Jean Smart is receiving her flowers after being in the game since 1979, racking up Emmy Award honors for her role in the TV show Hacks. Fans have watched her kill it in that show along with Mare of Easttown, Fargo, Legion, Watchmen, and even Kim Possible. She’s relished her time on screen, but there is one character who really resonated with Smart on a personal level.
Jean Smart called ‘Designing Women’ character her ‘core’
Longtime Smart fans know that she was once part of an entertaining foursome in Designing Women. As Charlene Frazier, she was the Sugarbakers’ warm but naïve office manager. Smart recently told Variety what the character meant to her.
“I always felt like she was my actual core person, kind of gullible and trusting and believes that everybody’s basically good,” said Smart. “And I’d like to play a character like that again, instead of someone who’s angry or defensive. I mean, I’m not complaining. I’ve gotten to play some amazing roles lately that are so multifaceted. But it was a lot of fun to play her.
Smart played Charlene for all seven seasons of Designing Women, and viewers watched her evolve, wax poetic about her love for Elvis Presley, and check in with her psychic. Smart and her co-stars Delta Burke, Meshach Taylor, Annie Potts, and Dixie Carter kept viewers rolling in their seats. But, if given the chance, would she play Charlene again?
What about a ‘Designing Women’ reboot?
In a world where old properties are often revived decades after their finales, some have wondered whether Designing Women could ever come back to TV. According to Jean Smart, that’s a firm no. Though fans may love the notion, she and former castmate Burke share the same feelings about the idea.
“It’s such nice nostalgia, and makes me appreciate the show more,” Smart explained to Variety. “Doing it without Dixie [Carter, who died in 2010] would be ridiculous.”
Carter led the ensemble cast as Julia Sugarbaker, the outspoken boss of the Atlanta interior design firm, and the serious one in the group. Carter died in 2010 from endometrial cancer.
Smart met her late husband on ‘Designing Women’
During her Emmy Award acceptance speech, Smart recognized her late husband, Richard Gilliland, who died in March 2021. Married for over 30 years, the couple met on the show’s set when Gilliland’s character was dating Annie Potts’ character, Mary Jo. They wed in 1987 at Carter’s home.
In a 1990 interview with Lady’s Home Journal (via Designingwomenonline.com), Smart shared how Burke played her wingman. “I asked Delta to find out if he was married,” she said. “Naturally, Delta walked up to him and blurted, ‘Jean wants to know if you’re married.’” Smart devised a ruse to spend time with Gilliland by inviting him to her dressing room to do crossword puzzles. It kind of worked. They fell in love and married.
Designing Women is available to stream on Hulu, and fans can keep up with Smart on Hacks. But her next project, Babylon, will put her on the big screen alongside Margot Robbie, Samara Weaving, and Brad Pitt.
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