Josh Margolin loves his grandmother so much that he wrote an action movie for her.

Thelma centers on Thelma Post, a strong-willed nonagenarian who is duped out of $10,000 by a phone scammer pretending to be her grandson. So, she sets out to get back what is hers. The character not only shares a name with Margolin's actual grandmother, Thelma Post, but as the writer-director explains, "The real story is surprisingly similar to the beginning of the movie."

"My grandma got a call from someone pretending to be me, saying they were in a car accident, that they hit someone and she was pregnant and they needed to be bailed out of jail," he says. "She got really panicked and she called my parents, and she was so convincing that they were convinced, and chaos spread. Luckily, in real life, they were able to get in touch with me before any money exchanged hands."

In the movie, Thelma does send money to the scammer; but when she learns that she's been swindled, she isn't willing to take the indignity lying down. An ode to his grandmother's grit and determination, Margolin reenvisions her as an action star of the Tom Cruise ilk: Thelma ditches her doting grandson (the filmmaker's stand-in is played by Fred Hechinger), hijacks a motorized scooter, and accepts an impossible mission of her own: Traversing the San Fernando Valley to find the crooks that took advantage of her.

For Margolin, there was only one person who could possibly fill the real-life Thelma's shoes: June Squibb. The veteran character actress has constantly defied expectations throughout her career: She was already in her 60s in 1990 when she made her film debut in the comedy Alice; she was 84 years old when she received an Oscar nomination for her supporting turn in Alexander Payne's Nebraska. At age 94, Thelma offered Squibb her first leading role.

"Well, it's very exciting because I think it excites everybody else," Squibb tells A.frame of being number one on the call sheet for the first time. "For me, it was a script that I wanted to do, and I would've wanted to do it if it had been one day of shooting."


The idea of an action movie centered on a grandmother out for revenge is so perfectly high-concept that it's hard to believe it is essentially based on a true story. Meanwhile, the character of Thelma is very much based on the real women. (The real Thelma Post turns 104 this year.) Margolin says he infused the script with a lifetime's worth of his grandmother's best anecdotes. Some of Thelma's dialogue in the movie is taken word-for-word from the real Thelma.

Josh Margolin: My grandma had gotten calls like that before, but for some reason this one got her. It was just the wrong day, wrong time. Luckily, in real life, there was a little less chaos. In real life, they were able to get in touch with me before any money exchanged hands. But seeing her taken advantage of that way and duped, that got my wheels turning about what might have happened if she had sent the money, and I started to imagine the lengths she might go to get it back. That was the jumping off point for the movie.

June Squibb: Josh wrote a wonderful script — and you don't always get a wonderful script. Even with a good film, the script is sometimes not that great. But I thought this was just wonderful. I have a friend of mine who reads everything that I get, and she read it, called me up, said, "Well, you've got to do this!" It spoke to me, and I just felt that I understood her. She's really got a great sense of humor, and she's very bright. I wouldn't want to try to take her on about anything, I'll tell you. I think she would win.

Josh Margolin: June was honestly who I always wanted for the part. There really wasn't anybody else. She reminds me so much of my grandma. I've been a longtime fan of hers. She's so good at playing the humor of it, but also playing the heart of it. Also, she just is that person. She has that tenacity and that charisma, and I feel like you can't fake that. She was always who I wanted it to be. I was lucky in that we had a mutual friend in Beanie Feldstein, who is close friends with my sister and who knows my real grandma. Beanie was also like, "It's got to be June."

June Squibb: Beanie and I had done Humans together and became friends. We're texting all the time anyway, so she says, "I'm sending you a script." I text back, "Okay." And that was it. We call her the instigator. She likes that.

The movie is full of 'Mission: Impossible'-style set pieces, scaled to size for its unlikely action star. Here, a high-speed scooter race through the halls of an assisted living home is just as thrilling as anything Tom Cruise does in those movies. Like Cruise, Squibb was game to perform as many of her own stunts as she could.

