A chat with Jean Smart, Jean Smart interview, Youth in Revolt, Samantha Who?, Designing Women
Jean Smart

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Given his dual roles of Nick Twisp and Francois Dillinger, there’s no question that Michael Cera is the star of “Youth in Revolt,” but the film – which, for the record, hits DVD on June 15 – surrounds him with a heck of an ensemble, one which includes Zach Galifianakis, Justin Long, Steve Buscemi, Portia Doubleday, Ray Liotta, M. Emmet Walsh, Fred Willard, and, as Nick’s mother, Jean Smart. Bullz-Eye was provided with the opportunity to chat with Ms. Smart, and we jumped at it, making sure to ask her not only about her most famous sitcoms (“Designing Women,” “Samantha Who”), but also about her work on the late, great “24.”

Jean Smart: Hi!

Bullz-Eye: Hi, Jean, how are you? It’s a pleasure to talk to you.

JS: Thank you! I’m sorry if I kept you waiting. My little girl’s not feeling well.

BE: That’s okay. I’ve got a 4-year-old, and I work at home, so I know where you’re coming from.

JS: There you go!

BE: Well, I checked out “Youth in Revolt” last night, and I really enjoyed it.

JS: Oh, thank you! It’s really fun!

BE: It’s a great ensemble, to be sure. So did they come looking for you, or did you happen upon the part?

"Apparently, and I have always meant to ask him about this, but Michael Cera wanted me for the part (in 'Youth in Revolt'). I always meant to ask him what he saw me in that made him think of me, but I was very flattered and delighted. I’m very impressed with that young man. I was a big fan already."

JS: Well, apparently, and I have always meant to ask him about this, but Michael Cera wanted me for the part. I always meant to ask him what he saw me in that made him think of me, but I was very flattered and delighted.

BE: So you’d never worked with him before, then?

JS: No, but I’m very impressed with that young man. I was a big fan already.

BE: Of course, the obvious question for you, I guess, is who’s the better kisser: Zach Galifianakis or Ray Liotta?

JS: (Laughs) Well, actually, if you go back and see the film again, I never actually kissed Zach.

BE: Really? I blame it on the beard, personally.

JS: (Laughs) It’s not that I didn’t want to. It’s just that it didn’t happen. Oh, he is just a hoot. I’m just crazy about him. He’s hilarious.

BE: What was it like playing against such disparate acting styles as Zach and Ray?

JS: Well, Zach, of course, had done mostly stand-up and things like that up ‘til then. I think he might’ve done a couple of films, but now he’s in every film that comes out, I swear. But he really is a terrific actor, and Ray, of course, everybody knows he’s a terrific actor, so in terms of that, it was just that the characters were so different. I didn’t think I’d ever be taking a shower with Ray Liotta, so that was interesting. (Laughs) He’s a lot of fun.

BE: That begs a question: what was it like shooting the shower scene? How much did you actually have to bare?

JS: Well, to tell the truth, we both had bathing suits on, or the equivalent thereof. At first, they wanted to sort of see, uh, stuff through the shower curtain, but I said, “Oh, no, no, no. Please. I have a 19-year-old son. He’ll be totally humiliated.” And they said, “Oh, that’s alright, we don’t need to do that.”

BE: Speaking of motherhood, not so very long ago, you were playing Christina Applegate’s mother on “Samantha Who,” and here you’re playing Michael Cera’s mother. Do you recall that specific moment when you started getting mom roles?

Jean SmartJS: I guess it was actually several years ago when I did one of my favorite projects, a movie called “Guinevere,” that Audrey Wells wrote, with Sarah Polley and Stephen Rea. Yeah, it’s sort of a shocker when it first happens. You think, “Whoa, when did this happen?” (Laughs) But, y’know, if it’s a good part, it doesn’t really matter. I mean, I have a friend who was a grandfather when he was 36 years old, so it’s all just sort of numbers. It doesn’t really mean much after awhile.

BE: How was Miguel Arteta to work with as a director? I mean, it’s not like he isn’t an experienced director, but it had been a few years since he’d helmed a feature film.

JS: Oh, I would do any project with him again. He’s so bright, and he’s so kind. He’s so fond of actors. He so likes and respects actors, which isn’t always the case. (Laughs) Unfortunately. So that was a real pleasure.

BE: Had you been familiar with his other films, like “Chuck and Buck” and “The Good Girl,” prior to this?

