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Despite trying to stake his claim in features films without much success, actor Jimmy Smits earned his greatest acclaim on the small screen in roles that were connected by their proximity to the law. Smits emerged into the public consciousness as a sharp, but uptight attorney on Stephen Bochco's award-winning legal drama, "L.A. Law" (NBC, 1986-1994). After leaving the show before its run ended, he languished in a series of easily dismissed features and slightly better made-for-television movies before returning to television as an understated detective on the groundbreaking cop drama, "NYPD Blue" (ABC, 1993-2005). Once again, Smits left the show prior to its time running out and again found himself taking on largely forgettable films, though he did manage a small recurring part in "Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones" (2002) and "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith" (2005). Returning to regular series glory, he gave a commanding performance as a legislator-turned-president on "The West Wing" (NBC, 1999-2006), an Emmy-nominated turn as an assistant district attorney with a murderous dark side on "Dexter" (Showtime, 2006- ),and a widely praised performance as a semi-reformed gang leader...
Despite trying to stake his claim in features films without much success, actor Jimmy Smits earned his greatest acclaim on the small screen in roles that were connected by their proximity to the law. Smits emerged into the public consciousness as a sharp, but uptight attorney on Stephen Bochco's award-winning legal drama, "L.A. Law" (NBC, 1986-1994). After leaving the show before its run ended, he languished in a series of easily dismissed features and slightly better made-for-television movies before returning to television as an understated detective on the groundbreaking cop drama, "NYPD Blue" (ABC, 1993-2005). Once again, Smits left the show prior to its time running out and again found himself taking on largely forgettable films, though he did manage a small recurring part in "Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones" (2002) and "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith" (2005). Returning to regular series glory, he gave a commanding performance as a legislator-turned-president on "The West Wing" (NBC, 1999-2006), an Emmy-nominated turn as an assistant district attorney with a murderous dark side on "Dexter" (Showtime, 2006- ),and a widely praised performance as a semi-reformed gang leader on "Sons of Anarchy" (FX, 2008- ), all of which confirmed that the distinguished performer was best served in authoritative roles on the small screen.
Born on July 9, 1955 in Brooklyn, NY, Smits was raised by his father, Cornelis, a Surinamese immigrant and plant manager, and his mother, Emelina, a nurse. When he was 10 years old, the family moved to his mother's home country, Puerto Rico, for a short time before moving back to New York. Always a ham while growing up, he parlayed his talent for impersonation into acting in stage productions at George Gershwin Junior High School. He continued acting while at Thomas Jefferson High School, and even quit playing linebacker for the football team to concentrate on his theatrical ambitions. Smits later attended Brooklyn College, where he switched majors from education to theater while maintaining his minor in Puerto Rican studies. He moved on to study the likes of Ibsen and Shaw at Cornell University, earning his master of fine arts in theater in 1982. After returning to New York, Smits drove a cab at night, where he saw the weird side of the city seen by the character Travis Bickle in "Taxi Driver."
In 1982, Smits made his off-Broadway debut in a production of "Hamlet" at the New York Shakespeare Festival. Two years later at the festival, he had a significant supporting part in Michael Weller's "The Ballad of Soapy Smith" (1984). Eventually, he began landing onscreen roles, including the pilot episode of "Miami Vice" (NBC, 1984-1990), on which he played the original partner of Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson), who gets blown up in a car bomb. Though he continued to make appearances on television, he broke into feature films as a drug-dealing villain in the action comedy, "Running Scared" (1986). But it was on the small screen that Smits made a name for himself, playing fiery, but gifted young attorney Victor Sifuentes on the long-running legal drama, "L.A. Law." Over the course of his stay on the show, Smits delivered an excellent turn as the uptight pro-bono lawyer Sifuentes, earning six straight Emmy Award nominations for the role, while winning the trophy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series in 1990.
During his successful "L.A. Law" run, Smits continued to branch out into other areas. After narrating "The Other Side of the Border" (PBS, 1987), a documentary about the illegal immigration of Mexicans into the United States, he starred in his first made-for-television movie, "The Highwayman" (NBC, 1987). On the big screen, he starred opposite Gregory Peck and Jane Fonda, playing one of Pancho Villa's generals during the 1913 revolution in "Old Gringo" (1989). Despite good notices from critics, the film failed to perform at the box office. In the forgettable medical drama, "Vital Signs" (1990), he was a teaching doctor who guides several students through their residency at a Los Angeles medical school. Smits next appeared in Blake Edwards' equally unmemorable "Switch" (1991), in which he was a chauvinistic womanizer who is killed by three of his ex-girlfriends and is reincarnated as a woman, forcing him to confront the sexist behavior he once dished out. He followed by trying his hand at romantic drama with "Fires Within" (1991), but again failed to make much of an impression at the box office.
Though his luck in movies left something to be desired, Smits continued maintaining a high profile on television even after he left "L.A. Law" in 1991. He starred in "The Broken Cord" (ABC, 1992), playing an adoptive father who slowly discovers that his son is the victim of fetal alcohol syndrome. In the miniseries "Stephen King's 'The Tommyknockers'" (ABC, 1993), he was an alcoholic poet who, along with his aspiring writer best friend (Marg Helgenberger), discovers a buried spaceship that unleashes murderous havoc on their small Maine town. After appearing in a Los Angeles stage production of "Death and the Maiden" (1993) opposite off-stage companion, Wanda De Jesus, Smits returned to series television, joining the cast of the provocative and intense cop drama "NYPD Blue" (ABC, 1993-2005). Filling the gap left by departing series star David Caruso, Smits played Detective Bobby Simone, a one-time driver for the police commissioner who partners with irascible recovering alcoholic, Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz). Though Sipowicz originally dislikes his new partner, Simone eventually wins him over. But after playing the character from 1994-98 and earning Emmy Award nominations for every year he was on the show, Smits opted out. The producers responded by killing off his character from complications of a heart transplant rather than leave the door open for a second act.
