Jimmy Smits on ‘Sons of Anarchy’ Season 5

 The veteran actor tells us how he and his wife came onboard FX’s hit series.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

Jimmy Smits has been a revelation this season on “Sons of Anarchy” as Neron 'Nero' Padilla, the new lover of Gemma Teller Morrow (Katey Sagal), in addition to being an ally and a mentor of sorts for her son, Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam).

We always knew that Smits was a great actor, but Nero has been an incredibly fun character this season. Although his saint-like patience with SAMCRO could disappear once he learns that Jax emotionally blackmailed Gemma to spy on her estranged husband, Clay (Ron Perlman).

With just a few episodes left in the season, it’s anyone’s guess how this will turn out. When we caught up with Smits at the Television Critics Association.Press Tour, he didn’t share much in the way of spoilers. But he did tell us how he his wife, Wanda De Jesus ended on the show.

CraveOnline: What did Kurt Sutter have to say to you about being naked with his wife?
Jimmy Smits: That came up. It came up.
CraveOnline: Did he have things he wanted from you?
Jimmy Smits: No, no, no, no, no. It’s just part of the deal about being on a show that’s [edgy]. At least I knew Paris [Barclay] was going to be directing that and I had worked with Paris on “Blue” before, so my back would be covered, on a lot of levels.
CraveOnline: On “L.A. Law” you were a leading man. You could have continued to play leading man roles. Why did you gravitate towards the character actor roles?
Jimmy Smits: Well, I’m not shying away from leading man roles. It’s about trying to keep it as versatile as possible in the arena that you’re able to work in.
CraveOnline: Is doing “Sons” a lot more similar to “Dexter” than network shows?
Jimmy Smits: In terms of the fact that they have a lot more latitude content-wise. The compression of the show, their season is shorter so there’s a lot of similarities with that and the fact that the quality is really high. It’s very cinematic the way the show plays. It’s really, really cinematic and that’s hard to achieve on a 22 show network kind of procedural dynamic.
CraveOnline: What was the relationship between you and Wanda like on the show?
Jimmy Smits: We work together. We work together. [Sutter] didn’t have a problem with working with his wife on the show so he said, “I don’t see how that should be a problem.” We work together. That’s part of the deal.
CraveOnline: Would you have wanted to be a biker?
Jimmy Smits: That was the only conversation, it kind of reminded me of my George Lucas Star Wars conversation. “We want you to be in Star Wars, but you’re not going to get a saber.” You can play on “Sons,” but you’re not going to ride. I’ve been riding just to immerse myself in the world and just in case somebody says, “Maybe they should run at this particular point and jump on the bike” and then you have an actor going, “Yeah, I can do it!” and not really know.
CraveOnline: Is that the new cowboy skill for actors, people should know how to ride a motorcycle just in case?
Jimmy Smits: Well, it’s the modern day American horse I guess in a lot of different ways. I have a healthy respect for it as I do horses, having been thrown from both.
CraveOnline: Had you watched all four previous seasons of “Sons of Anarchy?”
Jimmy Smits: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Wanda actually, my wife [bought them.] I watch a lot of television, but usually it’s to see what people are doing, so I’ll watch first episodes, last episodes, sweeps episodes just to keep myself in tune and I had been a big fan. Wanda, my lady, was a huge, huge fan of it. She knows the show backwards and forwards and loves the fact that it shows strong women. She’s the one who said, “You’ve got to be on ‘Sons!’”
CraveOnline: Did they call you?
Jimmy Smits: Actually, Wanda and I both went to a Director’s Guild tribute that they had for Paris and all the people that Paris had worked with from different shows were there. Katey and Kurt were also there so we were talking to each other, but Kurt later told me, “That’s when I was in the midst of structuring what was going to happen arc-wise. You were there, the vibe was good.”
CraveOnline: Did you have to think about it at all, or just immediately say yes?
Jimmy Smits: Well, you always want to know what it is. An arc can be presented to you where you don’t know what it’s going to wind up being, but after sitting with him for 20 minutes, we sat together, had three or four different meetings because I just kept coming back with more questions in terms of where should I start doing research and stuff like that. He’s just so into it, he’s got a whole edgy thing happening which I love in television. Then those parallels with Hamlet and literature, there was a lot going on.
CraveOnline: Also he’s added two major characters and they’re people of color. Do you get a sense that was deliberate?
Jimmy Smits: I can’t speak on that but I know that they’re characters that aren’t just the functional judge who is a character of power supposedly, but really doesn’t do anything, which you see happen to diversify a show. These are characters who have a voice, who affect the main characters in a lot of ways and who help steer the season, both in terms of what Harold’s doing and [me].

I'm just happy I don't have to wear a suit. It's not the first time that I'm jumping on board a moving train, but the ensemble, it's been really incredible over the past couple of seasons to watch them get tighter and tighter and really kind of like gel. I'm happy to be here and mix it up and do something a little bit different. 
CraveOnline: Do you find more creative freedom jumping aboard a moving train as you say, where the show’s already established?
Jimmy Smits: It's just an artistic thing of wanting to be able to contribute in a positive way to something that you have an admiration for. The writing is top notch here, so that makes it so much easier. The ensemble is really tight and very, very versatile. So, it was like a no‑brainer.  And the opportunity, again, to do something that's a little bit outside the box and different.