Interview: Jimmy Smits Reflects On What ‘Sons of Anarchy’ Taught Him, Talks Finale

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Preston Barta // Editor

SONS OF ANARCHY -- Pictured: Key Art. CR: FX*SPOILERS if you’re not caught up*

All is going down tonight in the series finale of SONS OF ANARCHY. In the last episode, “Papa’s Goods,” we will see how Jax will cope with having killed his own mom, and how the club will react to it – and Nero.

Playing Nero is the great Jimmy Smits, one of the nicest and most genuine people you will ever come across. We had the chance to speak with Smits about the finale and how he thinks being a part of the SOA family changed him as a person.

I can imagine that every time you do a film or a series, you learn something from every experience. Looking back now, what would you say not only as an actor you took away or learned from doing SONS OF ANARCHY, but as a person, as a man, being a part of the SOA family?

Jimmy Smits: “Wow, great, great question that I don’t have a ready answer for. I don’t know. The whole thing about the strength of family through thick and thin, and even though the whole thing about family is questionable with this particular family, but that’s something that was like an ongoing the club becomes the family and when things are done against the family, how the family kind of like sticks together and the glue. That was just like a running theme and to see that group from being a fan and watching them on television to partaking with them on the performance level, I think that that bond was really, really strong, so that’s something that I’ll always remember about that particular group and about what they conveyed not only in the writing, but on a performance level as well.”

Jimmy Smits as Nero Padilla. Photo courtesy of James Minchin/FX.

Jimmy Smits as Nero Padilla. Photo courtesy of James Minchin/FX.

And as an actor, did you take anything away from playing Nero, did he teach you anything new or learn anything new?

Smits: “Wow. It just kind of reinforced for me what we need to do as performing—this might be boring for the audience, but just as performers how you really need to stay focused on any given day, so that when it’s your turn to be up at bat, you try your best to bring your A game. And when I get stuck in terms of how to play something or how to approach it or I start thinking too much, I always just go back to the basics of what does my guy want in this particular scene and what is his major objective in terms of life, that would be in his case the exit strategy, what are the people saying about him and just trying to keep that as fluid as possible while I’m putting my tattoos on, so that when it’s my turn that I make the most of those two or three scenes every episode that I get to do.”

And I just loved the “Red Rose” episode and I feel like with Nero, there’s such an intrinsic strength, power and gravitas to him that he acts as somewhat of a balancer and grounding force to the Tellers, particularly to Gemma, but also somewhat to Jax. What are your thoughts on the context of the role that Nero plays in the family?

Smits: “I think that when you start thinking about the fluidity of a television series and how it evolves and changes and grows and is kind of like symbiotic with not only what the writers’ vision is, but what the interaction is between the actors, the ensemble, the crew, all of those things, how the writers respond to when they see their particular scene that they’ve written in the writers’ room come to life on the stage and then in film, I think about that character. And of course going in, it was supposed to be ten episodes and out, and all of those things that you alluded to, thank you very much, are nice, and I think that it’s evolved into that.

I remember having a conversation with Kurt at the end of the second season that I was on, which was Season 6, and he expressed interest in me thinking about the way he framed it, the Nero character becoming part of the mythology of the show. And that’s the way it was framed, so I think that all of those qualities that you cited are probably are things that I have developed. So for the character besides that ongoing super objective that he came in with and was what his major character tag or pillar was that he wanted this kind of exit strategy, it’s something that permeated not only his character, but I think it influenced actions of the other characters.

(L-R) Kim Coates as Tig Trager, Charlie Hunnam as Jax Teller, Tommy Flanagan as Chibs Telford. Photo courtesy of Byron Cohen/FX.

(L-R) Kim Coates as Tig Trager, Charlie Hunnam as Jax Teller, Tommy Flanagan as Chibs Telford. Photo courtesy of Byron Cohen/FX.

The character served this purpose of confidant, foil, love interest, all of those little spokes in the wheel that fleshes out the show in general. With regards to the gravitas and stuff, I don’t know. The whole fluidity again of television and the character and the performer because it’s not just an open and close, it’s not like a film or a play in the sense that everything is spelled out and has a fluidity to it; I’m just happy that I had the respect of that group when I came in and they were very kind of like warm and open. And they are a close knit, very close knit group and that kind of respect and had to do probably with the prior work, the fact that I had worked with Paris before, all of that and I think that bleeds over into the character as well.”

Another element that comes out is the humor displayed with Wendy and particularly some of the lines in the latest episode, like, “Hey, Junkie, I’ll put you in the trunk.” Talk a little bit about that aspect of the character and also his relationship with Wendy, please.

Smits: “It’s one of Kurt’s strong suits I think if you look at the whole gamut of the seven seasons of the show when he has characters that one would conceive or consider to be dark or askew, you can see it in Tig, you can see it in all of the characters actually that Kurt operates best when he does this kind of one-two punch to the audience and can present kind of like lighter shade humorous side and then socks you with something that can be very emotionally impacting.

I think that engages the audience in a lot of ways. It makes them root for these people who are on the “wrong side of the tracks,” so I like the fact that that he operates as a writer from that kind of level. And with regards to Nero and Wendy, they both have the similarities that they have is that their sobriety is something that they have in common, so I think that that’s the strong bond that they share or will continue to share. Whatever happens that’s an element of it. I think it takes kind of the stink off the possibility that there’s a romantic thing. It’s more paternal, brother/sister kind. You get that vibe from the back and forth that they have, so it functions on a lot of different levels because of that.”

Obviously, you can’t give away any spoilers, but when you got that last script—

Smits: “I can, but I would not be in great shape.”

Yes, don’t. They might shank you in the neck over there.

Smits: [Laughs]

Jimmy Smits as Nero Padilla -- Photo courtesy of James Minchin/FX.

Jimmy Smits as Nero Padilla — Photo courtesy of James Minchin/FX.

But when you got that last script and you read it, was it what you were expecting? Were you surprised? Did you think I can’t believe Kurt did this? What was your feeling when you read that final script?

Smits: “I’ve been continually shocked with the past maybe five scripts in terms of like we’re really blowing sh*t up here. He’s going for broke, so it was always with like a little bit of trepidation on everybody’s part when that new script would come in in your email or whether you would get it in page form to make that turn of the first couple of pages to see what was next or who was going to go down next.

I don’t think audiences are going to be disappointed at all. I think they’re going to be very satisfied and it’s touching in a lot of ways. It’s sad, but it’s also it’s grim, too.”

Well, it’s been great. Thank you so much and it’s always a pleasure and honor, man. Thanks so much.

Smits: “I really appreciate it. I hope everything is well with you, man.”

And it is with you, too, thanks a lot.

Smits: “Happy Holidays.”

You too.

The series finale of SONS OF ANARCHY airs tonight at 10 p.m. Eastern/Pacific only on FX.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.