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Jada Pinkett Smith's secret weapon: hard work

After more than 20 years in TV and feature films, Baltimore native Jada Pinkett Smith could hardly be blamed if she wanted to slow down and ease back a bit.

It seems as if the Baltimore School for the Arts graduate has been working nonstop on the national stage since her breakthrough TV debut in 1991 as a member of the cast of Bill Cosby's hit NBC series, "A Different World."

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But at 39, the wife of actor Will Smith and mother of two children — who are already launched on their own show-biz careers — sounds like she is pushing herself harder than ever. Work, work, work — that's what she's most interested in talking about. And she is constantly referring to "growth," "challenges" and what she's "learned" behind and in front of the camera in her latest project.

Two years ago, she launched the TNT medical drama, "Hawthorne," as executive producer and star — playing the role of Christina Hawthorne, a hard-charging director of nursing at a Virginia hospital. In the early episodes, she seemed to be in virtually every scene — and doing most of the heavy lifting.

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With the start of the third season Tuesday night, viewers will see Pinkett Smith and one of the most diverse casts on television take the series to a new level of intensity. There's some extra onscreen pop this year with the addition of singer Marc Anthony, who makes his presence felt immediately.

But the motor that drives "Hawthorne" to a new dramatic high is Pinkett Smith's performance. It's raw, unsettling and totally absorbing. It is the stuff of which Emmy nominations are made. (No spoiler plot details here.)

"I think I have grown with this series, both as an actor and as a producer," Pinkett Smith says. "This year, I really get to sink my teeth into the character with extreme situations. I get to explore emotional ideas that I haven't had the opportunity to do in my career as of yet, and that's what excites me — taking this character who I care deeply about on this journey."

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