Jean Smart Breaks Down Her Career, from '24' to 'Hacks'
Released on 12/21/2022
I kinda need to hear the character's voice in my head.
Otherwise, I think, nope,
I just don't connect with this at all.
But sometimes you read, and I just go,
I, I know exactly who that person is.
I feel, just an instant connection.
[gentle piano music]
Hi, I'm Jean Smart, I'm here with Vanity Fair,
and we're gonna talk about my career timeline.
Are you an angel?
No, I'm just a movie star.
I don't think I'd make angel if I died.
I tell ya, they couldn't of sent me anybody better.
I've always felt this special bond with you, you know,
'cause we're both country girls from big, poor families,
and we both have blonde hair, and we both have, you know.
[Dolly] Yeah, I noticed.
Well, at first it was actually very scary.
I don't know why in particular,
because I had done a lot of theater,
so I think that's the difference between doing just,
camera work and doing theater.
Theater gives you an enormous amount
of self-confidence, I think.
I had done about five series before that,
but I must've unconsciously known
that that one was going to go,
because I remember being so nervous
and crying the night before after I'd signed the contract,
thinking, I've sold myself out.
I'm gonna be doing this for the next million years.
Of course, it was a fabulous experience.
What a cast, and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, what a writer.
She literally, for the first two or three seasons,
wrote those scripts by hand, in longhand, on a legal pad.
She was astonishing.
And, I had the gift of working with the most amazing cast.
But it was a wonderful time in my life,
and I met my husband, and I was pregnant on the show
with my oldest son, and it was a wonderful, wonderful time.
It would've been so easy for you
to just make things nice for her.
Well, I guess I just,
I get jealous sometimes
of all the people you got that care about you,
and I'm sorry, I don't,
know how to be sometimes.
I did a lot of TV movies, some of which, I think,
were really, quite wonderful.
Overkill: The Aileen Wuornos Story, that was the first job
I did actually after Designing Women.
Why they thought of me for that part, I'm not sure, but,
the producer later told me, he said,
Well, I wanted her to be sympathetic.
I said, Oh, okay.
That was a terrific experience.
I did it with a wonderful actress named Park Overall,
but of course, since it, since it was a television movie,
you know, we weren't allowed to show
that we were actually a couple.
I wasn't even allowed to like, put my arm around her.
We weren't allowed to infer that we were a couple.
So, of course, when later they did it as a feature,
I was so jealous, because they didn't have any
of those restraints of sponsors, and censors,
and things like that.
take a cookie.
You know, last week at the firm, a couple of women did this.
After you read your fortune out loud,
add the words, 'in bed,' to the end of it.
You'll see, it's funny.
I actually had, you know, Oscar buzz for like,
I dunno, three minutes?
A wonderful script written by the late Audrey Wells,
who was a phenomenal writer,
I did two or three of her movies.
Unfortunately, not a lotta people saw it
because it was sort of a very small, limited,
art house kind of release, so,
it didn't get a wide audience, but it was,
it was a great experience.
Oh, crap, I'm late!
Is there something I can do?
Oh, yeah, make this lousy hangover go away.
Where the hell are those aspirin?
You know, perhaps I should get you
a glass of water for those, uh,
would you prefer sparkling or still?
Or not, I see you're fine.
Oh, I'm sorry, did you wanna finish this?
One of my favorite roles ever.
I think I'd only done one guest spot on a show
at that point, and this was before doing a guest spot
on shows was considered cool, or okay,
so I was kind of, had my nose up in the air
about it a little bit.
My agent called me, and he said, You know, they,
they wanna offer you this guest spot on Frasier.
I said, Oh.
And he said, Oh, you've gotta read this.
You've got to read this, it is so funny.
So I read it and I said, Oh, dear God!
Where do I sign? You know?
It was just one of the funniest things that I've ever read.
Truly, one of the best sitcoms ever, ever, ever.
Such a delightful cast, and they all adored each other.
It was just one of the most fun sets to work on.
To work with Kelsey and, and David Hyde Pierce,
was just heaven.
They'd sit and play the piano between shots,
and they were the most delightful guys to work with,
and, and it was such a fun character 'cause she,
she had anger issues, but she could just be, like,
really sweet and charming, and funny,
and kinda sexy, and then she would just like,
go off on people, like, from zero to 60.
And it was, it was a lot of fun.
You know, I hate to be a, a fusspot, but I'd prefer--
Put your brother on.
Put your brother on! Put your brother on!
