January 25, 2009   |   Written by N/A

Article taken from Parade.

It was a shattering moment on the set of the ABC comedy series Samantha Who? when gorgeous star Christina Applegate delivered her dreadful news. Jean Smart, the Emmy Award-winning actress who plays Samantha’s hilarious mother, described it to me.

“She came out and told us she had breast cancer. She was very matter-of-fact about it,” said Jean of Christina. “We were, of course, heartbroken for her—so much so that she was consoling us. She’s incredibly strong, spiritually strong. Christina is a real trouper.”

With the show in its second season, Smart said, “Ratings are up.”

When we spoke, she was working on a “very funny sequence of this dysfunctional-family comedy. In this episode, Christine Ebersole plays my sister, and Florence Henderson plays our mother. She looks fantastic. I told Florence my father had a crush on her.”

Jean earned one of her three Emmys for Samantha and the other two for a role on Frasier, which she called “the most delightful set ever. I’ve never seen a cast so much in love with each other. David Hyde Pierce would sit down and play piano for us.”

She also spoke of her troublesome First Lady character on 24, which she called “one of my all-time favorite roles.”

How did she get along with Kiefer Sutherland, who stars as Jack Bauer?

Jean laughed and explained the absurdities of showbiz: “I was in 24 episodes, and Kiefer and I never had a scene together.”

During the past TV hiatus, the busy actress was able to do two quickie independent movies—a funny coming-of-age story called Youth in Revolt and a film on the dark side with a working title of Barry Munday.

When not working, how does she spend time at home?

“I’m really a gardener,” said Jean. “Not so much flowers as edibles. Because of movies and the series schedule, the only thing I’ve planted this year is lettuce. But this summer, I’ll put in corn and tomatoes.”

Brady’s Bits
Born in Seattle, Jean began acting in regional theater and now lives in the San Fernando Valley with her husband of 21 years, actor Richard Gilliland. They have one son, now 19 and in college. I noted that the actress is very tall. Had Ms. Smart been a basketball player in school? “Never. I wasn’t thattall,” she said. “But I lived in Japan while married to my first husband, and some of the wives and other women had a volleyball team. So I played that once. And for the first time ever, I realized I had a strong competitive streak.”  She still does as much stage work as she can, mostly in L.A. theaters. Does her son have a yen for acting? “No,” Jean told me. “He made it very clear he has no interest in theater.”

Born Sept. 13, 1951, in Seattle, Wash. Married to Richard Gilliland since 1987; one son.

Why You Know Her
She has had starring roles in TV series ranging from Designing Women to 24 to her current role on Samantha Who?

What You Don’t Know
She played Marlene Dietrich on Broadway in Piaf. Said Jean, “The odd thing was, I’m tall, about 5 feet 9½, and Marlene was only 5 feet 5.”