Josh Margolin: The action DNA of the movie was very much there from the start. I wanted to take those tropes and shrink them down to dramatize her grit and her tenacity and celebrate her spirit, and what was really important to me, especially dealing with some of these genre elements, was I wanted to make sure we were never tipping into parody. Because I think that the strength that it takes someone of her age to move through the world and to traverse a city is no less dangerous than someone at a different moment in life traversing something more traditionally threatening. And I think June was excited by it all.

June Squibb: When I read the thing, all this about the scooter just intrigued me. I loved that. I thought, "Oh boy, I can't wait to get on that scooter." And I loved it! I had a good time on it.

Josh Margolin: She knew the stunts would be a challenge, in some ways, and I don't know what her Pilates regiment was prior to making the movie, but she really started training for it in a way that we hadn't even expected. She used to be a dancer for many years, so there is a physical discipline there that I think actually really paid off in the marathon that was making this. She's a tough cookie, as they say in the movie.

June Squibb: I just felt I could do it. And it was not easy. There were many late nights, as I remember. When we were done, I celebrated by going home and going to bed.

Richard Roundtree, June Squibb and director Josh Margolin on the set of 'Thelma.'

On her mission, Thelma recruits a reluctant partner-in-crime in Ben, an old friend and the owner of the aforementioned stolen scooter. Ben is played the late, great Richard Roundtree, in what would be the actor's final film. (Roundtree died in 2023, shortly after making the movie.)

Josh Margolin: He was the best. He was really warm, and kind, and so lovely to work with. He was a real gentleman, and everybody just loved being around him. Him and June got along really well. I think they really had a good thing together and really respected each other. Richard was funny, because he was intimidated by June! He was always like, "She's 90! This is insane!" He was always really impressed with her, which was really sweet,

June Squibb: I loved just being with him. He was so great. And just driving that scooter, knowing that Shaft, as gorgeous as he is, was riding behind me? I loved it! He was the best, he really was.

Josh Margolin: That was pretty much one of June's favorite things about the whole process. He was just so charming. He would do this really funny thing where, if I would give him a note, he would look at me for a while, as if he didn't understand what I was saying and just kind of stare me down. He would pause for a long time, then he'd go, "Watch this," and go and do a take. He was a lovely guy who made everybody feel good and who really gives a wonderful, wonderful performance in the movie. I just feel really lucky that we got to work with him, and obviously, at the time, we had no idea it would be his last movie. I'm really sad to say that it is and also feel really lucky to have spent the time with him that we did, because he was great.

June Squibb felt like she knew the real Thelma Post long before she actually met her. Ahead of filming, she studied home videos that her director recorded of his grandma, and they shot the movie in Thelma's actual condo, where she'd lived until she was 99 years old. But the actress wouldn't meet her real-life counterpart until after they'd wrapped filming and after 'Thelma' premiered to raves at the Sundance Film Festival.

June Squibb: We were supposed to meet during shooting, and she never made it to the set. She's 103 — she's going to be 104 in July — so I mean, it was understandable! She lives with Josh's mother and father, so we finally went there and I met her. I went inside and said, "I'm Thelma Post," and she said, "No, I'm Thelma Post!" We both started laughing like crazy, and Josh was just sitting there, just grinning and having a wonderful time.

Josh Margolin: I think she's both really honored by the movie and also still wrapping her head around it. Some days, she's like, "This is nuts. What is happening? There's a movie about me with my name?" She lived alone until she was 99, and then in COVID, she went to live with my folks. She's been living in my old room in that house for the past couple of years, and her world has naturally kind of shrunk, so it's surreal for her that this is out there in the world. So, it's both. But I think she's really touched and does feel that it is an ode to her in the way that it's meant to be.

June Squibb: When I was with her, somebody said to her, "Well, what do you feel about your grandson?" She said, "Oh, I'm so proud of him." And she is. She's really loving it.

By John Boone

Josh Margolin with his grandmother, Thelma Post.


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