What's nice about a really good show like that,
if it's well done and well-written,
is that the audience is already ahead of you.
They know the characters so well
that they're already laughing
before you've even finished a line sometimes.
Like, for instance, when we wake up the next morning in bed,
and I light up a cigarette, the audience knows instantly
he's gonna go, Oh, God, no.
Just everything about it was so appalling to him,
and about, the audience knew it so organically,
because they've been living with him
and loving him through so long.
But I got my first Emmy for that show, so.
It was so funny.
Why doesn't the White House just contact Yuri directly?
[Man] They did, it didn't work.
[Jean] Why not?
Martha, this is very complicated.
Please, don't make me explain everything
in details, we don't have--
Oh, oh, oh, I'm sorry, just do as you say without asking,
I'm sorry, you haven't changed a bit.
24, I think, is really when people looked at me
a little bit differently,
where I played the president's wife.
I'm working with the late, brilliant Gregory Itzin,
who played the president.
He was an amazing actor, amazing actor.
We had a lotta fun, we'd sing, sing show tunes
between takes and stuff.
That show was just wild, because,
you're supposed to believe that this entire season
took place in 24 hours, you know, so,
I was constantly running over to the script supervisor,
saying, Oh, wait, we just,
what, we just had that argument,
that we did like, three months ago, but,
we really only had it like an hour ago,
so I'm still mad at him.
It's like, oh, my God, this is, somehow I found a way
to change costumes five times within that 24 hours.
I figured she's the first lady, she's allowed, right?
We retain full control of our remaining operations.
The Gerhardt family still runs North Dakota.
But with Kansas City.
Partnership, not a sale.
That was an exceptional experience.
I, that was the first time I think I'd been on a show
where every element of that show,
everybody was on their A-game.
I don't care from, you're talking about craft service,
to every crew member, to every writer, producer,
cast member, costumer, everybody.
I thought the show was just brilliant and mesmerizing,
and the style of the show was so unique.
All you had to do was say 'Fargo.'
It just sorta became the word, 'Fargo' became,
not just the name of a city anymore,
Fargo was sort of a state of mind.
It was sort of a, I don't know how Noah Hawley did it,
Don't assume, just because I'm an old woman,
that my back is weak and my stomach's not strong.
I make this counter because a deal is always better in more,
but no mistake, we'll fight to keep what's ours
'til the last man.
The character that I got to play, Floyd Gerhardt,
who was sort of the head of a crime family,
I loved playing that character.
First of all, she's just raw, there's like no makeup,
she's a rancher, she's a rancher's wife.
You know, when her husband becomes debilitated
from a stroke she just has no problem just stepping in
and taking over, and taking control,
and facing down the syndicate, and every,
all this kind of stuff, but,
and people described her as very scary.
And I thought, well I, I just think she was just sort of,
you know, a really supportive mother, of her crazy sons,
who are psychotic killers, and,
she came from a generation, and a climate where she grew up
where you just do what needs to be done.
Back the fuck off.
Release the hostage. It's over.
How'd you know we were gonna be here?
Did you get an anonymous tip?
What if it was the FBI?
Because what you're doing right now,
vigilantism, is illegal.
Again, the script was so fabulous.
Thank you, Sigourney Weaver, for turning the part down.
I was not familiar with the graphic novel, at all,
so I got a quick, quick lesson in Watchmen history.
It was just such a fun part, playing a badass FBI agent.
I had so much fun.
As women, you don't get to play those kind of parts
very often, where you're shooting at people and stuff.
Not that I promote guns, at all!
I mean, she was just so dry,
and she thought she had everybody's number,
and she was like, the coolest, and,
she thought that she had everybody else buffaloed and cowed,
which she did most of the time, but,
she also was very vulnerable, very vulnerable, and,
but it was, it was a lot of fun,
a lot of fun playing her.
I had an affair, with Helen Fahey.
Want me to play Kate's mom?
You got it.
The script was so dark, very, very, very dark.
And I had some concerns about,
how they were gonna depict what was happening
to those young girls, because I,
I feel responsible for what I'm involved in
and what's being put out there.
You don't want to trigger the crazies.
And I went, I went to the director at one point,
and I said, I know it's none of my business,
because I'm not in those scenes, but I'm just curious,
are we really gonna shoot those the way they're written?
And he said, Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no,
it's gonna be all sort of inferred.
Certain things are gonna be inferred.
And it was just as, frightening,
and dark, and you know,
but I mean, it was just such an amazing cast,
and working with Kate, what a treasure
and a pleasure she is, I adore her.
