Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
Oliver Gettell
December 22, 2015 AT 09:37 PM EST

Angela McEwan, who realized her lifelong dream of becoming a professional actress in her 70s and had a scene-stealing turn in Nebraska, died Dec. 20 from complications of lung cancer. She was 81.

Her publicist Carlos Martinez confirmed the news to EW.

McEwan played a small-town newspaper editor in director Alexander Payne’s offbeat 2013 road dramedy, delivering what New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis called “a flawlessly calibrated wistful performance.”

A native of Southern California, McEwan set out to become an actress early in life but put her aspirations on hold to raise a family and work as a criminal-court Spanish interpreter for nearly 30 years. She began attending acting classes and workshops again about a decade ago, after her husband, gastroenterologist Guillermo McEwan, retired.

Her career began to pick up about five years ago, around the time her husband passed away, with roles on TV’s New Girl, Parks and Recreation, and Getting On.

Acting helped her cope with the loss, McEwan told the Los Angeles Daily News in 2014. “I said, ‘Thank God I have something interesting to do.’ I’ve seen other women lose their husbands and it’s like, ‘What do I do with my life?’ But I was thinking, ‘This is what I want to do and I’m finally getting to do it.'”

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