During his time on "NYPD Blue," Smits maintained a steady schedule of movies and television projects. He was the emotional fulcrum of Gregory Nava's "My Family/Mi Familia" (1995), displaying more range and aptitude than ever before in his role as a confused L.A. Latino, scarred by seeing his older brother die at the hands of a hostile gang. He also continued to win starring roles in TV movies, such as Solomon in "Solomon and Sheba" (Showtime, 1994), and the title role in the remake of "The Cisco Kid" (TNT, 1995). After playing a U.S. Marshal protecting frightened Los Angeles residents after a massive earthquake in "Marshal Law" (Showtime, 1996), he had a supporting role in "Murder in Mind" (HBO, 1997), a mystery thriller about a wife accused of murdering her husband and their handy man who undergoes hypnosis to uncover the awful truth. Back in features after "NYPD Blue," Smits enjoyed prominent roles in Wim Wenders' bizarre thriller, "The Million Dollar Hotel" (2000); "Bless the Child" (2000), which cast him as a police detective who helps a nurse (Angela Bettis) stop a Satanist plot to carry out a biblical prophecy against her six-year-old niece; and "Price of Glory" (2000), where he played Arturo Ortega, a washed-up boxer who tries to mend his broken dreams by training his three sons to compete in the ring.
Finally managing to land a role, albeit a small one, in a major blockbuster movie, Smits played Senator Bail Organa, the future foster father of Princess Leia, in the "Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones" (2002), a role he reprised in a more expanded capacity for the final installment, "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith" (2005). During his time between "Star Wars" gigs, he took on the Shakespeare role of Orsino in a Broadway performance of "Twelfth Night" (2002). In 2004, he joined the cast on the always-popular political drama, "The West Wing" (1999-2006), playing Congressman Matt Santos of Texas, an idealistic Democrat who vies for the presidency against Republican challenger, Senator Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda), and eventually wins toward the end of the show's final season. Following a small supporting role in the multi-award winning race relations drama, "Lackawanna Blues" (HBO, 2005), Smits returned to series television for the short-lived "Cane" (CBS, 2007), a soapy drama centered on a powerful family in charge of a rum empire.
After a leading role in "The Jane Austen Book Club" (2007), Smits delivered an energetic performance on "Dexter" (Showtime, 2006- ), playing Miguel Prado, a Miami assistant district attorney who befriends blood spatter analyst Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall), only to discover that his new best friend is actually a serial killer. But instead of prosecuting him, Prado delves into his own dark side and begs Dexter to teach him how to become a killer. Smits' strong performance earned him critical accolades and an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor on a Drama Series in 2009. Back as the star of his own series, Smits was a Supreme Court justice who resigns to start his own law firm in order to more directly fight for justice on the short-lived series "Outlaw" (NBC, 2010), which was canceled after only eight episodes. From there, he joined the hit series "Sons of Anarchy" (FX, 2008- ) for its fifth season, playing high-class pimp - or "companionator," as he character calls it - and Mexican gang leader Nero Padilla, who becomes romantically entangled with SAMCRO matriarch Gemma Morrow (Katey Sagal) while becoming business partners with her son, Jax (Charlie Hunnam). Smits was praised for his performance, which seemed a long time coming in light of his own recent failed series.
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CAST: (feature film)
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Smits, along with comedian Paul Rodriguez, Jennifer Lopez and legendary salsa singer Tito Nieves, are among the celebrity investors in The Conga Room, a Los Angeles dance club, lounge and restaurant showcasing Latino music on the Miracle Mile.
"I've been fortunate. I've always had teacher role models who kind of pointed me in the right direction. In junior high Rhoda Olanoff would do these lavish musicals. In high school there was a teacher who would take us to Broadway and Off-Broadway all the time. There was somebody in college who said I should continue on my path to graduate school. There was always somebody along the way to help cultivate the dream." --Jimmy Smits quoted in Daily News, November 13, 1994
"I never said I was leaving 'L.A. Law' to pursue a film career. You guys did, in the media. My contract was over and I just wanted to move on. It wasn't like I left with a three-picture deal in my back pocket. It was never about leaving 'L.A. Law' and becoming a giant movie star." --Smits quoted in TV Guide, November 12, 1994
About finding himself pigeonholed in Latino characters: "It's a fine line, and I have to deal with that all the time. I do want to be involved in quality projects that say something about the Latino community.
"But as an actor, you want to sell your versatility. One thing should go hand in hand with the other. We [Hispanic actors] want to play different roles, we want to be cast in different ethnicities and act in films about different historical times. I think that's good for us, in terms of non-traditional casting. And I don't see why, for the most part, I can't do that.
"I decide [on roles] on a project-by-project basis. Every actor has to deal with what's on his plate, and I try to deal with doing the best work possible with the most challenging scripts. I don't base it on whether it's a feature film, or a TV-movie, or cable." --Smits to Robert Dominguez for the Daily News, March 17, 1996
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