‘Hacks’ co-creators on working with Jean Smart: ‘She wanted to do all her own stunts’

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Jean Smart stars as comedy legend Deborah Vance in “Hacks.” Photo by HBO Max.

“Hacks” on HBO Max, one of the buzziest comedies of the summer, follows two women — a Boomer and a Zoomer. 

Deborah Vance, played by Jean Smart, is a faded icon — kind of a cross between Joan Rivers and Debbie Reynolds. She’s a workaholic stand-up comedian with a long-running show at a Las Vegas casino. 

Smart’s character is fabulously wealthy, but she still fiercely tries to hold onto her gig when the casino plans to cut her show in favor of a younger, fresher act. 

That’s where Ava, played by Hannah Einbinder, comes into the picture. Ava is a 20-something writer who’s become a pariah in Los Angeles after one of her tweets went viral for the wrong reasons. She begs her manager, Jimmy, for a job. And Jimmy, who’s also Deborah's manager, sees an opportunity to pair them up.  

Jimmy is played by Paul W. Downs, one of the three creators of “Hacks,” along with Lucia Aniello and Jen Statsky. All three are friends through comedy circles, and Downs and Aniello are engaged. They also all worked on the Comedy Central series “Broad City.”

Statsky tells KCRW that  they first came up with the concept for “Hacks” several years ago: “We got pulled in different directions, we were all working on different things, but this idea stuck around.”

Statsky and Downs talk about pitching the show to HBO Max before the streamer had a name or a proper office. 

And they discuss what happened when “Hacks” star Jean Smart suffered a devastating loss with a week of shooting left. Following the unexpected death of Smart’s husband, Downs and Statsky expected production would be put on hold. But Smart wanted to keep going. 

“The woman wanted to do all her own stunts. She wanted to jump on the helicopter!” Downs says. “So we knew from working with her that she is all in, she is fully committed. And so in that way, we kind of looked to her in this time as well.” 

“Hacks” is now nominated for 15 Emmys. 

Credits

Guests:

Host:

Kim Masters

Producer:

Kaitlin Parker