• Golden Globe Awards

Winners Circle 2022: Nominee Profile 2022: Jean Smart, “Hacks”

From the eccentric ice cream-hoarding mother in Mare of Easttown, to a legendary comic in Hacks, Jean Smart is having a big career moment. Both shows were renewed for second seasons, Hacks received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Musical or Comedy TV series, and Smart received her first Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in the same TV category.
Smart plays Deborah Vance, a seasoned but tired comic struggling to keep her Las Vegas residency and stay relevant. Her manager sends help, a young comedy writer, Ava Daniels (played by real-life comedian Hannah Einbinder who also got her first Golden Globe nomination) who just lost her writing job for tweeting a bad joke. The two women grudgingly work together, but both must deal with career and generational biases, as well as each other. One situation is when Vance walks in on Daniels sexting. “I think what we got here is a pretty classic generational mistake,” Daniels explains. “You know, it’s very normal for people my age to send nudes. It’s about having agency over our sexuality.” Vance replies coolly,” Just don’t do it on my time or in my chair. It’s an antique.”
While the show doesn’t break much new ground, the female-driven comedy punctuated by strong performances is certainly binge-worthy.
Like her character Vance, Jean Smart has been working steadily in show business for nearly half a century. Growing up in Seattle, she started her acting career in regional theater groups after graduating from the University of Washington with a degree in theater.
When the HFPA first met Smart, she had just become known as Charlene Frazier, the office manager of a fashion company, in the female-centric sitcom, Designing Women. “I love playing Charlene as she’s the eternal optimist,” she told us. “It’s refreshing how un-jaded she is in this day and age. Her only problem is she is naïve to a fault sometimes.”
Smart met her husband, actor Richard Gilliland, while working on the show. Gilliland passed away in March 2021. The show went on to earn 18 Emmy nominations but Smart left after five seasons in 1991, and started to bounce between stage, film and TV movies and series, mostly appearing in supporting roles or as a part of ensemble casts.
She started to reap critical success in the past decade when she made guest appearances on the comedy series Frasier, for which she brought home her first Emmy. She received back-to-back Emmy nominations playing the mentally unhinged First Lady Martha Logan in the FOX action series 24. She then took home another Emmy for the supporting role of the hilariously unlikable mother in Samantha Who? The press even coined “Jean-aissance” celebrating her career resurgence, the term Smart said she wishes to do without.
While Smart has shone in smaller roles, it is Hacks that finally seized the momentum and showcased her acting range. Smart’s starring turn at age 70 is a rarity in any profession. From Designing Women to Hacks, maybe the real hack is to keep showing up and never give up.