If you watched Designing Women, you no doubt recall Charlene, Sugarbaker’s delightfully ditsy secretary. Sweet, southern, and sassy, she was portrayed so realistically that you’d be forgiven for thinking that Jean Smart, the actress who played her, wasn’t all that… well, smart. In fact, the opposite is true. At 71, Jean Smart has made some seriously smart choices around navigating Hollywood and playing interesting women, and her reward has been great. Last year, Smart became only the second actress in history (after the legendary Betty White) to win Emmy awards in three different comedy categories: lead, supporting actress, and guest actress. To date — including her win last night for her hilarious work on Hacks — she’s won five Emmys and been nominated a whopping 12 times.
In honor of her accomplished career and in celebration of yet another Emmy, we’re taking a moment to appreciate some of Jean Smart’s best-loved roles.
In this comedy about intergenerational relationships, Smart plays Deborah Vance, a famous old-school comedian who reluctantly hires an entitled young writer to freshen up her act. In addition to Smart’s Emmy wins for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy, the show has also won Emmys for writing and directing. You can stream the show on HBO Max.
Mare of Easttown
Emmy-nominations for acting in both a fun comedy and a dark drama in the same year? Now that’s range! This 2021 limited series is set in a small town and stars Kate Winslet as Mare, a troubled detective investigating a murder. Smart plays Helen, Mare’s irreverent mother, as if she was actually born in Pennsylvania. (Her accent is pitch perfect!) All seven episodes are streaming on HBO Max.
Designing Women, a show centered on four women working at an interior design firm in Atlanta, covered serious subjects with southern charm. It gave Smart her big break, and it was also where the actress met her late husband, actor Richard Gilliland. All 163 episodes of the show are available to watch on Hulu.
Smart won two Emmys for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for her part on this beloved, long-running sitcom. In just seven episodes, she made a big impression in her role as Lana Gardner, none other than Frasier’s high school crush. The comedy is streaming on Hulu.
While not a star of this intense political drama, Smart played a key role in 24’s fifth season. As Martha Logan, the troubled First Lady, she added to the show’s intrigue and received two Emmy nominations. The real-time thriller is streaming on Hulu.
Whether Smart shows up in a contemporary comedy, a nostalgic sitcom, or a riveting drama, we’re always happy to see this versatile and talented actress, and we love that she plays mature women with style, sophistication, and — as her name implies — smarts.
This story was originally published September 12, 2022. It was updated September 13, 2022.