At 57, the scope of roles for an actor tends to diminish – more so with the continual fresh crop of sex-symbol actors lining up to ascend Hollywood’s paparazzi-attracting ladder. But for actors worth their weight in gold, despite ageism working against them, age is now tantamount to unparalleled prowess – think of Tom Selleck in Blue Bloods. And Jimmy Smits can be proud of belonging to this elite stable. Even better, he makes a brilliant departure into the dark side as a new addition to the hit TV series Sons of Anarchy, writes Debashine Thangevelo.
FROM humble beginnings as Victor Sifuentes in LA Law, to a heavyweight in the hit police drama NYPD Blue, in which he played Detective Bobby Simone, Jimmy Smits managed to victoriously cross the threshold of fame.
To date, his characters on TV and in the movies have predominantly had built-in moral compasses. But he has come to that crossroads in his career where a bit of versatility is just the edge he needs.
And playing Nero Padilla, a high-level pimp, in Kurt Sutter’s (The Shield) left-field offering, Sons of Anarchy, which thrusts viewers into the volatile world of bikers, rival gangs, lawbreakers and vigilantism, was too meaty to turn down.
On whether the rage that spills over from the series is attractive for audiences, Smits comments: “I see what you’re saying with the parallel of what’s going on in our world, and not to say that Kurt Sutter, our creator, doesn’t have a kind of political undercurrent, but I don’t think that. I think that with this show he definitely wanted to create, for an audience, a world that is grittier, one that they haven’t really seen because people always say, ‘how many stories can you tell about doctors, lawyers, you know, cops?’
“But he’s really latched on to this world that has its own kind of hierarchy.”
For a one-hour drama, Sons of Anarchy has to stand out and Smits reckons: “It has to do with the creator who gives insight into a different kind of world and the people at this network, FX, their shows do have a kind of grittier edge to them and just from knowing in my dealings with the hierarchy, the studio people, they’re really interested in their audience but, at the same time, they want to have different levels going on in their storytelling. And you get that with this show.”
As for what fans can expect from his shady character, he enlightens: “In order to start talking about the way season five is going to develop and blossom, you have to know where we left off in season four. And I think at the end of every season, Kurt has kind of… he finds a way to blow, just blow things up basically for his characters… and whatever you thought was going to happen, it just goes in different directions and leaves the audience, I think, really wanting more.
“What happened at the end of season four was a real shift in the hierarchy of power, so you have Jax Teller’s character that Charlie Hunnam plays. He’s trying to negotiate something that he loves with this club and what he wants for his family and how you deal with being on the right or wrong side of the tracks.
“Similarly, you have Katey Sagal’s character, Gemma, who, because of the way everything kind of just blew up, is looking for handles to latch on to. So that’s the start of season five and I mean, the character I’m playing deals with both of those other characters in a way that maybe there is a camaraderie between Jax and Nero.”
Peeling back the layers of his character further, the actor continues: “Nero supposedly has this – what we’re calling it – ‘exit strategy’ from life and Gemma’s character is, in a way, needing something to bounce off, not just romantically, but just another kindred spirit or soul.”
Smits – a bit of a bad boy in real life with his run-ins with the law – counts his blessings to have bagged a role in this crime drama that sends out a strong message about brotherhood.
He shares: “I’m having a great time because it’s a really talented, versatile cast and there’s a trust that happens with the actors, so it’s been a joy to jump on board and be part of that.”
With almost 30 years experience, Smits’s performance proves he can be a badass par excellence. And he goes full throttle… with a few casualties along the way.
• Sons of Anarchy airs on M-Net Series (DStv channel 114) on Friday at 9.30pm.