If you have Midwestern roots, you probably know a Kate Grant. She’s hard-as-nails. She doesn’t suffer bullsh–. And, most importantly, she doesn’t have a filter.
In Nebraska, Descendants director Alexander Payne’s black-and-white ode to the heartland, June Squibb gives life to this archetype through the feisty Kate. The matriarch of the Grant family will just as soon call a long-deceased woman a whore as she’ll tell her son fairly explicit details about who fancied her in her youth.
“When I read this script I just thought, ‘I know this lady,'” Squibb told EW. “I’m from Illinois. I see her in my mother and my grandmother. Nothing surprised me.” According to Squibb, screenwriter Bob Nelson based the part on his mother-in-law.
The 84-year-old actress had worked with Payne in About Schmidt, which actually worked against her in the beginning. “In Alexander’s mind, I was that sweet lady that Jack was married to,” she says. But, despite his reservations, he gave her a shot. “Her audition knocked my socks off,” Payne said Monday at the AFI Fest screening of Nebraska. “I didn’t have a second-place gal to play that part.”
In the movie, aging alcoholic Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) thinks he’s won $1 million when he receives a sweepstakes letter in the mail, and he and his son David (Will Forte) road-trip from South Dakota to Nebraska to claim his “winnings.” In the clip below, Woody, David, and Kate visit the cemetery to pay their respects to Woody’s deceased relatives.
“The wind was blowing and it was very bleak out. You look out and there’s nothing there but horizon for 65 miles,” Bruce Dern told EW at AFI Fest, recalling the cemetery shoot.
“We hadn’t really rehearsed before,” Forte said. Squibb had her own anxieties about the day. “That was the first scene I shot,” she said. “I came to Alexander and said, ‘Now Alexander, that’s hard!’ He said, ‘I know, but we’ll do it. Don’t worry about it.'” That’s Payne’s style, though. “We all just did what we felt. It’s all sort of melding there on set in front of the camera,” said Squibb.
“As a person, June is this amazingly sweet woman. But she brought that character to life in the most amazing way. I realized what I could expect for the rest of the shoot, and it was exciting,” said Forte.
Believe it or not, this is one of Kate’s tamer scenes. But those of you with Midwestern relatives probably knew that already.
Nebraska opens in select theaters today.