FBI Agent Laurie Blake has a pretty rocky ride through the last few episodes of Watchmen. She learns that Doctor Manhattan, the big blue ex she has secretly been pining for, has married someone else. She watches him get captured by white supremacists. And then she discovers that her old colleague turned genius mass murderer, Adrian Veidt, is still alive. Luckily, Jean Smart, the actor who brought her special zing to Laurie, is still laughing about it all. A few days after the Watchmen finale aired, Smart, who has had an especially great run of roles throughout the Peak TV era, caught up with Vulture over the phone to discuss how “pissed off” she was when she discovered Angela had stolen her man, her upcoming role on another HBO series, and her many, many ideas for Watchmen spinoffs.
What was your reaction when you learned that Angela’s husband is actually Doctor Manhattan, the character Laurie was secretly pining for?
I was so pissed off! [Laughs] I found out when I got the script. Nobody told me. She stole my man! I didn’t see that one coming at all. It’s true! I mean, they always had me talking about how hot Cal was.
In the finale, when Laurie herself learns about Doctor Manhattan’s marriage, what did you think was going through her mind?
The whole thing was just overwhelming. She was devastated at seeing him again, but with it happening under such horrible circumstances, she knew it was just going to be awful. It just would be so bizarre to know that was someone [who] was so much a part of you at the same time it was someone you recognized as Angela’s husband.
What was it like shooting the scenes in which you, Tim Blake Nelson, and Jeremy Irons get zapped off to Antarctica? It’s a delightful crew of characters.
They’re so incredibly talented, and they’re just really, really fun to work with. Then, of course, Laurie has another blast from the past when she sees Archie, the Owlship, and you wonder if Dan [Dreiberg, Laurie’s love interest in the Watchmen comic] is going to show up! But no, that wasn’t to be.
In the Peteypedia materials posted online, HBO revealed how Laurie and Dan are vigilantes together after the events of the comic. How much did the writers talk you through that backstory?
We didn’t really get into that. When it was my first time to do the show, they gave me some backstory about those relationships. A little bit of the scene with Jeremy [Irons] was cut, which alluded to the past more. Basically, she and Dan were arrested, she took a deal, and he didn’t. That’s how she ended up in the FBI. She’s probably got massive guilt about that.
Showrunner Damon Lindelof suggested that backstory could be explored in another season, but it seems like he’s not sure he’d want to do it.
I think Damon feels that he put absolutely everything into this as a one-off. I have not discussed it with him very much, but I don’t know, I would love to play the character a little bit more. I didn’t quite have enough of her, for myself.
Laurie also has a big change of heart in the finale: She decides she’ll arrest Adrian Veidt for his squid mass murder. What did you think was behind her decision?
She ended up in the FBI, but at the same time, she does have extremely mixed feelings about vigilantes. I do think that she tries to do the right thing. Obviously, she’s not the most ethical law-enforcement person in the world, [but] she knows bringing in Adrian is the right thing to do.
It was interesting politically because, when you think about what he did, some people might say that was the right thing to do. You have to make sacrifices for the greater good. But even if that nuclear holocaust was a foregone conclusion, she still feels like, Sorry, you just don’t get to do that. You don’t get to make those kinds of decisions.
Damon said he would’ve dropped the squid, but when I talked to Tim Blake Nelson, he insisted he wouldn’t since he doesn’t believe in treating people as a means to an end. Where do you fall on that question?
I’m a little more with Tim because it’s not like Veidt asked for volunteers, you know? You can’t treat people as if they’re just numbers on a piece of paper and do the math and say, “Well, obviously, this column adds up better than that column. So we’re going to go with that column.” Life has to mean more than that.
It must’ve been fun to walk into this big genre show as a character who gets to wisecrack all the time and make fun of the pretensions.
Of course! I give all the credit to Damon and the writers. It’s a great part to play. It’s so fun because she’s so blind about her own shortcomings. She tells Regina, “You strike me as the kind of person who doesn’t have friends.” Look at the way she lives! She lives in a sterile apartment with an owl she feeds live rodents to. She has nothing but black pantsuits in her closet and is obviously leading a very lonely existence. She corrects people’s grammar. She’s obnoxious, somewhat.
What was it like to see the reactions to that giant blue dildo once the episode premiered?
That was pretty funny. It was a good thing my parents were gone, but my kids are age 30 and age 11, [so] it’s the right time for me to do this role, because my daughter is never gonna watch it and my son is old enough that he’s not going to be scarred for life.
One of my favorite things about Watchmen was getting to see great actors like you, Regina King, Hong Chau, and Tim Blake Nelson all hanging out in scenes together. What was it like talking with one another between shooting?
The hours are really long, so you don’t have time to do much socializing. Tim and I probably spent more time together than anybody else. We got to be great friends. He actually took me out to a strip joint one night in Atlanta. He’s a bad, bad, bad influence, that boy! No, he’s great. I told him we need a spinoff. Laurie and Mirror Guy! Or maybe Blake and Mirror Guy? It’ll be like Cagney & Lacey.
You’re shooting a new HBO show, Mare of Easttown, which looks like more of a realist drama. What has that been like?
It’s a very gritty show, but it’s so beautifully written. Interestingly enough, the only comedy in the show is occasionally coming from my character. I play Kate Winslet’s mother. They don’t have a great relationship. I’m just a very working-class Irish-American. I can’t say enough good things about Kate. We all know she’s a great actress. We all know she’s gorgeous. But she is just the most generous actor and the most sweet, darling individual.
It feels like you’ve really gotten to take advantage of the TV boom doing roles on Fargo, Dirty John, Legion, Watchmen, and now Mare of Easttown. Have you found there are more opportunities for an actor like yourself?
I’m extremely grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had. As a woman in this industry and not 30 years old, I’m very appreciative. I don’t take it for granted. I’ll make hay as the sun shines. I just constantly need to make sure that I’m having enough time with my family, especially my daughter. She’s very understanding about Mommy having to go out of town. I come home every week. Whenever I have a couple of days off, I fly home. And my husband, thank God, picks up the slack.
Well, I hope you can find a role that films in L.A. soon.
From your mouth to the guy up there — Doctor Manhattan or whoever’s listening. I’m also doing something I’ve wanted to do for so long; I’m producing a movie with a friend of mine. I don’t know exactly when we’re going to shoot it, but we’ve got a director and a writer and it’s called Miss Macy. My partner discovered the story on the Moth Radio Hour.
Before we wrap up, do you have any other favorite memories from the Watchmen set?
When I first met Regina in the hair-and-makeup trailer, I teased her. I gave her a big hug, and I said, “You guys, this is TBWSME!” She looks at me like, What? I said, “the bitch who stole my Emmy!” [Smart was nominated in 2014 for Fargo, but King won for American Crime.] I had to tease her, of course, and then was I upset when I found out she also stole my man!
I hope she had a sense of humor about it.
Oh yeah! She’s got a great sense of humor. We had a good time. That would be a good spinoff too if Tim’s not interested. It could be me and Regina.
Laurie and Angela, now with her potentially superpowered abilities?
Or me, Regina, and Tim! I’ll be the crusty boss behind the desk, always threatening to take their guns and their badges.