Article taken from Page Six.
Growing up, I spent a lot of weeknights at my grandparents house where Monday sleepovers meant one thing — sitting on my patch of carpet, eating string cheese on Town House crackers and watching “Designing Women” with my grandmother. Did I understand the acerbic and brainy writing? Not so much. But did I love it? Absolutely.
That was where I first discovered Jean Smart and over the two decades since she left Sugarbaker Designs, I have followed Jean from project to project. From small screen to big screen and back again. She’s recently created two of her most memorable performances for television: Martha Logan on “24” and Regina Newly on “Samantha Who,” the latter earning her an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress.
Earlier this year she crafted an equally memorable character alongside Michael Cera as his “Youth in Revolt” mother Estelle. A woman who Jean has some very colorful feelings about.
PopWrap: What attracted you to this project?
Jean Smart: First of all, it sounded like a lot of fun But when someone calls you up and says “Michael Cera’s interested in you playing his mother,” you think, “sold!” It’s so flattering when someone tells you that. I keep meaning to ask Michael what made him think of me, and I never did. Of course Ray Liotta, Mary Kay Place, Fred Willard – how much fun is that? And I got to take a shower with Ray.
PW: And then they wrote it into the script afterwards!
Jean: [laughs] I never thought I would hear “Jean get ready for your shower scene” at this stage of the game. But Ray is so cute.
PW: Estelle is hilarious, she doesn’t have the best taste in men however.
Jean: No. It’s just like, any port in the storm. Not that he isn’t adorable – same with Zach [Galifianakis] – but she’s just the kind of gal who can’t face being alone. That’s how she’s defined herself and it’s a stronger impulse than her maternal instinct.
PW: It seems like many of your characters have very good intentions, but bringing them to the surface is tough.
Jean: Some buried deeper than others [laughs]. I’m not so sure about Estelle. She wants people to think she has good intentions. She loves her son as much as she’s capable of loving her son. She just loves herself more.
PW: Estelle’s son Nick creates an alternate persona to live out his darkest fantasies, was that idea appealing to you?
Jean: Well, why do you think people become actors? Please! You get to exercise all your demons. You get to play out all the parts of your personality that other people may not want to spend time with.
PW: Which role of yours was the most cathartic?
Jean: There’s a movie I did called “Guinevere” with Sarah Polley and Stephen Rae that’s one of my all time favorites. There was a speech in there that I just had to do. Like no one else is allowed to do this speech, it’s mine.
PW: And sometimes picking a project is as simple as that?
Jean: Oh yea. The thing that’s scary about that – and almost any actor will tell you this – is that you will take a part for certain moments or a scene, and usually that’s the one that gets cut. And you want to slash your wrists. It’s horrifying. And there’s nothing you can do about it.
PW: Not to talk out of school, but does one example come to mind?
Jean: I did a movie called “The Kid” with Bruce Willis – which I just loved. And when the movie started, they were playing my first scene with Bruce, in an airplane. It was this really long, fun scene which ended up being about 10 percent of what it was in the script. And then they reversed the order of all the lines. In fact, it started with the last line of the scene [laughs] .
PW: The magic of the editing suite!
Jean: And this is why film’s not an actors medium. Performances really are manufactured to an extent. Any performance you see in any film has been pieced together. It didn’t occur in the way you see it. You’ll see a conversation that goes back and forth, and you might see the second take for one line, then the other character’s reaction, but they’re not reacting to that line, they’re reacting to the sixth take. It’s wild.
PW: Is television better?
Jean: It’s better only in the sense that you work in the same way, but you have to work faster. You shoot ten pages a day. So you don’t have any rehearsal to speak of and don’t get nearly as many takes.
PW: Does that leave you longing to get back on stage?
Jean: I do plays as often as I can. Now that I have a little one, we adopted last year, it’s hard. I was just offered a couple of things back East, but it’s not the right time with our daughter. But it’s nice to know they’re still asking because it’s been a while since I’ve been n the NY stage.
PW: How has it been going through motherhood again?
Jean: It’s great and what’s so fun about being a mommy again is that I have this wonderful déjà vu about my son constantly. Him in the high chair, or learning to brush his teeth. You remember all these things you’d kind of forgotten or have moved to your subconscious. Everything about it has been better than we expected. It’s just been incredible.
PW: Two of my favorite roles of yours were on “24” and “Samantha Who,” did the way the latter went out taint your feelings about television?
Jean: First, those were two of my favorite jobs. And [“Samantha’s” cancelation] was a great disappointment. You think, “what do you have to do to stay on the air?” It could not have gotten better reviews or awards. You realize that a lot of it has to do with business and nothing to do with the show or the actors. You have to let go. It’s hard. Especially when you come from the theater like I did. You find out something as simple as the fate of your show is completely dependent on the time slot.
PW: When did you learn that?
Jean: I remember the first show I did was called “Teachers Only,” and it was great fun. I remember we were all sitting somewhere when they told us what our timeslot would be. And it was Saturday night at 8:30. Which meant nothing to me. I had done nothing but theater at that point, and [co-star] Norman Fell turns to all of us and says, “well it’s been nice working with you.” [laughs] I thought, why did Norman say that? And boy was he right.