“Thelma”’s June Squibb, 94, Wants ‘to Do a Western’ After Nailing Her Own Stunts in New Film (Exclusive)

The veteran actress has her first leading film role in the new comedy about a senior citizen who gets scammed

<p>Monica Schipper/Getty</p> June Squibb on Jan. 20

Monica Schipper/Getty

June Squibb on Jan. 20

One of the walls in June Squibb’s L.A. apartment is lined with framed keepsakes from her seven decades of acting.

There's a collage of memorabilia from Gorey Stories, a 1978 Broadway show she starred in; a photo of Squibb and late Broadway luminary Sheila Smith; a sketch titled Peaches & Cream, the nicknames Squibb and Amy Schumer gave themselves while making the 2021 movie The Humans.

“I had a certain amount of success,” says Squibb, reflecting on her lengthy career and more recent recognition. “It’s funny to me, after all these years, people now act like this is the first time I’ve done it.”

Squibb is no showbiz novice, but with her new movie Thelma, she is marking an important milestone: At age 94, she has her first headlining role in a film.

<p>Magnolia Pictures</p> June Squibb and Fred Hechinger in 'Thelma'

Magnolia Pictures

June Squibb and Fred Hechinger in 'Thelma'

“A leading lady of ninetysomething. You don’t see that very often!” she notes with a wry smile.

Related: June Squibb, 94, Becomes an 'Unlikely Action Hero' in Hilarious Thelma Trailer (Exclusive)

She plays the title character, a kindly grandmother who falls prey to a phone scam and loses $10,000. Feeling angry and foolish, she takes inspiration from Tom Cruise in the Mission: Impossible movies and hatches a plan to reclaim the cash.

“The movie really couldn’t exist without her,” says director Josh Margolin. “She’s got such a unique mix of grit and vulnerability.”

Emphasis on grit. The veteran star even does her own stunts, like recklessly driving a scooter. “I always thought it would be fun to do,” she says of a more physical role. “I would love to do a Western. I’ve never done one. I rode really well when I was younger. I don't know how well I would ride now! But it's something I would love to do.”

<p>Merie W. Wallace/Paramount Pictures/Courtesy of Everett</p> June Squibb in 'Nebraska'

Merie W. Wallace/Paramount Pictures/Courtesy of Everett

June Squibb in 'Nebraska'

Growing up in rural Illinois, Squibb knew she wanted to act at a young age (her first role was Goldilocks in a school production of Goldilocks and the Three Bears) but was mocked for her dreams.

“‘Oh, June’s going to be an actress, ha ha ha,’ ” she remembers hearing. Her dad, insurance salesman Lewis, was “quietly supportive,” but not her mother, JoyBelle, a piano teacher. “It was hard for her to understand,” says Squibb.

She left home after high school and moved to Chicago before performing at the Cleveland Play House for a few years. “It prepared me for New York,” says Squibb, who had set her sights on Broadway.

Related: Summer Movie Preview 2024: Beverly Hills Cop, Twisters and Dozens More Must-See Films

She made her debut on the Great White Way in 1959 as a stripper in Gypsy, starring with powerhouse singer Ethel Merman. “She was larger than life,” remembers Squibb.

For years she performed onstage doing musicals, comedy and cabaret. “I had a niche,” says Squibb. Her husband, the late acting teacher Charles Kakatsakis (they welcomed son Harry Kakatsakis, now an actor and director, in 1970), saw her talent and helped her hone her skills. “It prepared me for film work,” says Squibb, who turned to movies when she saw more and more stage stars appearing onscreen.

<p>Michael Yarish/CBS/Courtesy of Everett </p> June Squibb with Jim Parsons on 'The Big Bang Theory'

Michael Yarish/CBS/Courtesy of Everett

June Squibb with Jim Parsons on 'The Big Bang Theory'

In 1990, when she was 61, Squibb made her film debut in Woody Allen’s Alice. And she quickly established herself as a go-to actress for sassy women of a certain age, delivering sharp one-liners in movies like the 1997 comedy In & Out.

Her industry peers took notice of her comedic talents in 2014: Squibb’s performance in Alexander Payne’s dramedy Nebraska earned her a nomination for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. “I never had to audition again,” says Squibb.

She’s grateful fame came to her later in life. Says Squibb, who voices Nostalgia in Inside Out 2 and recently wrapped filming on the drama Eleanor the Great, Scarlett Johansson’s directorial debut, "I’m prepared for it."

Thelma is in movie theaters on Friday, June 21.

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