Actress June Squibb jumped right into the firecracker she plays named Kate Grant in the Alexander Payne film "Nebraska," a performance that has earned her an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress.

The veteran thespian got that ball rolling with her most talked-about scene -- the one at a cemetery where she hovers over the grave of a one-time suitor, lifts up her skirt and says, "Look what you missed out on."

"It was the first scene I shot," Squibb says in an interview. "I told Alexander, 'This is hard.' And he said, 'It is, but we'll get it done right.' It was like being thrown into the lion's den."

Squibb's story is just the type Hollywood loves to celebrate: A relative unknown, at age 84, comes out of nowhere and grabs her first Oscar nomination. She didn't even start her film career until she was in her 60s. After years of unsung stage work -- Broadway, off-Broadway, regional theater, summer stock -- and bit parts on film and TV, this is her season in the sun.

"I know this is all very special," Squibb says by phone from her Sherman Oaks apartment. "It's very exciting, and I feel wonderful."

But she insists she won't lose her perspective over it, noting that it's just one part of her long acting career. She points out that she's been a paid actor for more than 60 years and so the showbiz fanfare "doesn't seem all that strange to me."

'Completely unfiltered'

As for that jarring cemetery flash scene in the black-and-white "Nebraska," Squibb says family members and friends found it funny. "No one has been appalled by it, me lifting up my skirt," she says. "They, like I did, found it totally in line with the character."

Squibb's Kate Grant is the wife of the Woody Grant character, played by Bruce Dern (who also is up for an Oscar in the best actor category). Grant is cantankerous, ornery and profane. "She's completely unfiltered," Squibb adds. "Whatever she thinks comes out of her mouth. She has no fear of anyone. And she doesn't care what anyone says or thinks about her."

Squibb didn't find it hard to play Grant. The actress was born and grew up in Vandalia, Ill., northeast of St. Louis, and felt she had the requisite Midwestern crustiness to do the role. "When I first read it, I felt I knew this woman," she says.

Previously she had worked with director Payne on his 2002 film "About Schmidt," playing the wife of Jack Nicholson's title character. She considers Payne a great filmmaker. "I love working with him," she says. "He knows how actors work. He knows when you are doing something why you are doing it."

As for the 77-year-old Dern, she says, "He's heaven. He's so funny. He teased me on the set all the time. He and I work very similarly. It was like a mutual meeting of the minds."

Stage to silver screen

Dern's father worked in the insurance business; her mother, a pianist, played music for 1920s-era silent films.

She started her theater career in St. Louis and trained at the Cleveland Play House and, after moving to New York, at the HB Studio. She made her Broadway debut in the original production of "Gypsy" in 1960 starring Ethel Merman, and also appeared in the 1968 version of "The Happy Time."

By the late '80s, Squibb noticed, more films were being shot in New York, and she asked her agent to get her in that game. She landed her film debut role in Woody Allen's 1990 film "Alice." As it so happens, the same casting director also was working on Martin Brest's "Scent of a Woman" and Martin Scorsese's "The Age of Innocence." "Bang, right away, I had three roles," Squibb says.

Since then, she's had supporting roles in such films as "Meet Joe Black," "Welcome to Mooseport" and "The Big Year," as well as guest roles on many TV shows, including "ER," "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Mike & Molly." She's had recurring roles on "Ghost Whisperer," "Judging Amy" and "The Young and the Restless."

She was getting enough film and TV work to move west to Sherman Oaks. She kept her place in New York for a time, where she and actress Margo Martindale, who has a memorable role in the Oscar-nominated "August: Osage County," were neighbors for more than 30 years, but recently gave it up.

Supporting roles

In the supporting actress Oscar race, Squibb is up against Jennifer Lawrence ("American Hustle"), Lupita Nyong'o ("12 Years a Slave"), Julia Roberts ("August: Osage County") and Sally Hawkins ("Blue Jasmine").

The festival/awards-season machine has taken Squibb to Cannes. She has picked up the Oscar swag bag of other film offers, but says she hasn't said yes to any of them yet and has no new film on the horizon.

One place she can be seen is on the current season of the hit HBO series "Girls." Squibb shot what might turn out to be two upcoming episodes and had scenes with series creator Lena Dunham. "I'm so respectful and admiring of her," Squibb says. "It's so amazing to be doing what she's doing at her age. I loved doing that show."