JS: Yes. One of the things I really liked about this film was that I thought it had such a great style. He obviously had a real strong sense of what he wanted and how he wanted it to look and feel, and I just was incredibly impressed with it. I thought it came out even better than I’d expected going in.

BE: Actually, I first bought the book more than a decade ago, and I was really impressed with the adaptation.

JS: Yeah, they certainly did a good job! The writer came to the set, and we all got to meet him…and he autographed my book!

BE: I wanted to ask you about a few other projects you’ve worked on over the years, and I actually brought one of them up a few moments ago: “Samantha Who.”

JS: Oh, thank you. Yeah, that was a big disappointment and kind of a shock when that ended.

BE: Yeah, I mean, it seemed like it was progressing along nicely, but for whatever reason…I guess ABC hadn’t quite become a place to go for comedy yet.

JS: Yeah, I don’t know. You think, “God, what more could a network want?” Right away, we got great ratings, we got great reviews, we won the People’s Choice award, I won an Emmy, Christina got nominated for every award humanly possible…and then they took us off the air. Then they put us back on at very odd times months and months later, and they said, “Gosh, your ratings aren’t great.” Gee, y’think?

BE: What was it like having Kevin Dunn for a husband?

JS: Oh, I’m crazy about that man. I just adore him. I’d always been a big fan of his, so…he’s just an actor’s actor, and he’s such a nice guy, and so smart and funny. I think he can do just about anything. I think he’s great.

BE: It was a very interesting chemistry that you guys had on the show, with your character spending half the time completely oblivious to anything he was doing or saying.

"('24') was one of my favorite things that I’ve ever gotten to do. That year, I told anybody who’d listen, 'I have the best job in Hollywood.' My only regret is that I never got to do a scene with Kiefer. But Gregory Itzen…what a husband."

JS: (Laughs) Well, you know, that’s marriage after a few years! Yeah, that was fun. A lot of fun. I was very, very sad to see that go. We all were. We occasionally still have little reunions. We all meet at a little bar in Studio City, so that’s fun.

BE: How did you enjoy the experience of working on “24”? Was it as action-packed as you’d hoped?

JS: That was one of my favorite things that I’ve ever gotten to do. That year, I told anybody who’d listen, “I have the best job in Hollywood.” It was actually a lot more fun than it looked. (Laughs) It probably didn’t look like that much fun. There were only a couple of days where I kind of dreaded the scenes that we were going to be doing, just in the sense that… (Hesitates) It wasn’t so much that I was afraid of it. It was just that I knew that it was going to be physically and emotionally difficult. My only regret is that I never got to do a scene with Kiefer. I never was onscreen with Kiefer. But Gregory Itzen…what a husband. (Laughs)

BE: Was it a pleasant change to do some drama? Because it’s not like you haven’t done plenty of it, but you’re better known for your comedic roles.

JS: Um, if you say so. I don’t know.

BE: Well, from your perspective, what would you say is the percentage of comedic versus dramatic that you tend to do?

JS: Well, the thing is, I would probably say that, over my career, I’ve done more dramatic roles, but of the ones that were higher in profile, many of them have been comedic.

BE: You’ve done some voiceover work. In fact, you were one of the voices on “The Oblongs.”

Jean SmartJS: Oh, yes, that was so much fun. I kind of understand why that didn’t continue…although, apparently, the very few episodes that we did are re-run even still in different venues… (Laughs) …but, yeah, that was a lot of fun. Will Ferrell played Bob, and, my God, he’s…well, you know, he’s brilliant. I can understand why they were kind of frightened by the scenario, but the thing is, when you really looked at the characters, they were actually an incredibly loving family. It’s just that it sounded awful… (Laughs) …because I was a drunk, and we had kids that were Siamese twins, one of whom was gay. Just that right there, you go, “Oh, no, I don’t know if I want to go there…” We had a daughter who had a giant growth coming out of her head, and…I mean, we were this family who lived near toxic waste, and all the beautiful, “normal” people lived on top of the hill and we lived down in the valley. And my husband had no arms or legs. (Laughs) So I think people said, “Oh, no, we can’t go there,” but when you looked at the stories, they were actually very charming and very sweet.

BE: Another one of my favorite voiceover roles that you’ve done was for “Kim Possible.”

JS: Oh, that was a fun show, too, but I didn’t do too many of those. But I’d love to do more. Voiceovers are a lot of fun.

