The Rules According to Jean Smart

At 56: "I feel less competitive in every facet of my life. I’m giving people the benefit of the doubt more; I want them to be forgiving of me as well."

By Cristy Lytal
Jean Smart, 56 (Photo: ABC/Bob D’Amico)

Sometimes there’s nothing better for a mother-daughter relationship than a little amnesia. In ABC’s comedy Samantha Who?, Smart, 56, costars as a rotten mom whose daughter (Christina Applegate) emerges from a coma with no memory of their estrangement. We remember Smart fondly as the first lady on 24. Here she lives up to her name with some words of wisdom.

  1. Laughter is the best marriage counseling. "My dad once said to me, ‘The secret to a long marriage is a sense of humor.’ My husband and I separated for a year, and I never thought we’d get back together, but we did, and we’ve been married 20 years. He makes me laugh constantly. Every once in a while he’ll say, ‘You haven’t been laughing at me that much lately.’ And I’ll say, "Well, you haven’t been that funny lately. Try again!’"
  2. Deal with what you’re dealt. "I was 13 when I learned I had diabetes. I was terrified, but by the end of the day, I was giving myself injections. Although I’d give anything to go one day without thinking about it, in some ways diabetics are healthier than many people because we have to pay attention to our bodies."
  3. The team’s the thing. "A wonderful actor I worked with at the Oregon Shakespeare festival used to say every time we were ready to go onstage, ‘See you on the ice.’ I loved that expression, because it is slippery out there. You depend on each other; you’re not thinking about who’s getting more publicity."
  4. eBay is the new poker. "I had to get costumes for a play at my son’s school, so my husband showed me how to shop on eBay. I was up till three a.m. bidding on 1930s hats and shoes. Thank god I don’t live in Las Vegas!"
  5. You can take a good thing too far. "I consider myself pretty liberal, but my generation threw the baby out with the bathwater in a lot of ways. We accomplished a great deal, but we said, ‘There’s no such thing as right or wrong. It’s just about how you feel.’ The longer you live, the more you realize there really are some things that are either right or wrong."

Originally published in MORE magazine, November 2007.

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