It's a unique kind of year given the depth of talent that have been out there in the cream of the awards season crop. Available now on DVD, Blu-Ray and On Demand, "Nebraska" is a darkly comic yet sweet tale of an eccentric family as an aging, booze-addled father (Bruce Dern) makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son (Will Fort) in order to claim a million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize that's he is convinced is real in the face of all logic telling him the exact opposite.
Every family needs a matriarch, and I got the chance to June Squibb about her role as Kate Grant in "Nebraska". We talked about how she came to be involved in the film, her career that transitioned from the stage to the screen and the honor of being nominated for an Academy Award.
Dave Voigt: This is obviously the second time that you've worked with director Alexander Payne, how did you ultimately come to work on "Nebraska"?
June Squibb: Well as you know I had done "About Schmidt" with Alexander and when my agents heard about this film, they immediately called his people and asked "What about June?" I think his casting people basically said that we love June, but she's just not right for it and Alexander has even said to me that he initially felt that I just wasn't right for it, since I think he probably pictured me as that sweet little old lady from "About Schmidt". So I don't what happened, but at some point during the whole process I guess he changed his mind and decided that he wanted to see me. I actually wasn't in LA at the time, I was in New York doing a workshop on a new musical, so they asked me that if they sent me the script would I tape two scenes for them. Of course I did just that and he called me right away right off the tape and said that he wanted me to do it. There was obviously some time in between before everything was finalized but basically from the time he saw the tapes, he wanted me to be involved.
The film has such a unique but natural tone to it all with these darkly comic elements throughout, what was it about the script that truly made you want to play this character?
JS: Oh my gosh, I think her scenes are just absolutely delicious! That cemetery scene in particular and the scene with compressor when the two boys steal it was great. The writing on this film was just excellent and so sparse as well. There weren't any wasted words, nothing was there that didn't need to be and all the dialogue was just so beautifully written and it really was the kind of script that as an actor you just want to jump into.
There is a certain tone to Alexander Payne films that is this unique blend of dry comedy but also a little exaggerated at the same time. I was curious how he works with his actors in order to establish that?
JS: I don't think he really goes out of his way to establish it. Probably for him I suspect a lot of it comes down to the actors that he chooses and what they ultimately present to him before hand that made him feel like they'd be able to handle the material, but he doesn't really talk about tone while working.
While both you and Bruce Dern have both been in the industry for quite some time despite working on different sides of it all, I was wondering if you're careers had ever overlapped in anyway prior to "Nebraska"?
JS: No, I had never even met Bruce before. Obviously I had seen all of his films and he said to me that he saw the "Gypsy" that I did on Broadway but we had never met until we were on set together.
How was it to get to know him during your down time together on set?
JS: Oh he's great, I love him. He and Will and Bob Odenkirk; we really got to spend a lot of time together, it was wonderful and it really was such a great cast. Bruce in particular is a very strong man and I really wonderful actor who has just been trained so well and works so well, and is such a joy to work with. On top of all that he is simply full of stories about all the wonderful Hollywood directors that he has gotten to work with over the years. As soon as the camera went off, he would keep Will and I very entertained and it was great.
You've obviously had an extensive career on stage and for a while in film now as well. How has it been for you not only to have made that transition but to now be receiving the accolades and recognition that are coming in with your performance in this film?
JS: It's very exciting obviously. I mean I've been doing film now since the early 90's and I've racked up about 40 or so film credits so far and I love working in film. I had done some stage but once I started doing film that was pretty well all I did and it has been very exciting. It's interesting because for me to be honoured for my screen work instead of my stage work is a little surreal because I started on the stage and I figured that I would just stay there and end there, but it has just been a different story.
Was doing film ever in your through process when you started out?
JS: Honestly, no. When I got to New York initially I did a few television shows, but very few and I just never thought about after that. However in the late 80's there were so many films that were being shot in New York and I knew of so many other stage actors who were doing roles and I went to my agent to basically say that I thought I should be up for some of these roles as well. He agreed and immediately got me an audition for Woody Allen's "Alice" and from there I went "Scent of a Woman" and then straight into "Age of Innocence", those were my first three films all through the same casting person.
You mentioned how Bruce has worked with some great directors, but the list of people you've worked with isn't too shabby either. I was wondering if there is any commonality between how they all work?
JS: Well I've found that the commonality in film is that they all want it real. Woody Allen said that to me, it was actually the only verbal direction that he ever gave me! (Laughs) and as I remember Martin Scorsese said the exact same thing. It's true in what they want, in film they really want to see the reality of the person that you are playing.
Going back to "Nebraska", how was your experience on set because I can imagine in a film that has such deadpan funny moments that there were times when the laughter just kept on going?
JS: Oh yeah, and I mean if you are just standing off stage and you are just seeing some of these scenes, some it was just so funny and the entire experience was just such a joy.
Are you looking forward to the Oscars?
JS: Oh, yes and of course all of these other events that we have been attending has ended up as a nice prelude to get me ready for the Oscars! (Laughs)
Any pressure on attending, and not necessarily from a winning or losing standpoint but just to be able to enjoy the ride?
JS: Oh I have enjoyed the ride, it's been great fun. I understand the honor of what it is to just be nominated because I look at all these great films and there were some truly phenomenal performances and for any of them and in fact many of them to pick my work as some of the best of the year, simply blows me away and I think it's great. Not to mention that it is happening all because of a film that I truly love and feel very honored to have done and am very proud.
When you look back on anything that you have done, what is your ultimate take away from it all, the material or the people that you get to work with?
JS: Oh it really is a combination of everything, when it is all over with you realize it was a great script or not, and the people you work with are usually a great deal of fun because it is such a family atmosphere that develops so quickly, and with all the recognition that the film is getting at these awards shows it's great because we all get to sit together at the same table and be together again.