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Sundance: June Squibb loved how 'Thelma' portrayed age

June Squibb confirms "Thelma" is the first time she's played a lead role in a movie, but it won't be the last. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
June Squibb confirms "Thelma" is the first time she's played a lead role in a movie, but it won't be the last. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI

PARK CITY, Utah, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- Academy Award nominee June Squibb, 94, plays the first lead role in her career in Thelma, premiering at the Sundance Film Festival. Squibb said she appreciated the story of Thelma (Squibb) attempting to recover money she sent to con artists.

"It's wonderful to see age portrayed in such a strong way," Squibb told UPI in a recent phone interview. "Just an elder leading character in something is very exciting."

Supporting roles Squibb played include her Oscar-nominated portrayal of Bruce Dern's wife in Nebraska, Jack Nicholson's wife in About Schmidt and Adam Sandler's mom in Hubie Halloween.

Squibb said she was never explicitly looking for a starring role. She just chose projects and roles that appeal to her.

"I say yes if the script is good and if there's something in it that interests me," she said.

Oscar-nominee June Squibb stars in "Thelma." File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
Oscar-nominee June Squibb stars in "Thelma." File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI

Playing the title character in Thelma was not that different from supporting roles, Squibb said. She simply had more screen time in Thelma.

"You go and do your work," Squibb said. "You learn everything and you know what you're doing, so it doesn't seem so different."

Thelma's (June Squibb) grandson Danny (Fred Hechinger) helps her with her computer. Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute
Thelma's (June Squibb) grandson Danny (Fred Hechinger) helps her with her computer. Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute

Thelma writer-director Josh Margolin sought Squibb out through a mutual friend. She had co-starred with Beanie Feldstein in the film The Humans, and Feldstein was friends with Margolin.

Margolin told Feldstein he thought of Squibb for the role, but did not know how to get a script to her. Feldstein texted Squibb and passed along Margolin's script.

Richard Roundtree and June Squibb star in "Thelma." Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute
Richard Roundtree and June Squibb star in "Thelma." Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute

"I texted back, 'Fine,'" Squibb said. "That was it. I read it and loved it. I thought it was brilliant."

Margolin based Thelma on his own grandmother. Squibb never got to meet her, but the real Thelma knitted Squibb a pillow.

Josh Margolin wrote and directed "Thelma." Photo courtesy of Molly Berman
Josh Margolin wrote and directed "Thelma." Photo courtesy of Molly Berman

Squibb also watched videos of Thelma that Margolin shared, but she said Margolin allowed her the freedom to create her own character.

"He never talked to me specifics about her as a human being other than what I saw in the videos about her," Squibb said.

Early in the film, Thelma says she doesn't feel old. Squibb said she agrees with that sentiment.

"I never think much about it," Squibb said. "It always surprises me when a friend near my age or my age says something about it because I truly really never think that much about it."

Like Thelma, Squibb does need help with computers and phones. Although Squibb can use her phone to text, she hires a personal assistant to handle more complex technology needs.

"If I need to find out about something, I can Google enough to find it out," Squibb said.

Squibb began acting on television in 1985 and did her first movie, Woody Allen's Alice, in 1990. However, she already had decades on stage from the Cleveland Playhouse in 1950 to New York from 1956 on.

On Alice, Squibb said, the crew had to frequently caution her to avoid the electric cables strewn throughout the set.

"I think if they could have carried me around, they would have, to protect me," Squibb said. "I had never been on a film set. I didn't know about all the wires

In addition to two films with Alexander Payne, Squibb also appeared in Martin Scorsese's The Age of Innocence and Martin Brest's Scent of a Woman and Meet Joe Black.

She said she also was fond of working on the 1997 comedy In & Out for director Frank Oz.

Squibb returned to stage as recently as a 2019 production of Waitress. She has finished two more movies, is preparing to film another in February and considering an upcoming TV show.

The two completed films are Lost and Found in Cleveland and a remake of Don't Tell Mom, the Babysitter's Dead. Squibb plays the babysitter.

The remake features a mostly Black cast, but Squibb said her character is just as "mean and loud" as the original.

The film tentatively scheduled to begin production in February is another lead role for Squibb. Scarlett Johansson will make her feature film directorial debut with Eleanor, Invisible starring Squibb as the title character again.

"It's a wonderful story of a woman who says she was in the Holocaust and was not," Squibb said. "But there's a reason why she does it, why she says she was."

Squibb said she still lives independently, with her assistant's daily visits. She has no plans to slow down.

"I'm still in there, still working," she said.