Jean Smart Interview for The Second Season of Samantha Who?
September 2, 2009
A versatile and gifted actress, Jean Smart is well known for her work in television, theater and film. She is an Emmy Award-winner with notable appearances on successful television shows including Frasier and 24. However, with the season two DVD of Samantha Who? about to be released, we chat to the actress about motherhood, second chances and her character – Regina – in the hit ABC comedy…
Why did you sign up for Samantha Who?
JEAN SMART: After working on 24 for a year, I thought it would be fun to get back to a comedy for a while. I thought that Samantha Who? was so cleverly written and I was a fan of Christina Applegate, so it seemed like the ideal project for me.
How would you describe your character in the show?
JEAN SMART: I play Samantha’s mother and she is a wonderfully self-obsessed character. It’s so fun to play someone who does not live the Zen of life at all. It’s very interesting because you meet people like her sometimes and they just don’t think in the same way as other people. They don’t examine themselves at all. They don’t question their motives ever – and it’s almost like there’s something missing from them. They don’t mean to be selfish; that’s just the way they are. That’s just the way they’re wired.
What kind of mother is Regina?
JEAN SMART: Well, my character has been given this great second chance to be the mother that she thinks she should be. She’s having a second go in trying to wipe the slate clean from her past and she’s trying to be the mother of the year. She’s just a little hammer-handed.
Do you believe in second chances?
JEAN SMART: I do – and I think that’s one reason why the show appeals to people. We all fantasize about a relationship we’d like to do over or something we’d like to change about our past. I think there are a lot more opportunities for second chances in our lives than we think.
What makes you say that?
JEAN SMART: I think that people get to a certain point in their life and they think that nothing can change. They think, ‘Well, this is the way my life is. I don’t particularly like it, but I can’t do anything about it.’ Personally, I think life offers us the opportunity to take chances and make changes all the time. These chances scare us and people think, ‘I can’t do that.’ Or they think, ‘My life is too settled and that would be too disruptive.’ But everyone’s got the opportunity to make these changes. I’m not talking about dumping your wife and running off with an 18-year-old. No, I’m not saying anything like that – but I don’t think it’s too late to change certain things in your life, such as your career and your relationships.
Is there anything you’d like a second chance with?
JEAN SMART: I was thinking about this the other day. My husband and I don’t eat dinner together with my son very much anymore. We used to eat together all the time – especially when my son was little – and it was very important to me because that’s the way I grew up. I always used to enjoy the evening meal where I could listen to my parents talk about something they’d read in the papers or hear about anything from their day. So last night, I forced my husband and my son to sit down and have dinner – and it was nice. I just thought to myself, ‘Darn it, we’re just going to do that again.’ It’s a tiny thing, but people get stuck in their ways and they think that’s just the way it is. They think that nothing can change, but things can always change.
How does your outlook on motherhood compare with your character’s?
JEAN SMART: I hope it’s not too similar to Regina’s past mothering skills. I have a wonderful relationship with my son. When he was little, he liked to cook with me and he would go to antique stores with me – but now he’s 19 years old and he doesn’t want to do any of that. It breaks my heart. He was 11 or 12 the first time he said he didn’t want to go to the store with me and I remember feeling so crushed. A daughter would probably say yes, but not a son. He still holds my hand sometimes – when nobody is looking. We have little arguments every now and then, but we have a great relationship. It’s funny. He’s 6’3″ now, so I have to look up at him if I want to yell at him. He’s still very cuddly, which is nice.
How does it feel to have a daughter on screen?
JEAN SMART: It’s very nice. I feel very maternal towards Christina, which is lovely for me. In fact, I called her ‘mini-me’ one time.
How did she feel about being called ‘mini-me’?
JEAN SMART: I’m not sure. I’ll have to try it one more time and see what she does. It’s funny because Christina and I are very, very different in a lot of ways, but we have some very similar things in our life experiences that we share.
Does Christina ask you for advice?
JEAN SMART: She does. For example, the other day she asked me for advice about a business thing. I hope I give her good advice. I’m always there with advice for her if she needs it.
How does the mother-daughter relationship change in the second season of the show?
JEAN SMART: We start to work together, which is a lot of fun. This season, I wanted to make sure that our relationship doesn’t get too healthy too soon. I had to keep nudging the writers on that one. It was like when my character on 24 went off her pills. I started to say to the writers, “She’s not as much fun off the pills.” They said, “You’re right. Let’s get her back on the meds.” It sometimes works when you nudge them lightly.
Do you enjoy playing characters with addictions? Your character in Samantha Who? boozes a lot and in 24 you were popping pills…
JEAN SMART: It can be a lot of fun to play these roles, but I certainly hope I don’t get typecast in this way. That would be rather limiting. But yes, it’s always fun to have these props. And I do like a glass of wine every now and then.
Before we go, can we ask what it’s like to work with Tim Russ [who plays Frank in the show]?
JEAN SMART: Tim Russ is hilarious. I actually did a movie with him years ago, but I hadn’t seen him in 20 years so it was really fun to get together again. We did a movie with Virginia Madison called Fire With Fire where I played a nun and Tim played the local deputy – and we got along really well.
What do you think of his character, Frank the doorman?
JEAN SMART: I pitched an idea to the producers of Samantha Who?, which we might see happen towards the end of the second season. I want to see Regina look at Frank as a bit of a challenge, but a good source of information about her daughter – so I think she should always be trying to wheedle stuff out of him. I hope to see her come by the apartment building and bring him treats or try to trick him into telling her something, but constantly being foiled because he’s so inscrutable. I hope it makes it into the show.
The DVD is available as of August 25, 2009.