BWW Interview: June (Squibb) Is Bustin' Out All Over! WAITRESS' Newest Star Is Opening Up About Her Broadway Past
Just last month, the Academy Award nominee officially joined the company of Waitress as "Josie", the role formerly known as "Joe". Though it's been a while since she last tread the boards, Squibb is no stranger to the Broadway stage, having made her debut in 1960 as Electra, the electrifying stripper in Gypsy with Ethel Merman.
Below, she chats with BroadwayWorld about what it's like to finally be back onstage, why she couldn't be happier to be welcomed into the Waitress family, and so much more!
You just had your first performance earlier this week, how's it going so far?
Well it's been great fun. I haven't done this for a long time and it really has been fun. First night was a little crazy because it's the first time you're with an audience, crazy anyway even if you've been rehearsing with everybody. After that it all kind of calms down and I'm really enjoying it.
Everyone always tells me their first performance is blur.
It is! Most people don't even remember it.
I just watched the video of your first curtain call and you looked so happy. What a wonderful moment...
It was. When it was over with and I had done it, I could relax a little bit. It was a great moment for me.
Waitress Musical (@WaitressMusical) November 20, 2018
It's been a few years since you've been on the stage. What's it like getting back at it? Is it like riding a bike?
Oh yeah, all of my early career was stage in New York. I've been here for about 65 years. I even started doing film while I lived in New York. I don't find it strange at all. It's very comfortable. I did it for so long it was like second nature coming in.
What do you love about this character?
She's very strong, and she's of my age and thats apart of the plot. She's the money in the town, basically, this small little midwestern town. She's kind of the boss of the town because she owns everything and she never lets you forget that. It's all of those things that make her interesting to play and interesting to be.
That scene she has with Jenna in the second act is really at the heart of the show.
People are reacting so beautifully to that- to the song and that scene, when she's going to help her. She's going to do whatever she can to help her. The song was another reason to do this. I haven't sung in a long time and again it's like riding that proverbial bicycle. You get on and you remember.
You grew up in the Midwest, right?
I did, I grew up in southern Illinois. Waitress takes place in southern Indiana and that's about as close to southern Illinois as you can get! When they were talking to me about accent I said, 'Listen, my early years were spent in this area!' I grew up in a small town Vandalia, Illinois and it was right on the line with St. Louis, Missouri, so it was pretty far south.
How did you first fall in love with theatre?
I always said I came out of the womb knowing theatre. [Laughs] I do not remember a moment not feeling that I was an actress. This is what I did. It's always been with me.
You did lots of work at the Muny and the Cleveland Playhouse, right? What were those years like?
The Cleveland Playhouse was really my training ground because I went there from Illinois and stayed there five years and did lots work. Then I went to New York from there. Now young people are going to colleges and conservatories and Cleveland was that for me. It was that transition thing of going somewhere to learn, but I'd be getting paid which is wonderful. A big group went from Cleveland to New York when I left and so I had a network immediately. That always helps. The Muny I did later after I was established in New York, which was great fun. My family would come to see me and friends would come over to see it, it was always to do the Muny in St. Louis.
You made your Broadway debut in Gypsy. What was that like?
It was wonderful. The show I feel is probably the best musical ever written. Gypsy is just a phenomenal piece of work in itself. I went into it, they had lost their Electra, and I was auditioning for something else and their stage manager was there looking for a new Electra. He saw me and then was sort of removed from everyone else and he was talking to me and had me audition for him, it was the same producer, David Merrick, so it was all in the same office. They offered it to me right away and I was with it for about 16 months because I did eight months in New York... it was when they moved from the Broadway and reopened at the Imperial and when they reopened is when I went into it. And then because Merman was doing The Road Company, they asked me to do The Road Company, so I did. It was all that time and with her... that was the joy of it playing it with her the whole time.
Did you learn anything from her?
Oh my god, yes! She was one strong lady and the old story goes that she looked at the audience one night and said "Why is everybody nervous? If you could do it, you would." And that's exactly her. She had this phenomenal voice. I've heard her work with sinus, I've heard her work when most people wouldn't be working and she still had the sound, it was unbelievable. We all really grew to love her, especially on the tour when you're sort of isolated.
She was one of a kind, that's for sure.
She was. She loved dirty jokes. She adored dirty jokes and rumors! She loved any gossip.
Having been in so many shows at this point, do you think Broadway has changed a lot since your early years onstage?
Yeah, it has... even some of the rules. The union has stepped up in many ways. I did a show called The Boyfriend for a long time. It was off-Broadway and the Broadway company had been an English company and the didn't too well and we did phenomenally and I did it for aa long time. We rehearsed on concrete and nobody thought anything about it. That is illegal now. They could never do that. A lot of things like that and there's certainly provisions of time for all people which there never was before. There's a lot of changes.
Do you usually live in New York or are you just here right now?
No, I'm just here to do this, I live now in Los Angeles. I got an apartment out there about 16 years ago and I kept my New York apartment for a while and then I just really started working out there constantly on television.
Is it good to be back in New York?
It's good fun! I've always loved New York and I never thought I would leave it. My being out there is surely because of work and that's just where I was working. And the weather. [Laughs]
You're in the show until January 6th, what are you looking forward to in the month you have ahead of you?
I'm really looking forward to playing the show. We've gone through the first week and it's already relaxed tremendously and that's when it gets fun. You're still like "Is this right? Is everything the way I'm supposed to be doing it?" And it's not that they're hanging over you, I don't mean that, it's just what you do to yourself. I just am looking forward to playing the show. This is a phenomenal company of young people and they're just wonderful. The stage manager is probably the best stage manager I've ever worked with. It's joy from that. Everybody is just the best. It becomes a family, it really does.
Squibb is an Academy Award nominee for the role of Kate in Alexander Payne's Nebraska. She was also nominated for the Golden Globe, SAG/AFTRA, Critics Choice, and Independent Spirit Awards for the same role. Her numerous other films include About Schmidt, as Jack Nicholson's wife Helen, Table 19, Love The Coopers, Amanda and Jack Go Glamping, Father Figures, I'll See You in My Dreams, A Country Called Home, Other People, Welcome to Mooseport, Would You Rather, The Man Who Shook the Hand, In and Out, Scent of a Woman, and Far From Heaven. Her most recent TV appearances were recurring roles on "Modern Family," "Shameless," "Getting On," and "Girls." Her recent guest appearances include "Grey's Anatomy," "Code Black," "I'm Sorry," "Living Biblically," "Bones," "Mom," "The Big Bang Theory," "Glee," and "Devious Maids." June starred on Robert Smigel's sitcom "Jack and Triumph," opposite Triumph the Wonder Dog and Jack MacBrayer. She can be heard as the grandmother in the upcoming release, Wreck It Ralph 2, and seen in HBO's Room 104, Lifetime's Santa's Boots, the feature film Blow the Man Down, and her recurring role on NBC's "Good Girls."
Photo Credit: Jennifer Broski