Jean Smart’s acting career spans five decades, but her latest act could be her best yet. At age 69, the star has been trending on Twitter because of her work on HBO’s “Mare of Easttown” and “Hacks.” In a May 14 interview with Today, Smart said, “You got to make hay while the sun shines, especially if the roles are really, really good. I mean, I really couldn’t say ‘no’ to any of those parts.”
Smart might be best-known for her role in the sassy southern sitcom “Designing Women,” but right now, she’s everywhere. NPR critic Glen Weldon reviewed HBO Max’s “Hacks,” writing, “I don’t know if the role of Deborah Vance was written for Smart, but she certainly makes it seem like it was.” Variety predicts Smart is a leading contender for an Emmy Award nomination for the HBO Max dramedy.
At the peak of Smart’s long career, her success is mixed with deep sadness due to a recent family tragedy. Smart’s big moment, her “Jeanaissance,” is bittersweet. She’s powering through the pain and staying humble. Smart told Today, “I’ve been extremely fortunate to be connected with some really superior projects and work with such extraordinary people. I just don’t take any of it for granted.” Keep reading to learn the untold truth about Smart.
Jean Smart endured private grief in the midst of her biggest success
Jean Smart’s husband died in March 2021. Smart and her husband, actor Richard Gilliland, were married for 35 years but he died suddenly at 71. Smart told The New York Times, “There’s a big, big hole in the family that we’re still not quite believing.”
During her Today interview, Smart said, “I just would have liked to have shared these two shows with him. I know he loved the ‘Hacks’ script. He thought they were brilliantly written, very funny and it’s just hard not to share that with him.”
Gilliland and Smart met while working on “Designing Women,” and they married in 1987. Smart shared with The New York Times about meeting her husband, who came on the popular sitcom as Annie Pott’s boyfriend. She saw Gilliland at a table read and Smart told the outlet, “I thought, ‘Cute.’ We basically were never apart after that day.”
Gilliland and Smart share two children, Connor and Bonnie. There is a big age difference between the kids, as their son Connor is 31 at the time of this writing, and their daughter Bonnie is 12.
Smart told the world about her daughter during a visit to “The Bonnie Hunt Show” in 2009. People reported she and her husband and their son Connor went to China to adopt Bonnie, who was 18 months old. Not many people adopt babies in their fifties, but the “Hacks” star does things her way.
Jean Smart adopted her daughter from China
At the time of this writing, Jean Smart has a 12-year-old daughter who keeps the actor on her toes. In her interview with Today, Smart shared that her daughter informed her she had gone viral on Twitter. Smart revealed, “I don’t do social media, so my 12-year-old has insisted that I open a Twitter account. I’m not so sure I’m going to do that.”
Smart announced that her family had expanded from three to four members during a talk show appearance. Smart talked about the family trip to China to adopt their daughter and joked about her children’s age difference. Smart said that her son Connor was “more excited about the trip than the baby,” but that changed once he met his sister (via People). The outlet reported that her son was head over heels in love after only a few days, and Connor told his mom, “This is incredible… I didn’t know I was going to feel this way… She’s amazing.”
Smart calls herself an “industrial strength” diabetic. In a 1992 interview with the Chicago Tribune, she said her “gynecologist was livid” when she got pregnant with Connor. Getting pregnant a second time was not an option, and Smart and her husband, Richard Gilliland, talked about adoption for years.
According to The U.S. Sun, the family’s adoption took longer than they planned. Smart said, “When we finally started the process, it actually took a lot longer than we expected. We thought my son was going to be about 15 when we got the baby and he’s just turned 20.”
Jean Smart became a star on 'Designing Women'
Jean Smart spent the 70s paying her dues in regional theatre and soon became a star on the Broadway stage (via IMDb). Smart broke into TV with her role as Charlene on “Designing Women.” The sassy southern comedy ruled CBS primetime from 1986 to 1992. Smart left the series in 1991, but she kept busy and seemed to be constantly working.
Smart told The New York Times, “I was always kind of part character actress, part leading lady, and they didn’t know quite where to put me sometimes.” Her ability to fit into many different roles allowed Smart to compile a long list of credits, but she stood out even in smaller roles. According to The New York Times, Smart won two Emmy Awards in 2000 and 2001 for guest gigs on “Fraiser,” and won another Emmy in 2008 for Best Supporting Actress for her work on “Samantha Who?”
Smart has appeared in various television and film roles and has been nominated for 20 Emmys! From popular TV gigs on “Frasier,” “24,” and “Fargo,” to movies such as “Sweet Home Alabama,” “The Accountant,” and “Garden State,” the woman is everywhere!
During the pandemic, many fans revisited iconic sitcoms like “The Golden Girls” and “Designing Women.” Call it “comfort TV,” but many of the old sitcoms are cool again. Smart has always been cool, but in the last few years, she has become the “queen of HBO.”
Jean Smart has become the queen of HBO
Jean Smart has been deemed the “queen of HBO” by USA Today. Smart has been in three critically acclaimed HBO series over the past two years. She won raves and got a Critics Choice Award for 2019’s “Watchmen” for her work as FBI agent Laurie Blake. In 2021, Smart plays Kate Winslet’s mother, who’s obsessed with Fruit Ninja, in “Mare of Easttown,” and is starring in the HBO Max dramedy “Hacks.”
According to USA Today, fans have been shipping Smart’s return to TV since 2015, when she was in the FX series “Fargo.” She won a Critic’s Choice Award for “Fargo,” then followed up with roles in edgy shows “Big Mouth” and “Legion.”
Smart takes her new fame in stride. In a 2020 interview with Gold Derby, Smart dished about her role as FBI agent Laurie Blake, saying, “Who thought I was gonna play a badass at this stage of the game?” (Um, we did?)
Smart steals every “Mare of Easttown” scene she’s in, and that’s saying something since she’s working with Winslet! According to Today, Winslet calls Smart “mummy.” Smart said she bonded with the Oscar-winning “Titanic” star during the series, “I didn’t know what she was gonna be like, other than brilliant.” In her interview with Today, Smart noted that Winslet was the “most fun, delightful, generous, down-to-earth person you could ever hope for.”
Jean Smart received the recognition she deserves with 'Hacks'
Jean Smart told The New York Times, “For actors, I think the most painful thing is knowing how much you have to offer and never being given the opportunity to do it.” Smart is not going to have this worry anymore.
At 69, Smart is showing the world her talent as the star of “Hacks.” As mentioned, Smart is earning rave reviews for “Hacks,” with many critics asking why it took so long. The Atlantic praised Smart’s performance as aging comedian Deborah Vance in the HBO Max dramedy and said it’s the “kind of role she deserves.” The Atlantic review said, “The role finally has space for Smart to be all that she is: magnetic, riotous, strange, as commanding as a general, as complex as calculus.”
According to Jezebel, Smart is definitely winning an Emmy for “Hacks.” The outlet’s description of Deborah is perfect. Jezebel said Deborah is a woman who “collects $10,000 antique salt-and-pepper shakers, burned her ex-husband’s house down, and managed to pull off more shows on the strip than any other act in its history.” In other words, it’s a role Smart was born to play.
Hollywood could never put Smart in one box or genre. But it appears the industry has finally caught up to the talented actor. Fellow star Melissa McCarthy, who has worked with Smart multiple times, told The New York Times, “You can’t put someone so interesting, so intelligent and so kind in a box.” We couldn’t agree more.
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