Jimmy Smits Interview: Life as a Pimp

Actor Jimmy Smits has been a staple on television shows from L.A. Law to NYPD Blue and even played a president on The West Wing. He had a memorable role on Dexter and starred in the short lived series Outlaw. His latest project Sons of Anarchy has him in the role of a pimp named Nero Padilla. He plays the love interest for Katey Sagal and creates an alliance with lead Charles Hunnan who plays Jax Teller on the FX hit this season. We spoke with the New York native about his character and how he makes it his own.

Gozamos: Hi, Jimmy. What drew you to the role of Nero in the first place?
Jimmy Smits: Well, we didn’t know what the role was. In the beginning it was more about a vibe that I had with Kurt after meeting with him a couple of times. Paris Barclay, who is an executive and does a lot of the directing of a lot of the Sons episodes, is somebody that I know from NYPD Blue.  He was one of the core directors there, and he did pretty much all of the final episodes that the Simone character was involved in. So we go way back, and we did the history there. At that time, I think he was formulating what he was going to do for the season and what he necessitated in terms of the spokes of the wheel of the show. So we had two or three lunch meetings. I went to his office, he took me around to the set, and just started vibing about what the show needed and a character that he was interested in exploring.

That’s the way it all started.
That first script wasn’t really written yet, but he had it in his head. So basically, that’s how it happened. We were fans of the show.

So you have watched it often?
It’s a kind of an industry darling. A lot of people in our business are into the show. I check in with a lot of different shows during the year. I watch the beginning episodes, and I’ll check in during the middle and usually see finales and stuff. The third season where they did the whole Irish storyline, I think the show just jumped into another gear, you know, and it just struck me that the show is very, very cinematic in a way. They’re able to do these wonderful things and have a very iconic thing of outlaws. It’s almost like watching a Western in a lot of ways. So that was the whole beginnings of our conversations. I’m very happy that it all worked out the way it has.

How did you find common ground with this character?
I found the common ground like I do with a lot of different characters. The research for me is probably just as fascinating as being on-set doing work every day. Those couple of months when Kurt and I were talking, I dug up my Mi Familia files because it’s kind of like revisiting that particular character maybe 15, 17 years later. I went to interview people who were involved in Latino motorcycle clubs and spoke to a number of people who have been in the penal system who are now trying to be on the straight and narrow like that particular character and just talked about stories that they’ve encountered and the lore that they have, what tattoos mean because your body is kind of like a board of your past. Things like that, those things flesh out a character’s life in a lot of ways. You hear stuff and you’re able to be like a sponge and use what you can and how it relates because TV is kind of fluid, and things change on a week-to-week basis. But those are the things that I do with every character. If I’m involved in a boxing movie, I’m going to see fights and learn about boxing. It’s part of what we do.

Can you talk about your relationship with Jax?
It’s like you’re watching a production of Hamlet play out because you have insights into this group but you don’t really know about them. They’re not like doctors or cops and stuff. It’s a world you don’t really know that much, and there’s a hierarchy of power and there’s people that are vying for power, and there’s families. If you know Hamlet, there’s a character named Horatio, he’s on the side kind of like helping Hamlet try to decipher all of these feelings that he’s having. I think that there are a number of different Horatios in the scheme of the Sons world. So I think that Nero character with regards to Jax, he operates in that sphere as a mentor, as a friend, as a bro.

With the purchasing of Star Wars and you being in past movies, will you try to be in the new ones?
Wow.  You know, that’s interesting because my kids were the ones that told me.
You know, congratulations to George, because that was a mega-deal. It’s great that it will live on in a different kind of incarnation. He built that in so many ways, and not only built that franchise, but because of the success of the franchise he was able to do so much for the film industry really. There are more stories to tell, of course, I think. You look at the 007 franchise, and it’s gone on for 40 years. There are a lot of people that have grown up watching that, so I know that he didn’t just pass that on without a lot of caveats. There will be involvement with George down the line. As far as me is concerned, my character was gone after episode whatever but if they want to call, let them call.

You have to come visit Chicago.
I will be there before you know it. The next thing I am in after Thanksgiving is a play at the Steppenwolf (Ed.: The Motherf**ker with the Hat), so I will be there. I will be there the whole winter actually. Come visit and come say hi, okay?

I will definitely. Thanks, Jimmy.
Thank you and God bless.

Watch episodes of Sons of Anarchy on the FX Channel with new episodes every Tuesday. Look for listings at www.fxnetwors.com. Smits show The Motherf**ker with the Hat opens at the Steppenwolf Theatre on January 6.

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