Jean Smart reveals what’s in store for queen of the one-liner Deborah Vance in the new season of Hacks

But will she have the last laugh?
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After playing caustic comedienne Deborah Vance over three hilarious seasons of Hacks, Jean Smart, 72, has learned a few things about what makes us laugh.

“I think women can be funny about different things and men are funny about different things, because we’re different. But why was it funny when Milton Berle put on a dress and it wasn’t funny when Judy Garland did her little baggy pants hobo routine? I don’t know, I can’t explain it. It just is. But it doesn’t mean that women aren’t as funny, God knows,” says the five-time Emmy winning actress when WHO chats with her about the upcoming third season of the hit comedy.

“So until we accept the fact that we all have differences and not try to pretend that we don’t, we’re never gonna get anywhere. We will never be the same – men and women and different cultures. For instance, why is it sort of funny if a woman makes a joke about hitting her husband over the head with a frying pan? But if a guy says that about his wife, that’s not funny,” she adds.


Although she has enjoyed a spectacular career, her late-in-life mega success has been bittersweet. Her actor husband Richard Gilliland – with whom she enjoyed a happy 34-year marriage – died unexpectedly of a heart condition while she was filming the hit comedy series’ debut season in March 2021. But her Hacks cast and crew saw her through the hardest times.

“When you go through personal things with people that you work closely with, it does really bond you. And the fact that we work with people who are so incredibly talented, who are also every bit as kind and as nice as they are talented, it’s such a gift. And you think well, why can’t it always be that way? It should always be that way. But we are, I feel, extraordinarily fortunate in the group of people that we have,” says Smart, who began her career on stage before discovering TV success with hit series Designing Women.

Jean Smart is surrounded by her co-stars from Hacks
Smart says her co-stars are a “gift”

It was also on that iconic TV show that she met the love of her life, Gilliland, the couple having a son Connor, 34, and – 20 years later – adopting a son, Forrest, now 15. And while on Hacks, some of her character Deborah’s most acerbic critiques are reserved for her young writer Ava – cleverly portrayed by Hannah Einbinder – in real life, it’s clear the two women could not be closer. 

In this new season we see Ava foraging for wild mushrooms, prompting Smart to tell Einbinder, “I wasn’t gonna tell you this but Forrest – we were out shopping the other day and he saw dish towels with mushrooms on ‘em and he made me buy them for you. I keep forgetting to give them to you.”

Such is the popularity of the show, this new season has attracted major star power including cameos from Helen Hunt, Christopher Lloyd and Christina Hendricks, each playing wildly funny characters.

Proving that you don’t have to be under 40 to be hot in Hollywood, she has enjoyed some of her greatest successes in her sixties, featuring in TV’s Fargo, Watchmen and Mare of Easttown and also in movies The Accountant, A Simple Favor and Babylon.

Jean Smart in a black dress
A new generation has discovered Smart through Hacks (Credit: Getty)

But her brilliant portrayal of a Las Vegas comedy diva has been an unexpected career high. Does Smart find apologising as difficult as Deborah Vance does?

“I don’t find it difficult to apologise when I know I’m in the wrong. It’s like the same way when if I’m not sure I’m right about something, I don’t go forward with it unless I’m convinced I’m absolutely right. And I don’t probably apologise unless I know absolutely I was wrong. My late darling husband might disagree with that…” she says with a smile.

Hannah Einbinder and Jean Smart in a scene from Hacks
Einbinder and Smart have developed a special friendship off camera too (Credit: Stan)

Season 3 of Hacks premieres May 3 on Stan. Subscribe here.

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