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Jean Smart: What I Know Now

The ‘Hacks’ star on being kind, getting naked on-screen (she won’t!) and honoring the ones you love

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Robert Trachtenberg/Trunk Archive

Using college wisely

I decided in high school that I wanted to act, and to major in theater in college. But I didn’t know anyone who did that for a living. My mom thought it was frivolous. She and my dad grew up during the Depression and saw college — they’d both attended — as a privilege, not to be wasted. As soon as my mother started seeing me in shows, though, she said she started thinking, Oh, maybe she’s onto something here.

Being an ‘it’ girl, again

Designing Women was a hit, but the reaction to Hacks has been just enormous. The attention is lovely, but it’s kind of baffling. The advice I would give to other actors is, you know, just don’t go away. Eventually they’ll find you again. [Laughs.]

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Ignore (most of) the naysayers

I try not to read all reviews. It’s not healthy. But if I get a great review and someone sticks it under my nose, I’m very happy to read it!

Drama or comedy?

If I had to do one or the other, I would probably pick drama, because you can always be funny in your personal life. And if you’re funny all the time at work, maybe … you’re more of a drama queen at home? [Laughs.]

The reason she won’t get naked

God bless people who are that uninhibited. But when I had the opportunity to do that, I thought, How could I face my poor father? He'd be embarrassed in front of his friends. Although I’ve thought a couple of times recently, Well, maybe I could have briefly gone topless. I mean, they still look good — not as good as they did, but pretty good!

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Robert Trachtenberg/Trunk Archive

Everyone needs to feel seen

My children get frustrated with me because I talk to strangers. They’ll be, like, “Mom, my God, just walk away!” But I can’t. I can’t imagine anything worse than being on the streets and people walking by you, literally as if you’re not there. I said to my kids when they first went to New York City, “Even if you can’t give money, don’t walk by someone like they’re not there.” Just say, “No, I’m so sorry — I can’t today,” or “Hello,” or anything. Just to acknowledge their presence: You see them. You hear them.

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Plastic surgery for all (but not me, not yet)

I don’t take care of my skin. I’m terrible. But I’m just lucky — I’ve got good skin. I’ve done a little Botox, because I tend to scowl. I can’t look angry on camera all the time. I tried filler once, and it was not pleasant. I didn’t get the results I wanted. Now I’m dying to get my eyes done — but I’m terrified!

People I want to work with

Sarah Paulson. Joaquin Phoenix. Oh, and Anthony Hopkins. I’ve been in love with him since high school. And I just worked with two others on my list, Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt, in Babylon, a movie out later this year (Dec. 25). Brad Pitt!​

Celebrate the people you love while you can

I’ve been trying to decide what to do with my husband’s ashes. [Actor Richard Gilliland died of a heart condition in 2021.] He was of Irish descent, and I thought I would scatter the ashes in Dublin last summer, but it was too soon for the kids. A year before he died, though, I threw him a big surprise party for his 70th birthday. Everybody who was near and dear to him was there, and it was really, really great. Oh, God, they roasted him mercilessly! So, I haven’t had any kind of a service, because I thought, I can’t top that.

—As told to Judith Newman

Four-time Emmy winner Jean Smart, 70, stars in Hacks and the upcoming movie Babylon. She has also starred in Mare of Easttown, Fargo, Watchmen and the classic sitcom Designing Women.

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