Before last August, Oscar-nominated actress June Squibb had never been to Cannes. “It was so exciting,” she told us last week. “It is 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 right in the front, facing the Mediterranean. It was spectacular.”
What brought Squibb to the French Riviera — and will bring her to the American Riviera early next week — was Alexander Payne’s latest film, Nebraska, which owes its dark-horse potential as a Best Picture–winner to, at least in part, an iconic performance from Squibb. “After the film, we got a 10-minute standing ovation,” Squibb recalled fondly, “so that was exciting.”
In Nebraska, Squibb transforms herself into the ruthlessly loving, strong-minded Kate Grant, mother of David (Will Forte) and long-suffering wife to the film’s main character, Woody Grant (Bruce Dern).The role is full of language that some might call colorful, particularly when delivered by an 83-year-old woman. But Squibb was never intimidated by the role, explaining, “I just thought, ‘Oh boy, to do these things and to say these things — this is just delicious.’”
Squibb, a native of Vandalia, Illinois (pop. 7,012), first began working as an actress in St. Louis before making her way to New York City in the late 1950s. A role in a 1958 off-Broadway production of The Boyfriend was Squibb’s big break, followed by a debut on Broadway two years later and an acting career that’s lasted half a century. And, in Nebraska, Squibb seems to have found a role that she’s been preparing all her life for.
“I felt comfortable from when I first read the script, because I felt like I knew this woman. I really did,” she said. “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.”
Despite all the talk about the film’s setting and aesthetic, though, Squibb has learned powerfully that it’s Nebraska’s characters who make it truly resonant. “So many people have said that it reminds them of their family, or that it brings so many things back,” she said.
Virtuosos Award: Tuesday, February 4, at the Arlington Theatre
Read a full transcript of this interview here, or listen to an audio version at independent.com/podcast.