Jean Smart and ‘Hacks’ Team Tease a ‘Totally Unexpected’ Season 3 Twist at SXSW Premiere

SXSW can’t get enough of Jean Smart.

The crowd at Austin’s Paramount theater erupted as Smart walked down the aisle to find her seat at the Saturday morning world premiere of “Hacks” Season 3, in which she plays aging comedian Deborah Vance. The Max comedy series has been off the air for two years, during which Smart suffered a health scare and underwent a heart procedure that delayed production.

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“We love you, Jean!” an attendee screamed as the applause began to die down. “Love you back!” she called out.

The theater went wild again when Smart first appeared on screen during the premiere, and again —this time with a standing ovation — when she took the stage alongside co-star Hannah Einbinder and series creators Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs and Jen Statsky for a post-screening Q&A.

“This show, kind of like Deborah Vance, gets knocked down a thousand times and gets back up a thousand and one,” Downs said. “We started the show in the pandemic, pre-vaccine. We made Season 2, and Lucia gave birth early during during production. This season, there was the writers strike, the actors strike and we had a health scare.”

Downs also shouted out the below-the-line workers on “Hacks,” members of IATSE who may end up on a strike of their own later this year.

“There was a lot of time that we took, but it’s really a testament to the cast and crew — especially the crew,” he said. “Crew people are so vital to making the show, and in a lot of instances when you have to take that time, they may find other gigs. But everybody waited. Every single person.”

Later, when the moderator suggested that Deborah’s on-again-off-again employment of millennial comedy writer Ava (Einbinder) feels like a romance, both actors made faces and slowly reached for each other’s hands, joking that Season 3 could indeed become a love story.

Speaking on their characters’ intense relationship, Smart said, “You know how you have the freedom around someone to make certain kinds of jokes and know that they’re gonna get it, every single solitary time? As someone of another generation, it’s just that intelligence. She gets everything I say. Even if she doesn’t like it or agree with it, she gets it. That’s a wonderful comfort level. And also, she misses that closeness with her daughter. Ava fills in that gap.”

“Ava has a pretty fraught relationship with her mom, so that mother-daughter thing — they both have the inverse issue there,” Einbinder added. “This is a pattern in the show that’s been established, and it only continues, the ways in which they are able to make each other better. They’re the only people in each other’s lives who are really challenging each other.”

It looks like the challenges Deborah and Ava offer each other may last at least another year. Though fans have speculated that “Hacks” could end with Season 3, Aniello hinted twice that there’s more to the story.

“She is a shark that needs to keep swimming,” Aniello said about Deborah. “Knowing that, how can we then use Ava and include her in a way that evolves over the course of this season and, hopefully, the series moving forward?”

Later, the team teased a shocker to come: “The finale of Season 3 is my favorite episode of this series so far,” Aniello said. “They’re both confronted with where they are in their relationship: what they think they deserve from each other, and what they actually get from each other. We’ve tried to bring in everything from the whole series so far and lay it out on the table. I really feel that we built the relationship to a place where it can’t stay the way it ends in Season 3. I’m very excited. Even thinking about it makes me freak out.”

Added Smart: “The ending is totally unexpected. Totally.”

As the moderator began to dismiss the audience at the end of the Q&A, Smart came back on the mic.

“At the airport yesterday, a lady came up to me with her family and wanted to take a picture, and I looked like God had dragged me through a keyhole,” she said, and the crowd roared. “So I politely declined, but I promised her I would take a picture with her today at the screening. Is she here?”

The woman didn’t appear immediately, but several members of the audience shot their hands up pretending to be her, hoping for photo ops of their own.

“I remember what she looks like,” Smart laughed.

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