'Grace and Frankie' Star June Diane Raphael Was Almost an Athlete Instead

The actor gave us a window into growing up and her experience at NYU.

by June Diane Raphael; as told to Larry Fitzmaurice
Mar 28 2018, 9:06pm

Brooklyn Decker and June Diane Raphael. Photo by Melissa Moseley / Netflix

In Early Works, we talk to artists young and old about the jobs and life experiences that led them to their current moment. Today, it's actor June Diane Raphael, who stars in Netflix's Grace and Frankie. (You've also seen her in The Disaster Artist and Happy Endings.)

I had a pretty idyllic childhood in Long Island, New York. Although I didn’t have parents who were artists—my mother was a New York City public school teacher and my dad was a steamfitter—I did have a family that valued storytelling. There was a premium on being able to make everyone laugh at the dinner table.

My parents were incredibly encouraging. We would go see plays as a family. Going into the city and to see Broadway shows was a really big deal growing up outside of Manhattan. I was obsessed with them. My favorite one was Les Misérables. I’ve seen it 16 times.

My parents weren’t patrons of the arts, but they and I look back and I’m very grateful for it. I had a pretty promising basketball career and potential scholarship money because I could have been recruited, but I wanted to do theater. No one dissuaded me or said, “Hey, you might be able to go to an Ivy League school if you continue with this.” There was no discussion. It wasn’t until my wedding day, when my dad listed every athletic achievement I ever had, that it occurred to me, Oh, that was really important to him. Literally, my stats—I didn’t remember or care about them. He never led me onto the fact that he was ever disappointed that I didn’t go the distance with athletics. It was probably really hard for him. He went to every game. Every everything.

When I said I wanted to go to NYU, my parents were really supportive. I went to a public school that put a really big emphasis on the arts and had amazing theater and music programs. Thank god for that. After I graduated from high school, my dad would still go to see their shows like he was going to the theater. He also considered like, “I pay my tax dollars. I get to go enjoy this.”

I was working as soon as I could. My sisters had jobs too. I babysat, and I was counselor at a summer camp. I did the shows there for the kids. At 14, I was an HIV/AIDS peer educator with the Red Cross. It was actually a paid job. We would go from school to school talking about safe sex. I always had tons of condoms in my bag. Like, piles of them. And then I waitressed too.

I met [collaborator and Happy Endings co-star] Casey Wilson at NYU. We were at the same acting studio but were in different classes our freshman year. I saw her and remember thinking, She has a really loud laugh. I was in a much more quiet, shy, kind of gloomy place, and really overwhelmed by New York, while she was hitting the ground running, planning karaoke nights for our whole class. She was the only acting student who was pledging a sorority. She was the girl who had gone to spring break. I remember getting passed a flyer with kids in bathing suits, and there were, like, flames behind them. And jello shots. I remember thinking, Literally, that is my worst nightmare.

But then I had the luck of her shining that light onto me. I think it was our sophomore year that we were in the same clowning class. We just connected. Once I got to know her, there was this unbelievable positivity, a zest for life, fun, building community, and bringing everyone up with her. She became a friend for life.

Paul [Scheer], my husband, also went to NYU, but he went to the [Steinhardt] School of Education.

I look at my time at Tisch and think, I’m so glad I had that time to just work on the work, and not worry about the industry and getting jobs. What I would tell anyone about to enter the industry is, look around you at your peers, because they may be be your collaborators. They will hire you.

What I found to be true is that you have to show up for other people. Being there for indie movies and student films; hold the boom and get in there, because there’s no waiting for it to happen… Unless you’re beautiful, and then, congratulations. You just go to LA and just arrive and somebody will find you. If you’re not literally drop-dead gorgeous, you should probably be thinking about creating your own work, collaborating, and being kind to and supporting the people you admire. And showing up for them. Because then they will do the same for you.

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Season four of Grace and Frankie is now available on Netflix.

As Told To
grace and frankie
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