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SYFY WIRE Watchmen

Watchmen: Jean Smart has Sigourney Weaver to thank for her last-second casting as Silk Spectre

By Vanessa Armstrong
Jean Smart as Laurie Blake in HBO's Watchmen

Jean Smart has been acting since the 1970s, but only recently dipped her toes into the genre space with her part on FX’s Legion and, most recently, in 2019’s Watchmen.

In Watchmen, Smart played Laurie Blake (aka Silk Spectre), the former superhero and girlfriend of Doctor Manhattan who — over 30 years later — is now an FBI Agent hunting down costumed vigilantes. Smart’s portrayal earned high praise, including an Emmy nomination. In a Variety actors-on-actors interview with SNL’s Bowen Yang, however, Smart revealed that she was a last-minute choice.

“I was sort of shot from guns because they hired me two days before I started,” Smart told Yang. “I’ll be really honest: I had Sigourney Weaver to thank for turning down the role. So, thank you, Sigourney.”

Imagining HBO’s Watchmen with Weaver as Silk Spectre instead of Smart is intriguing. Given the former’s iconic sci-fi roles — Alien, Ghostbusters, Galaxy Quest, Avatar — there’s no doubt she’d have given an impressive performance.

Smart’s Blake, however, is memorable, making it hard to imagine the show without her in it. Her performance is even more impressive given she didn’t know anything about the Watchmen comic created by writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons before she started.  “I knew nothing about the graphic novel,” she said. “I knew nothing about the story at all. I started reading the pilot, and I said, ‘Oh, my God, this is amazing.’ I’d never really done that science-fiction genre.”

Her three seasons as Dr. Melanie Bird on Legion aside, it’s clear that Watchmen — a show out of her usual repertoire — really affected her. “The fact that [showrunner Damon Lindelof] was able to use that tragic part of our history that almost no one knew about — that was what was so shocking, that I had never heard of the Tulsa massacre,” she said. “That’s why I think he said no when I asked him to do a second season because I think he put everything into that.”

Watchmen is currently available on HBO and HBO Max.