Jean Smart’s Career Timeline: “I Don’t Take Any of It for Granted”

After working in film and television for decades—not to mention winning five Emmys—Jean Smart has learned some Hollywood lessons the hard way. Like this one: “It’s a law of physics. Inevitably, the scene in a script that is the reason you took the job is always the scene that gets cut. Not cut, but edited down.”

That’s what she expected to happen on Babylon, the sprawling Hollywood epic in which she plays gossip columnist and wise woman-about-town Elinor St. John. Late in the film, she gives a speech to Brad Pitt’s fading star, Jack Conrad, about the lasting onscreen legacy he will leave, a moving moment that she fully expected to be cut. Except, this time, it stuck.

In her “Career Timeline” video for Vanity Fair, Smart revisits a long series of highlights like that one, from a scene with Dolly Parton in her breakout series, Designing Women, to the movie that earned her Oscar buzz “for, like, I don’t know, three minutes,” 1999’s Guinevere. She calls her guest role on Frasier, for which she earned her first Emmy, “one of my favorite roles ever,” even though at the time “I kind of had my nose up in the air…a little bit” about doing a guest spot. She remembers singing show tunes between takes on the set of 24 with her onscreen husband, Gregory Itzin, and getting picked up from the set of Mare of Easttown by paramedics after she fell and broke a rib. Kate Winslet, playing her daughter, was leaning over her saying, “It’s all right, mummy, they’re coming. They’re going to take care of you, mummy.” As Smart puts it, “Working with Kate, what a treasure and a pleasure she is.”

Looking back at her career, Smart says, “I don’t take any of it for granted.” And having worked a long time before earning the acclaim she now has, she says, “I feel very grateful that my career has been sort of a gradual escalation. I wouldn’t have minded if it had been a little faster.”

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