June Diane Raphael on 'The High Note,' 'The Real Housewives' and What She's Taking on Right Now (Exclusive)

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June Diane Raphael
Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images

"My days are all just slowly descending into darkness," June Diane Raphael laughs over the phone. "I start out super positive, and then it's just a slow ride down to, like, total despair and depression by 7:00 p.m."

Right now, she tells me one recent morning in quarantine, she's OK. She's setting out to promote her new movie not with the traditional press tour of hotel junkets, late-show sit-downs and red-carpet premieres, but from her home in L.A. -- which mostly involves a lot of negotiating with her 5- and 3-year-old. "I mean, the screen time has been insane," she explains. "And by the way, sometimes I'm like, 'Who am to deny my kids the opportunity to watch movies and TV?' This is what's paying our bills! Why would I turn against this medium?"

Her new one is The High Note, a music-industry comedy starring Tracee Ellis Ross as Grace Davis, a pop diva due for a reinvention, and Dakota Johnson as her put-upon assistant. Raphael plays Grace's "house manager," Gail, a tankinied, freebie-loving hanger-on and one of The High Note's key scene stealers. In a chat with ET, Raphael talked working with Ellis Ross and the true-crime persona she channeled for Gail, as well as providing a state of the union on all things reality TV.

I would be remiss if I didn't ask you: What are you taking on and what are you not taking on during quarantine?

June Diane Raphael: Here's what I'm not taking on: I'm not taking on beauty standards right now. You know, usually I'm pretty disciplined about working out and keeping things together, but I gotta tell you, I'm enjoying this time to just kind of let it alllllll out and sort of be hidden from the world, aside from, like, the Zooms I'm in. And I'm actually quite enjoying that.

So I'm not taking on the standards of beauty that most women have to uphold. One of the things I am taking on is I'm taking on some terrible television. I mean, I thought I had standards there. That standard I am also not taking on, because I am on, like, 90 Day Fiancé. I really thought I had a higher threshold. I mean, some of the shows I'm watching, I have to tell you, it makes Bravo look like Turner Classic Movies. [Laughs] It is really grim.

You are a wise woman and very politically minded. I've found what's difficult for me in these times is balancing seeing the best of humanity while also seeing the absolute worst in a lot of people. How are you handling that?

I firmly believe that more people are being mindful and safe on behalf of the most vulnerable communities than not. More people are making sacrifices and decisions about their families and work and travel with the most vulnerable populations in mind, with the elderly and immunocompromised in mind. I really do think that's the truth. And the negative protests and the insanity that's out there, I think it's a smaller group of us, and it gets a lot of airplay.

I do wish that there was a bit more focus on just how many people are really willing to sacrifice right now, not just for their own health but really for the health and well-being of others. That's beautiful and that's how I hope we function after this as well, as soon as it is safer to be together. That basic concept of if someone around me is not well, that means that I'm not well, and if I'm not well, that means someone else around me is potentially not going to be well. That basic concept of connection I think is so powerful, and I really believe there's this huge opportunity to build on that after this.

Thankfully, as an incentive to stay at home, we have The High Note--

Beautiful segue.

Thank you, thank you. It is only feel-good, good, good. How did this make its way to you or you to it?

Gosh, I'm trying to remember. I think I just got the script and a note from our director, Nisha [Ganatra], saying she wanted me to play this part. I thought the script was already so wonderful, but I didn't have a totally clear understanding yet of the part. So when I first talked to Nisha, I said, "I'd love to do it -- I mean, everybody in this is incredible -- but are you open to really collaborating on the part with me, of taking what's on the page and really expanding it?" Not necessarily in the size of it, but just the specificity.

And she was so open and so collaborative and so excited to hear my ideas. I think this woman is kind of like a female Kato Kaelin, who's sort of living in the back of the house and trying to hold herself together but really has no purpose and is hoping nobody starts asking her the hard questions of, like, how she's getting paid. One thing I remember we talked about early was, I was like, "Nisha, I think I should always be in a bathing suit."

She's never not in a swimsuit.

We laughed really hard about that. So it was a wonderful experience working with Nisha. She was just a really-- I don't know. There are some directors you work with where you're like, "Oh, wow." They really get comedy and heart and want to keep things grounded, but also will let someone like me play on set. It was just a wonderful experience.

I'm not sure if you'll remember, but in Lady Gaga's A Star Is Born, one of the breakout stars was the assistant, Gail (Rebecca Field). So you are now in hallowed echelon there.

