I mean, who deserves to be celebrated this year more than Jean Smart? The only acceptable answer is "nobody." As we head to Emmy weekend, it's time to trumpet the Jean Smart Appreciation Club. My Variety cover story:
Jean Smart knows what people have been saying about her career lately. She just wishes they wouldn’t use the term “Jeanaissance” when doing so.
Type that into any search engine, and numerous posts pop up with the phrase, invoked as a shorthand to describe the actor’s recent string of standout performances.
The actual Jean Smart is both flattered and slightly embarrassed by this attention — to the point that perhaps we should tone down the use of that particular term (and resist using it as a hashtag). “I told somebody they’re not allowed to say it if they can’t spell it,” she jokes.
But the truth is, Smart is indeed having a peak career moment, however you want to call it. As Helen, the eccentric and stubborn live-in mother of troubled police detective Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet) in HBO’s “Mare of Easttown,” she stole every scene she was in — including the moment when we discover Helen’s secret ice cream hiding place (an empty bag of frozen veggies).
And then there’s “Hacks,” the HBO Max comedy from Universal Television that’s a rare leading role for Smart, as iconic but past-her-prime comedian Deborah Vance, who clashes with a young writer, Ava (Hannah Einbinder), brought in to revise her stale Las Vegas residency. In an early scene-stealing moment, Deborah and Ava are stuck in the desert when their car breaks down. Deborah calls up a local news chopper to pick her up — and leaves Ava behind to take care of the car.
The role perfectly showcases Smart’s range, mixing comedy and drama with both hilarious, over-the-top scenes and deep, soul-searching moments as Deborah struggles to maintain relevance in a world that is moving on without her.
The world’s not moving on from Smart; as a matter of fact, it’s just catching up to her. She is Emmy nominated for both roles, as comedy actress (for “Hacks”) and limited series supporting actress (“Mare”). And she’s among the front-runners in both races — perhaps setting even more of a spotlight on her at the Sept. 19 ceremony.
“I certainly realize that’s not the norm for most actresses of my vintage,” she says of her recent abundance of great gigs, which includes an Emmy-nominated supporting turn for “Watchmen” in the limited series category last year.
There was no grand plan for “Hacks” and “Mare” to hit the small screen simultaneously. “It was pure luck,” Smart says. “The fact that I had two roles that were such good ones, and kind of worlds apart, coming out at the same time — actors never get that opportunity.” The success comes with a bittersweet note, however, as Smart lost her husband, Richard Gilliland, in March, right as she was wrapping filming on “Hacks.” It’s a heartbreaking coda to a professional experience that Smart calls a “love fest. … The show has been more than we ever could have dreamed of.”
Read more here.
And watch my video with Jean Smart below:<