Go and do
SHOW: “HawthoRNe”
WHEN; 9 p.m. Tuesday

Jada Pinkett Smith packs her own punch

By Neal Justin
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Will Smith can pass as one scary movie star — with the help of bone-crushing workouts, out-of-this-world special effects and tough-guy dialogue. His wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, elicits the same goose bumps with just an icy stare. The Fresh Prince may think he can beat Mike Tyson. The 5-foot-tall missus knows she can wallop him.
“It’s so interesting,” said a bemused Smith when I praised her menacing demeanor. “I was in my trailer the other day and another actress sent her publicist over to tell me how much she likes me. The publicist said she was too scared to come over herself. I turned to my friend who was sitting there and she said, ‘Jada, you’re really intimidating.”‘
That onscreen reputation, buoyed by stellar performances in “Set It Off” and the “Matrix” sequels, may get in the way of some play dates, but it serves her well in her latest project, TNT’s “HawthoRNe,” in which she plays Christina Hawthorne, a head nurse who can trigger a heart attack with a simple cock of the head.
In the fast ‘n’ furious premiere episode, she bullies her way past a burly security guard (twice), barks at a roof jumper, questions authority (at this hospital, every doctor seems to have gotten his license from the bottom of a Cracker Jack box), outfoxes her teenage daughter (whose attempt at rebellion involves chaining herself to a school vending machine) and endures the barbs of her former mother-in-law — played by Joanna Cassidy, a mighty glarer herself — who blames her for her son’s death.
“Christina is relentless, so I’m able to tap into this thing, this internal fire, when I’m acting,” Smith said. “I don’t know where it comes from, because in real life, I’m a softie.”
Michael Vartan, who co-stars in the series, confirms that Smith is sugary-sweet when the camera flicks off, but he’s not immune to her potent persona during scenes.
“The first couple times we worked together, I kind of fumbled my words, because she brings this built-in integrity that’s kind of nerve-racking,” said Vartan, who also withstood the firepower of Jennifer Garner in “Alias.”
“Of course, off camera, she’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever know. I’ve noticed that all strong actors have one common thread and that’s that they’re prepared and relaxed.”
Besides appearing in nearly every scene of “HawthoRNe,” Smith is also one of the show’s executive producers. The mother of two young children fronts the rock band Wicked Wisdom and is still in demand on the big screen. Considering all that, her ability to keep her cool in real life is even more remarkable than her acting ability.
“Often when I drive home after a 15-hour day, all I’ll want to do is lie on the couch, have a beer and play with the dog,” Vartan said. “Then I think about her and how she does it all. Maybe she loads up on some special wheat-germ protein shake that gives her all that stamina.”
Smith said the steady grind of weekly television drew her to the role (“I need a certain amount of pressure”), but the secret of dealing with it all isn’t in a smoothie.
“I’ve learned how to time-manage,” she said. “You’ve got to carve out different times for different things. I’ve learned to turn the pager off. When I’m in my sanctuary, it’s family time. Period. I’ve learned that the world is not going to fall to pieces if I’m not there for everything.”
Still not convinced that Smith is a softie?
Listen to the reaction she got from her mother, a real-life nurse, when she heard about her daughter’s latest role: “She couldn’t believe I was playing a nurse, because she knows I don’t have the stomach for it. The sight of blood? Forget about it.”

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