A Conversation and "Hacks" Screening with Jean Smart

Jean Smart

May 18, 2024

We are thrilled to host Jean Smart as she receives The Hollywood Reporter’s Trailblazer Award.

To mark Smart’s indelible imprint on entertainment, The Hollywood Reporter is honoring the Seattle native and “Hacks” star with the Trailblazer Award at this year’s Seattle International Film Festival. Smart will sit down with THR Contributing Editor Stacey Wilson Hunt at SIFF Cinema Downtown to discuss her career from her Seattle Rep roots to her iconic turn as the “Hacks” leading diva, Deborah Vance—a role for which she’s won two Emmys, anointing her one of only two actors to earn trophies in comedy lead, supporting, and guest roles. The event will include a special preview screening of Episode 307 of "Hacks." Smart fans, “Hacks” fans: this is a must-attend event!

Event Ticket: $21.50 Members | $26.50 Non-Members


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Jean Smart was born here in Seattle in 1951 to parents Douglas and Kay Smart. Although she and her sister would put on plays for their neighbors as kids, it wasn’t until her drama teacher at Ballard High School noted her acting skill that Smart would recognize the career potential of her penchant for entertaining. This led the fledgling performer to the University of Washington, where she graduated from the Professional Actor Training Program with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drama in 1974.

Smart got her professional start shortly after graduation working with PNW theatre groups, first at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival with “Much Ado About Nothing,” and later returning to Seattle to do shows with Seattle Rep and Intiman Theatre. She moved to New York in 1980, where she starred in the off–Broadway play “Last Summer at Bluefish Cove” as Lil, a woman with terminal cancer whose final friends’ trip to the lesbian vacation destination Bluefish Cove is complicated when she begins a romance with a woman who’s only just started to explore her sexuality. The play ran for eight performances at Shandol Theater before moving around for a total of 80 shows, an impressive introduction to the New York theatre scene for the actor. As “Last Summer at Bluefish Cove” was winding down at the start of 1981, Smart made her Broadway debut playing Marlene Dietrich in “Piaf,” the dramatic portrait of Edith Piaf’s life and career. She reprised the role for the TV movie version of the play three years later, a performance that would really help kick off the budding television era of her career.

Following leading roles in several short–lived series, Smart landed the role of the ditzy but lovable Charlene Frazier in “Designing Women,” a sitcom following the internal workings of an Atlanta interior design firm. With its cast of theatre–trained actresses playing roles written with depth and complexity, the show was a hit, running from 1986 to 1993 and making Smart a household name. Her next project was a welcome change for the actor and a surprising one given the frequency with which women in show business are typecast: Smart was tapped to play serial killer Aileen Wuornos in the 1992 television movie Overkill: The Aileen Wuornos Story. Critics lauded Smart’s Overkill performance; Variety’s Hoyt Hilsman, for example, called it “stunning,” an “exquisitely drawn portrayal of this tormented woman,” with Smart “utterly convincing in her destructive powerlessness.” The “Designing Women”/Overkill combination ensured that she would be taken seriously as a screen actor regardless of the genre.

Smart finished out the 1990s strong with film, television, and voice acting, and in 2000–01 had a successful recurring guest spot on “Frasier” as Lorna Lenley/Lana Gardner, for which she won those years’ Emmy Awards for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series. Then came “24,” the political drama where Smart played First Lady Martha Logan in the beloved fifth season of the series. With a mental health struggle adding to the stress of being First Lady, Martha gets very involved in her husband’s political blunders, to the anxious delight of viewers. In a 2022 video with Vanity Fair, Smart recalled, “‘24’ I think is really when people looked at me a little bit differently,” a statement evidenced by her 2006 Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series, which marked a new height in recognition for her dramatic work. Fast–forward through numerous television and movie achievements, and a new generation of Smart fans has emerged thanks to her nuanced portrayal of the hilarious fictional comedian Deborah Vance in the series “Hacks” (2021–). Winning two Emmys for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, Smart’s success with the series shows no signs of slowing down.

Amidst the back–to–back projects of her busy career, Smart has still found time to use her platform to advocate for a range of important causes. In 2013, she appeared at a hearing of the Senate Special Committee on Aging alongside the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s President/CEO Jeffrey Brewer and 150 children living with Type 1 Diabetes to discuss new research on T1D and share her experience having lived with the disease since she was 13 years old. More recently, Smart received the Human Rights Campaign’s 2024 National Equality Award for her ongoing support for the LGBTQ+ community. Champion of Diabetes research, gay icon, and first–rate film and stage actor, Jean Smart is inspiring all around—and well worth celebrating.

Piaf (1984); “Designing Women” (1986–93); Overkill: The Aileen Wuornos Story (1992); “Frasier” (2000–01); “Kim Possible” (2002–07); “24” (2006–07); “Samantha Who?” (2007–09); “Fargo” (2015); “Big Mouth” (2018–21); “Watchmen” (2019); “Hacks” (2021–); Babylon (2022)