En español | Jimmy Smits, whose television career took off in the ‘80s when he joined NBC's L.A. Law as the fiery Victor Sifuentes, returns to those roots this season with a new NBC legal series, Bluff City Law. He talks about the old series and the new one, also an immigrant family drama, with some nods to how the main character beats discrimination and aging's aches and pains.
Victor Sifuentes became a role model
I'm told L.A. Law's success — the fact that his ethnicity was very much part of his identity and he was a great lawyer — caused an increase in applicants to law schools. I got requests to be a keynote speaker at the New Mexico Hispanic Bar Association, the Illinois Bar Association. I always felt that was a little bit above my pay grade, but that's a nice icing on the cake, when your character resonates with the audience.
Bluff City lawyers are as neurotic as L.A. lawyers
You will see what makes these characters tick, their own personal damages. You'll see a place you haven't seen, that hasn't been shot much, and is really a character in itself.
You look like a man who takes care of himself
It's about finding a way to keep yourself physically active and mentally challenged. A lot of old injuries have come back to bite me — a knee injury, little things I didn't take care of in my youth. The physical therapist said, “You're not going to be able to gallop anymore, but I can get you trotting.” So you bike more, you swim more, you don't have as much impact.
How about ageism in Hollywood?
I'm realistic in looking at my age in our culture. I don't consider my age an adversity — but it is an added challenge. It is no different than when I was 25 and had the whole thing about proving yourself as an artist, and not “just a Latin artist.” Aging is just another challenge that gets into the cooker.
Hometown: Walpole, N.H.
First Film: Brooklyn Bridge (1981)
Hobby: collecting antique quilts
Family: father to four; married since 2003 to second wife Julie Deborah Brown
Upcoming: films on, among other subjects, Muhammad Ali, Ben Franklin, Ernest Hemingway and the American Revolution
And Hollywood's secret code words?
“Father figure” — I bristle at that a little bit. When people say, “You'll be able to bring some gravitas to this role.” It's code for saying something else?
Mom and Dad didn't get showbiz
It wasn't that they weren't supportive, but they didn't really understand what wanting to be an artist was all about. That wasn't very practical to them. “Are you going to be a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher?” As an immigrant first-generation family here in this country, it wasn't about safe choices, it was about realistic choices. There was a lot of weight put into the fact that I was one of the first in my extended family to attend college [a bachelor's from Brooklyn College, a master's in fine arts from Cornell) and what that meant — what this country has to offer.
Dad did like the Bard, however
My dad always said, “I like those Shakespeare plays that you do, but I got to have a dictionary with me.”
How to watch: Bluff City Law is on NBC at 10 p.m. ET Mondays.