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8 Quick Questions for Jimmy Smits

Emmy-winning actor returns to his New York City roots

spinner image Jimmy Smits
Sophy Holland/Contour RA by Getty Images

Jimmy Smits, 67, is back in his hometown and on the cop drama beat in the new CBS series, East New York, which premiered Oct. 2. During his decades-long acting career, Smits has entertained fans of all ages with his roles in iconic TV shows like L.A. Law, NYPD Blue, The West Wing and Sons of Anarchy — as well as the Star Wars movie franchise.

You’re back to your NYPD Blue days playing a police officer in East New York. Who's your favorite TV cop?

Barney Miller, with all his little foibles. That was an engaging show.

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What do you love about coming back to New York?

spinner image Dennis Franz and Jimmy Smits on the set of NYPD Blue
Dennis Franz and Jimmy Smits starred in "NYPD Blue" from 1993 to 2005.
20th Century Fox Licensing/Merchandising/Everett Collection

There’s nowhere in the world you can have the energy that you have in New York. It's one of the reasons why I always keep going back to do theater — a play reading or anything like that. It’s really energizing and engaging.

What’s on your NYC agenda?

It’s always about family. Familia first. Now that I'm shooting in New York, I've situated myself —  for better or worse sometimes — close to extended family. To connect with friends and of course to be able to go to see theater. There’s some wonderful shows coming on with people we know from the [East New York] cast. I’m totally excited about all that, connecting artistically.

And we can’t not talk about that New York food …

We were doing a promo thing that the network was involved in and they were talking about pizza and hot dogs, bagels and all those kinds of New York staples. To me, you’ve got to add into the mix: roti and empanadas, wontons and ramen. That's what makes New York so unique, and at the same time, a tradition of what America is really — different people coming from different places and bringing their culture into this wonderful stew, this melting pot which we call New York or America.

spinner image Jimmy Smits plays Chief John Suarez in the TV series "East New York" on CBS.
Jimmy Smits plays Chief John Suarez in the TV series "East New York" on CBS.
Peter Kramer/CBS Broadcasting Inc

You have strong NYC roots, and were even crowned the "King of Brooklyn" at the 1991 Welcome Back to Brooklyn Festival. What did that acknowledgement mean to you?

That acknowledgement meant a lot. I still go with the family to the [Brooklyn] Botanic Garden around Prospect Park — there’s a little leaf there with the family name. We lived everywhere in New York, but the formative years were in Brooklyn. My love of the theater and the arts, all of those things, happened in the halls of schools in Brooklyn, in those little theaters, in Brooklyn College, at the library at Grand Army plaza, listening to Shakespeare, buying vinyl records and just dreaming about crossing that bridge — that Brooklyn Bridge or the Manhattan Bridge to get to the other side to what seemed liked Oz, to be able to follow my dreams. My wife [actress Wanda De Jesus] tells me all the time, “You can be anywhere in the world, if somebody stops and says Brooklyn to you, you stop dead in your tracks.” It is true.

You once described yourself as the tallest Latin actor who likes to dance. Are you a good dancer?

The caveat to that is, “likes to dance.” Dance well is another thing. Luckily, I have a partner who really knows how to make me look like I can do stuff. She's actually doing all the work.

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What’s your go-to dance music?

spinner image Jimmy Smits stared in "L.A. Law"
Jimmy Smits starred in the popular legal drama, "L.A. Law" from 1986 to 1992.
20th Century Fox Licensing/Merchandising/Everett Collection

We’re super eclectic. We can have a Saturday, while we’re cleaning the house, listening to salsa music, or we could be listening to Barry White or Luther Vandross or Taylor Dayne or hip-hop. We'll pick a genre and try to do our best.

I’m now imagining Jimmy Smits cleaning house. What household chore are you good at?

I’m the garbage guy; [I run] the dishwasher, the vacuum cleaner.

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