She calls me Mummy.
She's game for anything, and she's so kind,
and so professional, and so funny too,
I mean, she really needs to do more comedy, she's hilarious.
Listen to me, affair's a strong word, very strong.
It happened twice.
Okay, three times, tops.
But you know, the fact that I can't even remember how many
should tell you all you need to know
about what it meant to me.
I had an accident on the set one day,
I fell over a railing and broke my rib,
and we were waiting for the paramedics, and,
they finally get there and they're trying to get me
on the gurney and everything, and she's saying,
It's all right, Mummy.
They're coming, they're gonna take care of you, Mummy.
So we got in the ambulance, and the guy's,
starting to hook up an IV for me and everything.
And he's saying, Boy, your daughter
was sure worried about you.
I said, My what?
I said, Oh, oh, oh, no, no, no!
No, she's an actress, she just plays my daughter.
I said, Didn't you recognize her?
And he said, No, who was it?
I said, Kate Winslet.
And he went, Oh, my God, I missed Kate Winslet!
And I said, Could you get back to, please, fanboy?
But no, that, that was a, piece that was just put together
with everybody at the top of their game, and,
plus, I got to just let it all hang out.
I had a padded butt, and, you know,
I got to wear goofy sweater vests and a bad wig,
and I just, got to, not worry about, you know,
looking good, which was, a nice,
change of pace.
I, I'm sorry, did I, did I do something to offend you?
Other than walk those chimney sweep boots
on my silk rug?
Sorry, I, I didn't realize it was a shoes-off situation.
Well, it's shoe dependent.
Thank you for your time.
That was a bit of serendipity,
and Hacks had just about everything I could've asked for
in a part, on the page, from day one.
When the producers called me in, when they offered it to me,
I said, I said, You're right, I'm perfect for this.
I couldn't work for nicer, smarter, wittier people,
more creative, Hannah Einbinder, what a dream, as costar.
Just started season three.
We've got so much of the crew back,
'cause they love the show as much as we do.
So, I'm excited.
Just glad to see you're getting your fluids, sweetheart.
You'll have to excuse her.
She has a UTI.
They had narrowed down hundreds of actresses to,
I had about five or six young women,
and they sent me tapes of their auditions.
I also looked up some of Hannah's standup comedy.
And then we did, what they call a chemistry read.
I remember calling Hannah the night before,
partly because I knew
that she had really never acted before.
And I just introduced myself, and I said, you know,
Don't be nervous tomorrow, let's just have fun,
let's just go for it, it's a great scene, you know?
And she said that helped a lot with her nerves, and so,
it went great.
Anytime someone threads a frame of yours through a sprocket,
you'll be alive again.
You see what that means?
One day, every person on every film shot this year
will be dead, and one day all those films will be pulled
from the walls, and all their ghosts will dine together.
Well, when you have a writer like Damien Chazelle,
who's so brilliant, you usually don't have to do much
with the writing at all,
and I was already a huge fan of his.
And, obviously the thought of doing it with Brad was, just,
you know, a dream come true.
I just was afraid 'cause the scene was, for, for a movie,
it was a very long scene, and I thought, oh no,
they're gonna probably cut some of this,
and it's so good, it's so good, and,
inevitably, seriously, it's a law of physics,
inevitably, the scene in a script,
that is the reason you took the job,
is always the scene that gets cut.
Not cut, but edited down.
But it wasn't, and it was just really right there
on the page.
Child, born in 50 years,
will stumble across your image, flickering on a screen,
and feel, he knows you, like, like a friend.
You've been given a gift.
You'll spend eternity with angels and ghosts.
Oh, looking in Brad's eyes, oh, it was heartbreaking.
The thing you see at the end, that she is,
every bit as much enamored with this idea
that we still have to this day
of movies kind of immortalizing people,
and you're catching moments in time,
that will never come again, and that you can watch over,
and over, and over, and over, and she tells Jack, you know,
that you're gonna be immortal, and she believes that,
and you can see then that she's just as much,
taken with that magical idea
as anybody else that we've seen in the film.
I feel very grateful that my career
has been sort of a gradual escalation.
I wouldn't have minded if it had been a little faster.
I don't take any of it for granted.
I, and, I think it must be very difficult
to have the opposite experience, where you,
start out with all sorts of acclaim,
and become famous in your 20s, or 30s,
and then it somehow just fizzles and disappears.
That's gotta be tough, that's gotta be tough.
I'm glad I didn't go through that.
Starring: Jean Smart
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