BE: How did you first get started doing that?

JS: Oh, I actually do very, very little. I’d love to get into that, but it’s just very, very hard. And once you sort of break through, apparently, it’s a little better, but there’s a lot more work for men than for women. I was very excited, because I got an animated Disney movie, and I thought, “Oh, wow, this is going to be fun.” Dolly Parton was going to be in it, she was also the producer, and…who else? Lily Tomlin, I think Hal Holbrook. It was sort of a Romeo and Juliet kind of story, set in the Appalachians. But then there was a change of regime at Disney Animation, and it just went away. So that was a big disappointment. It would’ve been fun.

BE: I would think, with a cast like that. Actually, bringing up Hal Holbrook reminds me that I haven’t asked you about the experience of working on “Designing Women.” I’m sure you were pleased when the series started to be released on DVD through Shout Factory.

JS: (Hesitates) Well, all I know is that there was one DVD that came out that had a handful of episodes on it. I think that’s it.

BE: Oh, no, they’ve started releasing the full seasons now.

JS: Oh. Uh, I guess that’s good. It would not be reflected in my bank account, let’s just put it that way.

BE: Fair enough. But the experience itself was valuable, I’m sure.

JS: Oh, you mean doing the show? Oh, gosh, yes, it was great fun. Of course, we were all heartbroken to lose Dixie (Carter), and it was incredibly sad, but it’s brought Annie (Potts) and Delta (Burke) and I back together, which I treasure.

BE: Which of the projects that you’ve worked on would you say didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?

Jean SmartJS: Well, “Guinevere” pops to mind. That was released in sort of an art-house kind of way, unfortunately, so it didn’t get seen as much as it might have. And…oh, I did a TV movie, actually, that was one of my favorite things I’ve ever done. It was called “Just My Imagination,” and it got absolutely wonderful reviews, but it was just such a treat. It was sort of a romantic comedy, and it was based on a book about a spinster school teacher who went to school with a kid who became sort of a Bruce Springsteen type of character, in terms of rock music, and became incredibly famous. So he was their little town’s claim to fame, and since it was his childhood home, there’s a museum and all that kind of stuff. And Mary Kay Place (who’s also in “Youth in Revolt”) was in that, too! Oh, my God, we had so much fun! She played his old girlfriend, and she gave tours, showed off his stuff, and still had his class ring. (Laughs) He never came home, though, but all of a sudden, he writes this song, it comes out, and it talks about…me! And it infers that we had some wild sexual romp or something, which couldn’t have been further from the truth: I had been a wallflower, and he’d never given me the time of day. I didn’t really know him; I just sort of worshipped him from afar. Of course, it’s horrifying, and I lose my job as a school teacher, my mother won’t speak to me, and it turns my life upside down, but I’m finally offered a chance by some entertainment news magazine to go to Hollywood and confront him. And I’m so upset that I finally say “yes,” and, of course, I become absolutely dazzled with the whole scene, because I’ve never been outside this little town. And she finally shows up at his concert with this publicist, and he doesn’t have any idea who I am. He doesn’t have any idea why he picked that name. It’s just one that was stuck in his head from high school. So he decides that he’d better romance her…that’s what he’s advised by his advisors… (Laughs) …and she falls for him big time. Once she sees him in concert, that’s it. She’s gone. And he ends up really caring about her, but she finally goes back home. (Pauses) Sorry, I didn’t mean to go off on that for so long!

BE: No, no, that’s exactly what I look for when I ask that question!

JS: Well, the problem was that the other two big networks were doing movies about Joey Buttafuco and the girl who shot his wife. What was her name?

BE: Amy Fisher.

JS: Thank you! Amy Fisher. And they were in such competition to get theirs on first that…no, wait, I guess the network I was on was doing one, too. But, anyway, they sort of moved our schedule around so that we ended up getting no publicity at all. So that was sort of upsetting.

BE: Well, I’m sure we’re coming up against the wall here, but…I know you’re in the pilot for “Hawaii Five 0,” but are you anticipating being a regular on the show?

JS: No, I can’t be a regular, because I’d have to move to Honolulu. (Laughs) But I’m going to be doing a recurring role, yes.

BE: Were you a fan of the original series?

JS: Oh, sure. Who wasn’t? Absolutely.

BE: Well, it’s been a pleasure talking to you, Jean.

JS: Thanks so much!

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