June Squibb on Girls, Mystery Novels, and Finally Taking a Vacation

June Squibb. Photo: Getty Images

It was a tough call for June Squibb enthusiasts last night: watch the Oscars, where the 84-year-old Nebraska star was nominated for (but ultimately did not win) Best Supporting Actress? Or watch Girls, where Squibb would continue her Adorable Mean Old Lady streak with a role as Hannah Horvath’s dying grandmother. When Vulture spoke to Squibb last Thursday, she was excited about the Oscars, but very diplomatic about the viewing choice: “I guess it’s which you like the best. Or there’s TiVo!” Then Squibb was kind enough to talk with Vulture about the show, her busy awards season, and her favorite Scandinavian mystery novels.

Tell me a little bit about how you ended up doing Girls.
Well, I had lived in New York and so I still had an agent there. I have an agent that was on both coasts. They called and said that Girls was interested in me, and would I tape a scene for them? This was right after Cannes. I think Cannes was in May, and I think I was shooting in July.

Were you a fan?
Yes. I didn’t see it all the time, but I saw it enough that I kind of got an idea of what it was and what [Lena Dunham] was doing, and her general thought on life, really.

Was any of it familiar to you, from living in New York?
Oh, yes. I think a lot of the relationships between the girls and the young man, because — I was actually married to my first husband when I went to New York. But then I was divorced, and I had seven years as a single young woman in New York before I married my second husband. So I can relate to a lot of that.

How long were you on set?
I think about four or five days. We were in a hospital. We were out on the island … the island between Queens and New York. One of those, anyway [Editor’s Note: They were on Roosevelt Island.] Everything I did was in the hospital. It was a little spooky because it was a hospital that they were taking everything out of, and you would pass in the halls lines of wheelchairs.

I watched your Getting On episode this morning, and I noticed that you’ve been working in a lot of hospitals recently.
I know! That was funny because I shot Getting On right after Girls, so it was from one hospital to another.

Are there any secrets for acting in a hospital?
[Laughs.] Well, find out where you’re going, because it’s a little confusing sometimes.

On this Girls episode, Hannah’s mother asks her to lie to her dying grandmother, your character, about her plans to marry Adam. What you do think of that request?
Well, in a situation like that — and I have been in that situation. My own mother and father died not too long ago — well, in 1996 — and I had grandparents that died and I think all of us, when we’re in that situation, do what we think is the best. And sometimes I think it is not telling the truth to the people that we know are going to be gone very soon. I find nothing wrong with that at all. I think whatever you think is going to make them feel the best as they go, you know, then that’s what you should do.

At the end of that episode — you’ve seen the whole episode right?
I haven’t. I have never seen it, no. I don’t really watch when I’m shooting a film or TV or anything. I was trained in the theater, and in the theater the biggest no-no is watching yourself. Trying to figure out what you’re doing while you’re doing it, or thinking Oh God, is my skirt on right? — you can’t do all that. You just have to deal with what you’re doing as the person, you know, as the actor. But I remember what happens from reading the script.

So towards the end, Hannah and her mother have a conversation about whether Adam is good enough for Hannah.
Yeah, I think she’s saying, “Hannah, are you better than this boy?” I liked him. Now, whether it was the young man playing Adam, I’m not sure, ‘cause he’s fun.

He’s a very charming man!
He is. He’s darling. But I felt he was kind of wonderful. The sort of thing you’d say, “Wow, any girl would be lucky.” I think he can be very misunderstood because there are things about him that are sort of like, did he really do that? Or did he really say that? But I think he’s basically just as cute as can be.

And he seems very supportive of her.
Yes, very. It’s like he understands kind of who she is and what she needs, at least from the script that I read.

I think so too. I guess they’re a little young still.
Yes, but you know, gosh, you can decide on someone at any age. And then it either sticks or it doesn’t.

I know that you’re a big Game of Thrones fan, so I’ve been curious: Do you read the books?
I have the books. I have every one of them, and I haven’t read them yet. But I have to explain that. I am an avid reader. My whole thing is, I collect what I know I want to read, and I have certain bookshelves in my bedroom that contain all the books I haven’t read yet. Some of them I got, I can’t tell you how long ago, and I will, there will be a time when I will know this is when this is to be read. And I feel that with those. I haven’t read them yet, but I have them all here.

But they’re waiting for the right moment.
Waiting, yes. I’m fascinated.

What are you reading now?
I love Scandinavian mysteries, and I’m reading Jo Nesbo’s latest, which is Police. He’s wonderful. His writing is so good that it’s literature, as well as the mystery.

Which is not always the case.
Not always the case, though I love mysteries. But I read everything, I mean, one of my big favorites — remember The Raj Quartet? It was a quartet of books, and a man named Scott, an Englishman, wrote them. It was made into a TV series that was a big hit in like the ‘60s or ‘70s. I probably have read the four of them two or three times. They’re really wonderful.

You’ve been so busy with awards season, and Girls, and Getting On — do you get a vacation soon?
I do. My son and his girlfriend were planning to go to Hawaii, and so they’re making sure I go with them. I even have asked a guest to go, so it’ll be four of us going at the end of April. They demanded that I take some time off.

June Squibb on Girls and Taking a Vacation