Jean Smart interviewed by USA Today

Jean Smart as Martha Logan in 24 Season 5
Jean Smart as Martha Logan in 24 Season 5

LOS ANGELES — While Laura Bush enjoys her escapes to the Bush family’s homestead in Crawford, Texas, Martha Logan — the new first lady of Fox’s 24 — prefers the comforts of her husband’s sprawling ’50s California ranch house. But in typical 24 fashion, there will be little time for relaxation in the next 24 hours of Martha Logan’s life.

“Needless to say, she’s having a very bad day,” says Jean Smart, who makes her 24 debut as pill-popping, cigarette-smoking Martha in the show’s two-night, four-hour Season 5 premiere (Sunday and Monday, 8 p.m. ET/PT).

In the tradition of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, who invited TV cameras into the White House, Smart offers USA TODAY an exclusive tour of the Logan retreat, which will serve as a backdrop for the terrorist-driven, high-adrenaline drama throughout the new season.

And judging by Smart’s introduction of nearly every room as a place “where my husband and I have lots of fights,” viewers can expect terror of a domestic nature as well.

Beginning in the bedroom, bronze sculptures and portraits of horses pay tribute to the equestrian interests of Martha and her husband, President Charles Logan, played by returning cast member Gregory Itzin.

Smart, who appeared as an interior designer on Designing Women from 1986-91, can’t hide her distaste for the garish ’60s’ mod-meets-Old West-inspired décor of her character’s home away from the White House.

Pointing to a wall papered in orange and yellow squares, Smart, who starred as a boozy, sex-crazed neighbor in the 1995 Brady Bunch Movie, says, “I call this the Brady Bunch wallpaper — not my personal taste.” She prefers the rustic simplicity of her real-life retreat, a Lake Tahoe home she maintains with her husband of 18 years, Richard Gilliland.

On the show’s set, she passes through the wood-paneled foyer and observes, “There’s a picture of George Bush Sr. on the wall — I’m not sure why,” and adds, “I guess Charles is a fan of his.” This inspires a laugh from Smart, herself a devout Democrat. Though the show doesn’t specify Logan’s political affiliation, Smart suspects she is playing a Republican. When she broke that news to her mother, also a Democrat, Smart remembers her saying, “Oh my God! You’re a Republican? I hope they’re paying you a lot of money.”

Smart, an Emmy winner for two guest spots on Frasier, says 24‘s plot will explain why her character changes outfits multiple times in what is supposed to be one day in her life. She is more concerned that viewers will wonder how her character could possibly gain 6 pounds in a day — the result of Smart’s fondness for potato chips. Her only other vice: poker, which she played daily with Eric Bana and Robert Duvall on the set of their upcoming film, Lucky You.

Unlike her chain-smoking character, Smart, a lifelong diabetic, gave up cigarettes 17 years ago when she became pregnant with her only child, Connor.

At age 46, Smart is grateful that she has thus far not had to don a swimsuit to recline by the Logan retreat’s most impressive feature: a dramatic lap pool that can be seen from several rooms in the house, including the living room with a TV tuned to Fox News’ ongoing (fictional) terrorist coverage. “I think we need a body floating in the corner of the pool,” Smart suggests.

Just so long as that body is not hers.

Playing the role

24 ‘s new first lady, Jean Smart, talks about her real-life White House predecessors:

Favorite first lady. “Rosalynn Carter. Like her husband, she was able to have dignity and come across as a real, warm, accessible person.”

Most stylish. “They all have to dress really matronly. Nothing adds 10 pounds faster than a bad hairdo and suit, but Jackie Kennedy was probably the best. And I heard President Hamilton’s wife was hot for her time, or was it Andrew Jackson’s?”

On Laura Bush. “Like Rosalynn Carter, I think, she likes to have the image of being the wife and mother and not so much a political partner.”

On Hillary Rodham Clinton. “I met her once when I was doing a play with her good friend Mary Steenburgen. Bill couldn’t come at the last minute, so at curtain call we brought out a life-size cutout of Bill that we kept in the dressing room. Every night before we’d go on stage, we all gave (the cutout) a big kiss, so he had lipstick kisses all over him.”

Hillary in ’08? “I don’t think it will happen.”

Smart’s personal china pattern. “It’s very feminine, cream-colored with a tiny pink floral pattern around the edge. I can’t remember the last time I took it out.”

Source USA Today