Oc­to­ge­nar­ian ac­tor en­ter­ing her golden age

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Ran­dall King

LOS AN­GE­LES — If a Golden Globe nom­i­na­tion is a pre­cur­sor to an Os­car nod, June Squibb, at the age of 84, is a se­ri­ous Academy Award con­tender for her work as Bruce Dern’s salty, em­bit­tered wife in Alexan­der Payne’s Nebraska. That would suit Dern fine. At a press con­fer­ence for the film, he let it be known that he was good with the long­time ac­tress get­ting ma­jor screen time as a larger-than-life char­ac­ter. “It was about time they let June Squibb get out there and be Ros­alind Rus­sell,” Dern said. Nebraska fo­cuses mostly on the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Dern’s char­ac­ter, Woody Grant, and his es­tranged son David (Will Forte). But Squibb proved to be a force to be reck­oned with in a cast of both non-ac­tors and sea­soned thes­pi­ans such as Dern and Stacy Keach, even if Squibb could al­most pass for one of the non-ac­tors, she is so nat­u­ral and un­af­fected. She says she came by the char­ac­ter of Kate Grant through her own Mid­west up­bring­ing in ru­ral Illi­nois. “When I read the script, cer­tainly my mind went back to Illi­nois, the years there and the fam­ily and ev­ery­thing,” she says. Squibb cer­tainly ex­pe­ri­enced Mid­west sto­icism first-hand. “My fa­ther had that qual­ity,” she says. “He couldn’t talk about things. He was in the navy and he was bombed and he never, never talked about it. “As a child, he didn’t say that much to me as a per­son at all. But he is prob­a­bly the most moral man I’ve met, then and since.” Squibb says she al­ways wanted to be an ac­tress, al­though her early ex­po­sure to the arts was fairly min­i­mal. “My mother played the pi­ano and that was about it,” she says. “I also had an aunt who whis­tled through her teeth and tap-danced... not for money but for fun. And I used to join her in the tap-danc­ing be­cause I danced when I was young.” Her danc­ing and per­form­ing abil­ity even­tu­ally took her to Broad­way, where she ap­peared as a strip­per in the orig­i­nal pro­duc­tion of Gypsy, op­po­site Ethel Mer­man. She worked in stage and tele­vi­sion, but her film ca­reer was stalled un­til 1990, when she made her screen de­but, at the age of 61 in the Woody Allen film Alice. Sub­se­quently, she worked for di­rec­tor Alexan­der Payne in the 2002 com­edy About Sch­midt, where a short role as Jack Nicholson’s wife led to the role as Kate in Payne’s Nebraska, giv­ing Squibb a chance to flesh out an el­derly char­ac­ter, an in­fre­quent event in con­tem­po­rary cul­ture, she says. “I think it’s a rare thing to al­low older char­ac­ters to have the depth that th­ese two do,” she says. “Even in good films, you don’t see the arc that you see with th­ese two peo­ple to the point that they’re so hu­man, you un­der­stand who they are and what’s driv­ing them.” It wasn’t un­til af­ter she saw the film that Squibb ex­pe­ri­enced a rev­e­la­tion about her char­ac­ter and her view of the world. “Once I saw the film, I thought: Oh, my God, that’s my mother up there,” she says. “I think Kate al­ways felt that every­body thought as she thought, not that she was right and ev­ery­one else was wrong, I don’t think that would even en­ter her mind. “She just as­sumed every­body felt and thought the same way she did,” Squibb says. “And my mother did that. Ev­ery­thing she said had this great sense of: ‘It is right.’”

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