Of course, of course. It's true. This was just such a funny character. And I have been around enough sort of A-list stars that you do see people in their camps where you're like, "Who are you? And why are you being paid?" Some of them, they just were with them early and they're still around. And that's how Gail came to be.

June Diane Raphael, The High Note
Focus Features
The High Note, June Diane Raphael, Tracee Ellis Ross
Focus Features

You have these great scenes with Tracee and Dakota and Ice Cube. Do you have a memory from set that encapsulates what The High Note experience was for you?

You know, I had never met Dakota before. Tracee and I had a lunch together, because Casey Wilson, my best friend, had done this play in New York with Tracee -- it was the Nora Ephron rotating cast -- so she spent a month with Tracee and then when Casey and I came to L.A., she was like, "We can have lunch with Tracee Ellis Ross." And I was like, "Aaaahhhhh!!!"

It was one of those things where I brought it up to her, but I was so fearful that she would have absolutely no memory of me. I'm also close to Tracee's sister, Chudney, but again, I really hadn't seen Tracee since that meeting back in, like, 2004. And as it was happening, I'm like, "Don't bring it up. Why would she ever remember a random lunch? Like, it was so many years ago, June." And I went for it. I was like, "We actually did meet once." And she goes, "Le Pain Quotidien." And I was like, "Yes! Thank you!" [Laughs] I was just so relieved, because to call it even a lunch is generous. I feel like it was a latte meeting for 40 minutes, and she was so kind and encouraging of us. It was one of those swings, where you're just like, "I'm starting to talk, and I really hope this goes OK." And she had Le Pain Quotidien, so we were off to the races.

Tracee being kind in addition to beautiful, talented and she can sing, too? It's not fair.

It's crazy. And also, I will say about Tracee Ellis Ross. There are people you meet who bring a light onto the set and an energy that is just so... I don't know. So powerful. She walks onto set, and she's just so positive. She's a star. She's just an old-timely star. And I was worried, because sometimes I just find myself staring at her, and you know, it was a little creepy.

Are you feeling like you're itching to get back on set when this is over? Or are you feeling uncertain about the future still? Where are you with that?

Of course I want to go back when it's safe for everyone. We're actually doing a Zoom call with our crew on Grace and Frankie next week that Marta Kauffman's moderating, which I'm just excited to see everyone and check in. So I only of course want to go back when everybody's comfortable going back, but I will say I am absolutely dying to get back. [Laughs] I feel like I'm starting to do scene work alone with myself, just because it's such an intoxicating bug when you love to do that and do comedy and act. [Laughs] I think I have to for the sake of my family members. I have to get back, because I don't know how to funnel this anywhere else.

I just realized that if we weren't in lockdown, you could've had The High Note after-party in Dorit's Buca di Beppo room.

Oh, my gosh. [Laughs] That's a real miss. You know, we're grieving so much right now, but we can't forget to grieve that.

Who is bringing you joy these days, Bravo-wise, whether Beverly Hills or New York or Vanderpump Rules? Who's helping you get through all this?

Leah from New York is bringing me a lot of joy. I find her to be a breath of fresh air. I'm sort of fascinated by that strange accent she has that I can't nail. It's like New York but Connecticut and her mouth barely opens. But I'm just enjoying some of the looks and I'm enjoying the hoops. She's very interesting, and she's sparking a lot of joy for me.

How was it being on a Zoom call with Denise Richards for Watch What Happens Live?

That was wild. I wanted to ask but I didn't, but like, were we finding her in her house? Is that a set that they're creating in their homes? I just had a blank wall behind me, but I'm finding the Zoom backgrounds to be fascinating. For Denise, it was flowers and a candle and it sort of matched her outfit. So I don't know how that's happening.

Our working theory is that that is actually in Aaron's center.

Ooooooh, God. That's about right. Gosh, it's taken a tumble this past season. Whoa.

The opposite of sparking joy, what did you think of Vicki Gunvalson tweeting Gov. Newsom asking him to reopen hair salons? Are you taking that on?

I mean, it's so Vicki. It's just so very Vicki. It's like, people are who they are, pandemic or no. We show up as ourselves. And boy, is she showing up as Vicki as her. That's the thing, of course, is with underlying all of this is it's not about, "Oh, we're opening up the economy." It's about a lot of white people asking to literally be served. And it's really gross. But it's right as rain.

Well, thank you so very much for hopping on the phone. This will hold off my despair for a little while today.

OK, good. Yeah. Just till about 4:00 p.m.


The High Note premieres at home on demand May 29.

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