Jada Pinkett Smith is the latest fantastic female to move from film to TV. As her HawthoRNe premieres on TNT June 16, SheKnows sat down with Pinkett Smith who is also executive producer and her co-star, former Alias star Michael Vartan.
Pinkett Smith follows in the award-winning footsteps of Kyra Sedgwick on The Closer, Holly Hunter’s Saving Grace, Glenn Close on Damages and an ever-building landscape of terrific parts for outstanding
Jada Pinkett Smith & Michael Vartan
HawthoRNe is the story of Christina Hawthorne, the Chief Nurse Officer for Richmond Trinity Hospital. Pinkett Smith says she consulted many nurses to assure authenticity for a field that
has not enjoyed accurate portrayals of late on television.
Her biggest nurse inspiration – Pinkett Smith’s mother is a caregiver.
Pinkett Smith’s co-star, Vartan, burned up the screen with Jennifer Garner in JJ
Abrams’ Alias. He is returning to television in large part because of Pinkett Smith and the immense respect he holds for her creative vision.
SheKnows: Michael, first, what drew you to HawthoRNe and the idea of playing doctor with Jada Pinkett Smith?
Michael Vartan: (Laughs) I read the script and thought the writing was fantastic. Of course I found out Jada was attached to star immediately that was it for me, to be
honest. Then I found out she was executive producer and that really was a comforting notion because I’m a big fan of hers period. But, I have great confidence in her storytelling ability and
her creative vision. I knew that she had a lot of creative power and say over some of the things that would take place on set on a daily basis. It’s one thing to read a script and finish the
show and it’s aired. But, when you’re actually shooting a scene, things come up all the time that don’t work or don’t sound right. She’s there to guide the ship in the
right direction. So, all those things put together made it a no-brainer.
A female filmmaking force
SheKnows: Jada, we’ve spoken before about the power of female filmmakers you’re your work on The
Women, did that experience inspire you to tackle the role of starring and executive producing HawthoRNe?
Jada Pinkett Smith: I felt like I needed the experiences that TV can offer. There’s a story structure that I needed some help with. My husband is what we call one of the
‘ghost producers’ (laughs) on the show, right now, I’m one of his students. I hate to say that when he’s here (laughs).
Vartan laughs, then Pinkett Smith follows hysterically with the most boisterous of chuckles.
SheKnows: Don’t want to inflate Will Smith’s
Jada Pinkett Smith: (Laughs) He’s quite a fantastic story structuralist. Right now, I’m kind of learning from him in how to structure a story in a way that
speaks to the universal voice — understanding how to hit those human emotional chords that resonate universally no matter your country or economic status. I really needed this television grind to
be in the gym. I call it being in the gym — every day. Every week we have to create a movie, basically. This television show is like a book and each episode is like a chapter. Unlike a movie where
you have to tackle a book at one time, I can tackle a chapter of the book each week. Creating a season that is the book. I like the gradient of television and also the intensity of it. There is no
leisure time. You can’t just kick back and say ‘someone else will solve that problem.’ (Laughs). No, everything is immediate. For me personally, because I can be lazy sometimes, I
need that type of pressure to be on it.
SheKnows: How have you kept the nursing community involved in the creative process?
Jada Pinkett Smith: We’ve screened it with several communities of nurses. They seem to think it’s pretty authentic. Our hospital the nurses and doctors are pretty
collaborative. Our show is not about pitting nurses and doctors against one another. But those problems do come up from time to time. The nursing community has felt they have been misrepresented on
television, so TNT has been very sensitive in making sure we’re screened it. I’ve always tried to explain to people – it’s television (laughs). Sometimes we have to
take things to the extreme because real, real life is not that interesting. My mother’s a nurse. She watches every episode. You know how mamas are: ‘Mmm…no you got to go back and
re-shoot that.’ (She’s) been really helpful.
Vartan: cable versus network
SheKnows: Michael, after appearing on a network hit in Alias, how have you found the cable television experience different with HawthoRNe?
Michael Vartan: The major networks don’t have creative programming. One show will break out every season and will be a hit, and justifiably so because it’s a great
show. For the next several years, every other network will try to bank on that same formula. Audiences are a lot more mature than they used to be and they catch on to that. They don’t want to
see the same idea rehashed. They want to see something inventive and new. I think cable TV allows the audience to pick and choose. The programming is very creative. They can take a few more risks
because you can say certain words. Even on that minute level, I think it’s a microcosm of why cable television is more real.
SheKnows: I’m a big fan of Alias and the physical shots were the most challenging on that show. I wondered, Michael, if there were certain risks and challenges
physically to this show? Perhaps tongue twisters over medical technology?
Michael Vartan: That is a tough thing to do because it’s hard enough to learn your lines when you understand what you’re saying, even more so when you have no idea what
you’re saying. And even though we have a crack staff of real life nurses that are on set that guide us through all of the twist and turns of the medical profession and they tell us what
we’re actually supposed to be doing — it’s still really hard to learn. And you know acting is not the easiest thing in the world for me. So when I have to think that hard usually
it’s a recipe for disaster.
SheKnows I’ve heard how you got into acting is a great story…
Michael Vartan: I was 18 years old. I had no desire to be in showbiz in any capacity whatsoever. And my mom’s friend is a director and needed some scrawny looking awkward
teenager for a documentary he was doing. He asked me if I wanted to do it. I said absolutely not. He said, I’ll give you $600. I said absolutely yes. That’s literally how it started!
Jada and Michael both laugh.
SheKnows: Jada, finally, what about any guest stars this season, perhaps someone who wears your ring?
Jada Pinkett Smith: We’ve got Malcolm Jamal Warner and Cloris Leachman – who is in the premiere!
SheKnows: We love Cloris! What about Will?
Jada Pinkett Smith: Will comes on the show. He’s an extra (laughs). So just see if you can catch him (laughs). Just walking by, doing a drive by, we could
hardly afford that (laughs). So, we’ll see. It was a very costly walk by.
SheKnows: That is one expensive extra.