Don't let actress Jean Smart's filmography fool you, because though she seems to have a penchant for appearing in fairly light-hearted fare of the family-oriented variety, she possesses all the skill of the most talented dramatic stage and screen actresses around. Unafraid to take the sort of risks necessary to keep her career and her personal life in fair balance, fans balked when Smart left television's hugely popular Designing Women while the series was in its prime, though her subsequent performances have found her sound judgment well justified. A Seattle native who received her B.A. from the University of Washington, it wasn't long before Smart was taking the stage at the 1975 Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Relocating to New York City, Smart's performance in the off-Broadway play Last Summer at Bluefish Cove earned the emerging actress a Drama Desk nomination. Her performance in the Broadway production of Piaf found Smart heading to Hollywood to tape the play for PBS, and it wasn't long before she began appearing in such films as Protocol (1984) and Project X (1987). A pivotal moment came when Smart was cast in the television series Designing Women; following the show's premier in 1986 she would remain a member of the cast until the 1991 season. It was while on that series that friend and fellow castmate Delta Burke set Smart up on a date with actor Richard Gilliland, whom Smart would later wed. The birth of their son Conner prompted Smart to reassess her career; though she would soon depart from Designing Women, she would continue to act in such efforts as the television feature Locked Up: A Mother's Rage (1991) and Overkill: The Aileen Wuornos Story (1992), in which she essayed the role of America's most notorious female serial killer. As the 1990s progressed Smart became something of a television fixture, and performances in The Yearling (1994) and A Change of Heart (1998) found her career continuing to flourish. Roles in such features as Disney's The Kid and Snow Day (2000) found Smart ever more associated with family-friendly fare, an association which she would continue to embrace with a role in the 2002 Disney Channel animated series Kim Possible. Other series in which Smart appeared included Hercules, Frasier, and The Oblongs; and in 2003 Smart teamed with her husband for the Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation of Audrey's Rain.
In 2004, Smart joined the cast of the bittersweet romantic comedy Garden State, and made a brief appearance in I Heart Huckabees during the same year. In 2006, Smart was earned nominations for two Emmy awards (Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series and Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series) for her turn as the mentally fragile First Lady of the United States, whom she portrayed in the fifth season of 24. The actress wouldn't win an Emmy, however, until 2008, when she took home the coveted award for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her role on the sitcom Samantha, Who?. Smart played another mother in the film adaptation of C.D. Payne's novel Youth in Revolt in 2009, and took on the role of Hawaii Governor Pat Jameson for Hawaii Five-0, the CBS remake of the popular 1970s police procedural of the same name.