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September 2, 2015

Jean Smart: The TV Squad interview

by Allison Waldman, posted Jun 16th 2008 11:02AM
Jean SmartJean Smart is one of TV's most popular and prodigious actresses. Capable of doing comedy and drama equally well, it seems that not a season passes without Jean making her mark. This past year, she was wonderful as Christina Applegate's mother on Samantha Who?

The two-time Emmy winner (for guesting on Frasier), is likely to win an Emmy nomination, which I discussed with her recently. But what about her other TV work. Here's some thoughts about 24, Designing Women and other TV memories. And find out what she thinks is the best show ever on television!

Allison Waldman: What are your memories from playing Charlene Frazier on Designing Women?

Jean Smart: There are so many. Of course, meeting my husband (Richard Gilliland). I met him on the fifth episode and we hadn't even been on the air yet. I remember the chemistry that we all had together, which was so much fun. When my character got married on the show, I found out I was pregnant, so I got it in just under the wire. Charlene was a good Baptist girl, she couldn't be pregnant without being married.

AW: One of your dramatic roles was playing the First Lady, Martha Logan, on 24? What was that experience like?

JS: It's very much an in the moment show. It's kind of scary. It's like jumping on a moving train, so it's a real challenge acting wise because you have to think back to the previous episodes to know the previous hours of the scene.

AW: I thought you were a shoo-in to win the Emmy for 24; it was such an amazing character and performance. Why do you think you didn't get it?

JS: Every episode stands alone on other shows, but on 24, it doesn't. That's one of the reasons I think that more actors have not won Emmys on 24 is because when you submit an episode to the Emmys, that hour doesn't really stand alone. It's totally dependent on what happened the hour before. There isn't a wonderful arc for your character in that hour, a beginning a middle and an end. At the same time, it's a wonderful challenge because you have to be right in the moment.

AW: You had great chemistry with Gregory Itzin, who played President Charles Logan. How did you two connect?

JS: He and I had done a play together years and years ago at the Coronet Theater, so there was an immediate sort of comfort level there. We work the same way. Working with Gregory was great. The creators of the show were incredibly open to things that we wanted to do. Gregory and I would get together and talk about things that wouldn't necessarily even affect the scripts, but we wanted to have this information in our heads and our hearts when we were doing it. We created a whole backstory to bring to their marriage.

AW: Like 24, Designing Women had great writing...

JS: Well, Linda Bloodworth is such an amazing writer. She did the first three seasons, she wrote the whole thing herself. She did it, as I recall, in long hand on a legal pad. She's like a writing machine. I don't think she ever quite got the credit for how good Designing Women was. It wasn't a typical sitcom where some of the lines are interchangeable with the characters. Those lines were so specific to those characters. On top of that, I don't recall any sitcom before that where people had page-long monologues. It was Heaven. Most of us came from the theater, so that was just a treat. In the theater you're used to having really wonderful words and you don't always get that on TV.

AW: Is Regina on Samantha Who? becoming a favorite TV character of yours?

JS: I have favorites in different genres. In TV films, one of my favorites was Overkill, the Aileen Wuornos story. And I was in a short-lived series called Style and Substance written by Peter Tolan. Quite frankly, it was a take-off on Martha Stewart, and that was absolutely glorious to play. I'm still sort of figuring Regina out. She's thrilled to have her daughter back into her life, but you can see how they would have always been at logger-heads.

AW: What do you like to watch on TV?

JS: I don't watch a lot of TV, and if I do it's very late at night. If there's an episode of Frasier, I always watch that. I think that's the best show ever, ever on television. It never ever talked down to the audience. If they were talking about a vintage of a certain wine, you went along. And even if you didn't totally get it, you understood the humor because the characters were so specific. You understood them so well. It was incredible. As an audience, you just knew this was going to be a great ride. Just buckle up your seat belt. People knew with Frasier to go wherever they were going to take them.

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