studio press materials, after the production was completed, the producers donated money to 6-year-old Tanzanian boy Abdallah Mtulu, the child (identified in a December 21, 2002 New York Times article) who represents Schmidt's "adopted" African child Ndugu. According to the New York Times piece, Abdallah receives no direct benefits from sponsors, though his community does. A January 23, 2003 article in USA Today stated that, as a result of the film, donations to the organization "soared" from three new sponsorships a day to eighty. Nicholson, Gittes and Payne also donated $5,600 to Childreach.
About Schmidt was selected as one of AFI's top ten films of 2002, as well as earning Golden Globe awards for Nicholson for Best Actor-Drama and for Payne and Taylor for Best Screenplay. The film was also nominated for Golden Globes for Best Picture-Drama and Best Supporting Actress (Bates). The picture received Academy Award nominations for Best Actor (Nicholson) and Best Supporting Actress (Bates). Other nominations and awards for About Schmidt include: The LA Film Critics for Best Film, Actor and Screenplay; BFCA Critics' Choice Awards for Best Film, Best Writers, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress (Bates); National Board of Review's Best Supporting Actress (Bates); and SAG nominations for Best Male Lead Actor in a Movie (Nicholson) and Best Supporting Actress (Bates).
Co-winner of the 2002 award for Best Actor (Jack Nicholson, shared with Daniel Day-Lewis for "Gangs of New York") by the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Also nominated for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Kathy Bates), and Best Screenplay (Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor).
Co-winner of the 2002 award for Best Actor (Jack Nicholson, shared with Daniel Day-Lewis for "Gangs of New York") from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.
Nominated for the 2002 Actor of the Year award (Jack Nicholson) by the London Film Critics Circle.
Nominated for the 2002 award for Best Adapted Screenplay from the Writer's Guild of America (WGA).
Nominated for two 2002 Screen Actor's Guild (SAG) awards, including Best Actor (Jack Nicholson) and Best Supporting Actress (Kathy Bates).
Voted one of the 10 best films of 2002 by the American Film Institute (AFI).
Winner of the 2002 award for Best Actor (Jack Nicholson, shared with Daniel Day-Lewis for "Gangs of New York) by the Broadcast Film Critics Association.
Winner of the 2002 award for Best Picture from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.
Winner of the 2002 award for Best Screenplay from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.
Winner of the 2002 award for Best Supporting Actress (Kathy Bates) from the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures.
Winner of the 2002 award for Excellence in Contemporary Costume Design for Film by the Costume Designers Guild (CDG).
Winner of the 2002 award for Film of the Year by the London Film Critics Circle.
Winner of two 2002 awards by the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association, including Best Actor (Jack Nicholson) and Best Supporting Actress (Kathy Bates).
Winner of two 2002 awards by the Washington D.C. Film Critic, including Best Actor (Jack Nicholson) and Best Supporting Actress (Kathy Bates).
Released in United States Winter December 13, 2002
Expanded Release in United States December 20, 2002
Released in United States on Video June 3, 2003
Released in United States February 2001
Released in United States 2002
Shown at American Film Market (AFM) in Santa Monica, California February 21-28, 2001.
Shown at New York Film Festival September 27 - October 13, 2002.
Project was previously in development at Columbia Pictures.
Released in United States Winter December 13, 2002
Expanded Release in United States December 20, 2002
Released in United States on Video June 3, 2003
Released in United States February 2001 (Shown at American Film Market (AFM) in Santa Monica, California February 21-28, 2001.)
Released in United States 2002 (Shown at New York Film Festival September 27 - October 13, 2002.)
Winner of the 2003 Artios Award for Feature Film - Comedy by the Casting Society of America (CSA).