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At 72, ‘Hacks’ star Jean Smart sees ‘dream’ come true

At age 72, after surviving a heart scare and her husband’s death, actress Jean Smart figured that she’d hit some of life’s roughest spots. Then came the love and the laughter.

“We love you, Jean!” fans shouted from the theater seats when the beloved TV actress made her entrance at the premiere of Season 3 of “Hacks.”

“Love you back,” Smart replied without missing a beat.

The two-time Emmy winner for “Hacks” — in which she plays veteran Vegas comic Deborah Vance — is still experiencing a professional lift that has been dubbed her “Jean-aissance” after a celebrated earlier career that included roles in “Designing Women,” “Frasier” and “24.”

But a hit in her 70s?

“That’s the thing about dreams … they can come true when you least expect them. Dreams don’t have an age limit,” Smart says.

Season 3 starts with an empowered Deborah, riding high off the success of a stand-up special that might lead to her becoming the first woman to host a late-night talk show.

“It’s one of the cases of she didn’t really realize how much she still wanted it, how badly she needed this dream. She even tried to just say, ‘Well, you’re older. It’s just not going to be in this lifetime.’ But then life surprises you.”

Smart shared her good life tips:

No expiration date

Just like her character, Smart has big dreams. “When opportunity comes, your age shouldn’t figure into it. It’s instantaneous … that feeling that you’re back wanting whatever it is that fuels your fire. Your drive doesn’t have an expiration date even if you’ve been pushing it down for years,” she says.

Make that call

When Season 2 of “Hacks” ended, Deborah and her younger ex-writer Ava (Hannah Einbinder) decided to part ways. Will they reunite? Smart doesn’t mind revealing that answer, insisting that sometimes it’s good to reconnect. “I love the way they get back together. It felt completely right … just this kind of fake politeness for five minutes and then they start to insult each other.”

Appreciate gifts

“Hacks” provided a career boost for Smart, who doesn’t take this kind of thing for granted. “There really is a calming at this age, a sort of wisdom, that makes you appreciate everything,” she says. “This series has been such a gift, and I don’t take a minute of it for granted. I fell in love with this show when they first sent me the script because it had everything.”

Listen to your body

Smart has had diabetes since she was 13. Last year, she needed a heart procedure. “I feel really good now, but I listened to my body. When I wasn’t feeling my best, I went to the doctor. … Please listen to your body and talk to your doctor. I’m very glad that I did. … Your body is like a car. You need to maintain it and get the checkups. Rotate your tires, so to speak. Get the oil changed regularly.”

Apologize

“I don’t find it difficult to apologize when I know I’m in the wrong,” Smart says. “It’s the same way when 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 probably don’t apologize unless I know absolutely I was wrong. My late darling husband might disagree with that.”

Find the joke

Smart says she got her sense of humor from her mother, who asked her to keep it mostly classy. “I used to joke that I would never do a nude scene as long as my parents were alive, but then they lived to be so old that no one ever asked me,” Smart says with a chuckle.

All about the fun

“I really enjoy filming on location in Las Vegas. I love the nice hotels and the fabulous dinners. I love going to a nice show. Vegas is all about the fun,” she says.

Indulge

Smart says her “vices” are simple — but nonnegotiable: “I can’t pass an antique store without going in … and I’m not going to feel bad about it. I’m going in.”

Don’t be bitter

Smart’s “Hacks” character is originally quite bitter about her declining career and her ex-husband. “That bitterness and disappointment is something that’s sort of fed her,” she says. “But then she makes peace with it. … All that anger just isn’t a healthy way to live. I think it’s better if you approach life in a bit more of an easygoing way.”

Deal with grief

Smart lost her beloved husband, actor Richard Gilliland, in 2021 when he died suddenly of a heart condition at age 71. “It’s not anything I ever dreamed would happen. Not so soon,” she says. “He made me laugh all the time. It’s hard to live without him. It was harder a year and a half after because you’re kind of running on adrenaline and grief, making sure your kids are OK, just getting things done.”

Smart says that only now, “slowly, is the reality of my new life setting in. Work has provided me with a great distraction.”

Live to laugh

Her times of grief and uncertainty taught Smart a greater appreciation for “the days that make you smile,” she says, adding, “It’s important to find your joy at this part of the game — joy is such a treat.”

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