Designing Women, Frasier, 24, Fargo, Legion, some of the best TV shows of the past 30-plus years have one terrific actress in common: Jean Smart. Tall, striking, and bold, Smart has carved out a path in Hollywood that involves never doing the same thing twice — to the degree that her immediate follow-up to the sitcom Designing Women was a role as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in a made-for-TV movie.
Smart is currently one of FX’s Noah Hawley players, bouncing between the TV producer’s Fargo (where she played an unlikely Midwestern crime boss in 1979) to his X-Men series Legion (where she plays the head of a secret program investigating mutants). Just watching Hawley write for Smart makes clear how versatile she is. He keeps tossing new challenges her way, and she keeps landing them with precision.
But, needless to say, there are plenty of actresses who haven’t managed to build nearly 40-year careers. What’s unique about Smart is how she seems to never stop working, even as she’s never content to be pigeonholed into a “Jean Smart role” (whatever that would mean). She joins Todd this week to talk about building such a long career, her memories of Designing Women, and her attempts to understand just what’s happening on Legion.