Actress June Squibb earned her first Oscar nomination in her second project with Alexander Payne, playing the role of long-suffering Midwestern wife and mother Kate Grant in Nebraska. Squibb, a recipient of a 2014 SBIFF Virtuosos Award, recently chatted with me about Nebraska, both the film and the state.
What was your reaction to Bob Nelson’s script when you first read it? And to your character, Kate?
Oh, I loved it. I thought it was wonderful. I thought, “Oh boy, to do these things and to say these things. This is just delicious.”
Did you start cussing around the house more?
(Laughs.) No, I didn’t. I have been known to use a few words around the house, but I left most of it for the set.
Do you understand Kate differently now than when you first took on the role?
No, I think I see her the same way. And I have seen the film quite a few times. She’s still the same lady to me, and I love her. I think she’s great.
Was working with Alexander Payne different this time around,versus when you worked with him on About Schmidt?
No, not really. We had such a good relationship the first time, and I think we respected each other, and I think we have done really good work together. I mean, we’ve spent more time together, and this was a much larger role, so I spent a lot more time on set with him, and I think it just sort of solidified our relationship. It’s much stronger now.
Were you filming in a lot of the same parts of Nebraska?
Well, no. I had been in Omaha when I was in About Schmidt. We were in Omaha shooting, that’s where we shot that film, and they had given me a car, so I used to drive around, and I got to know that city pretty well. And I love that city. It’s a great city, but I did not know much about rural Nebraska, though I am familiar with rural Illinois, of course, and those areas are nearly the same. That whole area of the Midwest is very much the same. But, this time it was still a whole different thing. We went from small town to small town. We would go into a bar in one town, and then maybe a store in another town, all to make up this town of Hawthorne.
Did anything about filming in those locations remind you of where you came from?
Yes. The people especially did. I mean, all those scenes with all the family together. The dinner table, with everyone talking together. And the scene with the men sitting there watching television, I kept thinking,“Oh my god, if I haven’t seen that a lot,” you know?
What are you doing when you drive around Omaha?
Well, I found a really good vegan [pronounced “vay-gin”] place. I’m not necessarily vegan completely, but I enjoy that food, so I ate there quite a bit. And I went to a lot of the stores, and I went to that wonderful new downtown area that has been renovated completely, so I toodled around quite a bit.
So is that the June Squibb tip for Omaha? Toodle to the vegan restaurant?
[Laughs.] Well I also hit the steakhouse a lot, so there you are.
What has all of this attention been like?
Well, it’s been nonstop. We did Cannes in May, and then we sort of started this all again in August with screenings. And it’s been pretty busy since. I had no idea. I didn’t know all of the time that was involved. I really didn’t.
Cannes? What was that like? Had you been before?
No. I had never been before. And it was so, so exciting, and it’s so beautiful. We were in that famous hotel, I can’t even think of the name of it now, but, anyway, I had a room in the front of it, facing the Mediterranean. It was spectacular. You can see all of the yachts and everything. And then, of course, there was the film screening. When the film showed, we got a 10-minute standing ovation. So that was exciting.
Did you get a chance to explore Cannes, in June Squibb fashion?
No, not really. We were only there for three days, and we didn’t really have time to do anything except, you know, all the press, and the premiere. It was all to do with the film.
So you’re enjoying this? All the hoopla?
Well, yeah. I mean, I enjoyed the Golden Globes, and the SAG, and I know the Oscars will be the most important, and that more people will be watching that. It’s all been really fun; it really has.
Was this role more challenging than others that you’ve had? More enjoyable?
Oh, yes. I mean, I’ve had some wonderfully fun and, you know, large roles onstage, but certainly in film this is the most complex and the largest role that I have done.
Was there any adjustment period necessary for you to feel ready to be Kate? Or did it come to you pretty naturally?
I felt comfortable from when I first read the script because I felt like I knew this woman. I really did. And I think that relates back to Illinois and my mother and my aunts and other women that I knew. I just felt comfortable with it. I mean, it certainly reminded me of my family, out in the Dakotas and Montana and Nebraska … so many people have said that: that it reminds them of their families or that it brings so many things back.
What’s next? Are you working on anything now?
No, I’m not. Some things have come in, but I’ve decided not to do them. I want to finish all of this. I mean, if something came up that I really liked, then I’d commit to doing it, but at this point there hasn’t been anything that I’ve been that crazy to do. I will, though. As soon as this is over, I’m sure I’ll have some things to do then.
All right, last question, June. Who is your Super Bowl pick?
Oh my, well, let’s see… Who is it? Denver and… San Francisco?
Oh, close. Seattle.
Oh, Seattle. Well, I’m not much of a football fan, but if you ask me about basketball then I can rattle it off …
Is that right? Who’s your team?
Well, it was the Knicks for years, but then I left. And I haven’t committed out here, but I think that if I do, it’ll be the Clippers.
Well, you may have left New York at the right time if you’re a Knicks fan …
[Laughs.] You’re right. They haven’t done so well since I stopped watching them.
So, basketball aside, please, tell me who you think is going to win the Super Bowl.
[Long pause.] Seattle.
June Squibb will receive one of SBIFF’s 2014 Virtuosos Awards on Tuesday, February 4, at the Arlington Theatre.