June Diane Raphael has built a whole career on deadpan, biting one-liners — sometimes softened by a teasing delivery, sometimes not. The dry, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor is a through-line in her acting roles, which skew blunt and driven: See Grace and Frankie’s business-y daughter, Brianna; Big Mouth’s cartoon popular girl Devin; and The Long Shot’s acerbic campaign manager, Maggie, as examples. But it also comes through in her podcasts. She co-hosts two: How Did This Get Made? with husband Paul Scheer and comedian Jason Mantzoukas, and The Deep Dive with comedian Jessica St. Clair. Or maybe you know her as a screenwriter (Bride Wars) or an author (Represent: The Woman’s Guide to Running for Office and Changing the World), and all of that would be correct, if not the full extent of her CV.
In 2018, Raphael helped found the Jane Club, a women’s co-working space with full-time, on-site child care; it has since transitioned to online courses. On top of all that, she is the mother of two young children.
If we are talking about people who are doing the most, then Raphael is certainly one of them. “I used to be more singularly focused on the very next thing,” she says. “And now I’m thinking about it more holistically.”
Do you consider yourself an ambitious person, and what does that mean to you?
I do think I’m an ambitious person, but I don’t connect to that word as much as I used to. For most of my life, up until probably having children, I really focused on the next thing: If I got a role, I would then want a bigger one; or if I wrote a pilot, I would want that pilot to get picked up, and then if it was going to be shot, I would want it to go to series. The idea of Oh, I’ll feel good when I get A, B, and C, then I will be happy. The gift of motherhood for me, and also taking care of a sick parent, was that I was really able to reprioritize. I’m trying to refocus my ambition a bit, so it’s, Oh, what kind of experience do I want to have? How can I put food on the table, take care of myself and my family, and also be a part of my community, and be awake for my life, experience joy, try to change whatever systems I’m in, and leave things better?
With more life behind me, having experienced more grief and more loss, I’m definitely more ambitious about having great experiences, ones that allow me to feel like I risked something.
If you could redefine that word or the concept as you used to understand it, how would you?
I guess ambition, to me, connotes something that’s just really about one person, and my ambition right now includes a lot of other people. Like, 20 years ago, I would have taken any acting job, but I won’t do that now. I won’t do that if I don’t feel like the role has something to say. And my ambitions now include my family in a way I’m not sure they did before. My ambition is no longer just for me.
For a lot of people, the pandemic has changed the way they think about career, success, and work versus personal life. Have you felt the pandemic shift your priorities?
Definitely. I feel much more comfortable with prioritizing my own health. Pre-pandemic, it was like, Oh, I’ll just push through whatever the feeling is; I’m going to work while I’m sick. Honestly it had never occurred to me to not fulfill a commitment because I wasn’t feeling well. But a lot of the old ways no longer serve. It’s definitely horrific that it took an event like the pandemic and such a major loss of life for people to come to that, but I’m grateful for that learning.
You have played pretty ambitious characters — the adjective this magazine has previously used to describe these roles is alpha. Is there something about that mind-set that appeals to you or you really connect with?
I connect to roles that portray women in ways where they don’t have to be so likable and acceptable. That’s what attracts me, that they are living outside of the prescription most of us get on how to behave, what we can say and what we can’t say, and where we can push things. So even when they’re horrible — like Devin in Big Mouth — that’s what attracts me to them, that they’re just outside of what is still really limited representation. There’s such a long way to go in terms of the ways in which we’re comfortable seeing women and hearing their stories and seeing them in their full humanity and complexity and anger and rage and sadness and humor and wrongness — all the ways women show up. That’s what I find in my own life, that the women in it are so interesting, complicated, hilarious, insane, all of the stuff.
Who are some of those women in your life, who you see as role models or who help you to think about your work?
Jane Fonda is certainly one of them, the ways in which she’s constantly risking herself both creatively and personally, showing up and spending her privilege, spending her platform, over and over again. I find that really inspiring, and the ways in which she’s willing to open herself up as she ages, it’s really beautiful and it’s such important modeling for me, personally. Then there are my girlfriends: I’d mention Casey Wilson because we’ve been friends since we were 18 and her level of ambition, her belief in herself and in me, really propels my career because I didn’t always have that. I’m not sure I would have been so brave on my own. And then, of course, my mother was my first and still is my role model.
Did you ever just want to give up?
I remember auditioning for a series of network pilots and testing, being one of the last two — I had a spell where it was always between me and someone else, and I was always losing out. I was like, Oh my God, this is my narrative. I’m good enough to get to this level, but something’s missing where I can’t push it forward. It’s really easy to tell yourself those stories — and listen, I can still easily go down that road. But I also recognize I’m smart enough that I probably could have done a lot of other things in my life. I’ve chosen an artistic path. It really takes a lot of your own heartbeat, and I have to come back to that. If I weren’t up for that level of rejection, then I could choose something else. That is still, today even, within my power. But I continue to choose a challenging career.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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