Though her role in Alexander Payne's 2013 dramedy "Nebraska" was small, Angela McEwan was singled out for her wistfully sweet turn as a small-town newspaper editor who had long loved Woody (Bruce Dern) and regretted losing him to the feisty Kate (June Squibb).
McEwan, who had recently turned to acting when she got the part in "Nebraska," died Sunday from complications of lung cancer at the age of 81.
"My mom had an amazing capacity to see good in everyone," said her son Carlos McEwan in a statement Monday. "She believed that everyone tries to do their best within their abilities, so there is no reason to be negative."
McEwan, who was born in Santa Monica in 1934, had dreamed of becoming an actress when she was just a child and studied at Los Angeles City College and at UCLA. But then she fell in love and married Guillermo McEwan, a medical student at UCLA from Nicaragua. After they married, the couple moved to Mexico where McEwan began to act and continued to perform in local theater productions when they moved to Temple, Texas.
Upon returning to Southern California, she earned a master's in Spanish at UC Irvine, where she also taught before becoming a criminal court Spanish interpreter for 30 years.
When her late husband retired about a decade ago, McEwan began taking acting lessons and did some episodic work on "The New Girl," "Parks and Recreations" and other series.
"She came late in life to acting," Payne said in an interview with The Times in 2014. "I cast her off a tape. [Casting director] John Jackson and I were in Omaha and hadn't pulled the trigger on that part. We knew we wanted someone quite special. We kept returning to the tape."
Payne, though, doesn't like to cast someone without meeting them personally. "I happened to becoming out to Los Angeles and I called her. I met her at her sister-in-law's home in Hancock Park. We had coffee together in the late afternoon. She had baked me cookies. It just came from her heart."
Payne and his casting director John Jackson had been seeking lesser-known actors and even retired farmers for "Nebraska," but their biggest discovery might have been McEwan.
"'I don't know who she is, but look how sweet she is,'" Payne recalled Johnson saying after seeing McEwan's tape.
McEwan, who had a recurring role on HBO's "Getting On," continued to work after she was diagnosed with cancer in October 2014. She also had a role in the indie film "The Boonville Redemption," with Pat Boone and Diane Ladd.
A writer, McEwan's poetry has been published in such literary magazines as "Revista Chicano Riquena" and "Apostrophe."
She is survived by her sons Carlos and William McEwan and three grandchildren. Services are pending.