“It's a fine line and I have to deal with that all the time. I do want to be involved in quality projects that say something about the Latino community. But as an actor, you want to sell your versatility. One thing should go hand in hand with the other. We (Hispanic actors) want to play different roles, we want to be cast in different ethnicities and act in films about different historical times. I think that's good for us, in terms of non-traditional casting. And I don't see why, for the most part, I can't do that.” Jimmy Smits
An Emmy winning and Golden Globe American actor of Latino and Dutch ancestry who is celebrated for his portrayal of sincere, honest men with deep moral convictions, Jimmy Smits is very popular for his roles on two hit TV shows produced by Steven Bochco. He is remembered as the young high-strung law partner Victor Sifuentes on the NBC dramatic “L.A. Law” (1986-1992), from which he picked up his Emmy Award, in addition to a Viewers for Quality Television Award, and Dennis Franz's second partner, Detective Bobby Simone, in the ABC police drama “NYPD Blue” (1994-1998), where he took home his Golden Globe Award, as well as a Golden Satellite Award, a NCLR Bravo Award and two ALMA Awards. The artistically suave performer gained additional prominence for his portrayal of congressman and presidential candidate Matt Santos on NBC's political drama, “The West Wing,” a role he held from 2004 to 2006. Delivering a strong performance, he won an ALMA Award and an Imagen Award. Smits has starred in numerous TV films, including The Broken Cord (1992), The Cisco Kid (1994), Solomon and Sheba (1995), Marshal Law (1996) and Lackawanna Blues (2005), and is set to have a starring role in a television pilot for CBS’ “Cane” (2007).
On the movie front, Smits is familiar among science fiction fans for playing Senator Bail Organa on the final two Star Wars films, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) and Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005). Other memorable performances include Jimmy Sanchez in My Family/Mi Familia (1995, netted an Independent Spirit nomination), Geronimo in The Million Dollar Hotel (2000), boxer Arturo Ortega in Price of Glory (2000) and a police detective in Bless the Child (2000). Smits' admirers will not want to miss his performance in the upcoming drama/romance The Jane Austin Club Book (2007), as Amy Brenneman's husband, Daniel.
Outside the limelight, 6-foot, 3-inch tall Smits was married to Barbara Smits from 1981 to 1986, and has two children with her. Since his divorce from his wife, he has been in a relationship with actress Wanda De Jesus. The couple now lives in Los Angeles. A New York native of Puerto Rican descent, Smits always visits Puerto Rico whenever he has time to do so. Once, he was arrested for his involvement in protesting U.S. Navy bombing practices in the Puerto Rican offshore island of Vieques. In 1997, Smits co-founded The National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts (NHFA) along with fellow actors Esai Morales and Sonia Braga, as well as Washington, D.C. attorney, Felix Sanchez. The organization aims to advance the presence of Latinos in media, telecommunications and the entertainment industries.
King of Brooklyn
Childhood and Family:
Jimmy Smits was born on Brooklyn, New York, on July 9, 1955, and is Catholic. His father, Cornelis Smits, was a Surinamese immigrant of Dutch ancestry who managed a silk-screening factory, and his mother, Emilina, was a Puerto Rican nurse. He has a younger sister named Diana. Although he was raised primarily in Brooklyn, Jimmy also spent some of his time in the Bronx and in his mother's native country, Puerto Rico. He graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn. He earned a BA in Theater from Brooklyn College in 1990 and an MFA from Cornell University in 1982.
Jimmy was married to Barbara in 1981, but the couple divorced six years later in 1987. The couple has two children, daughter Taina Smits (born in 1973) and son Joaquin Smits (born in 1983). Jimmy was named “King of Brooklyn” at the 1991 Welcome Back Brooklyn Festival.
Prior to pursuing an acting career, Jimmy Smits worked for a time as a community organizer in the New York area. After appearing in small roles with the New York Shakespeare Festival and several regional theaters, he got his early break on the small screen as Don Johnson's ill-fated first partner Eddie Rivera in the 1984 NBC series pilot “Miami Vice.” The same year, he also could be seen in Public Theater playing a supporting role in Michael Weller's “The Ballad of Soapy Smith.”
In 1986, Smits made his debut in television film with a bit part as a cop in CBS' "Rockabye. Later that same year, he was seen on the big-screen as a drug dealing scoundrel in Peter Hyams' action Running Scared, which starred Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal. However, the actor did not experience a career breakthrough until he landed the role of attorney Victor Sifuentes on the well-liked NBC dramatic series “L.A. Law” (1986-1994). During his tenure from 1986 to 1992, Smits was nominated for six Emmy Awards and won one in 1990 in the category of Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, and created a reputation for himself as TV's first Hispanic heartthrob. The role also brought him a 1990 Viewers for Quality Television for Best Supporting Actor in a Quality Drama Series and a 1991 Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV. More work followed after his TV success. Smits was cast in the lead role of Bo Ziker in the made-for-TV film The Highwayman (1987) and after small roles in a couple of additional films, including John Schlesinger's The Believers (1987). He made his debut as a leading actor in a feature film with 1989's Old Gringo, opposite Jane Fonda and Gregory Peck. In the movie, he portrayed a young Mexican general named Tomas Arroyo. The film, however, failed to ignite audiences. He went on to costar with Ellen Barkin in 1991's Switch, directed and written by Blake Edwards, but the movie did not receive a positive response.
Smits fared better on the small screen and starred as anthology professor David Norwell in the acclaimed ABC docudrama The Broken Cord (1992), based on a book by Michael Dorris about Fetal Alcohol Syndrom. In the miniseries, “Stephen King's “The Tommyknockers'” (ABC, 1993), he starred as Jim 'Gard' Gardner, alongside Marg Helgenberger as Roberta 'Bobbi' Anderson and John Ashton as Trooper Butch Duggan. Also in 1993, Smits resurfaced on the stage, opposite off-screen companion Wanda De Jesus, in the L.A. Production of “Death and the Maiden.”
After sharing top billing with Naomi Watts in the thriller film Gross Misconduct (1993), where director George Miller cast him as a liberal arts professor seduced by his college student, and having the titular character in the TNT remake of The Cisco Kid (1994), opposite Cheech Marin, Sadie Frost and Bruce Payne, Smits scored his next victory when he joined the cast of the long-running police drama “NYPD Blue” in 1994. Portraying the leading role of Bobby Simone, the series boosted their ratings after the actor's arrival and his character finally won over partner Andy Sipowicz (played by Dennis Franz) and was romantically involved with married fellow officer Diane Russell (played by Kim Delaney). For his bright effort, Smits was handed a Golden Globe and a Golden Satellite for Best Performance by an Actor in a TV-Series – Drama, a NCLR Bravo for Outstanding Television Series Actor in a Crossover Role, and two ALMAs for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Television Series in a Crossover Role. He also received five Emmy nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series and four SAG nominations for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series. But in November 1998, the character Simone was killed off after Smits decided to leave the show.
While working on the ABC show, Smits headlined a Latino cast that included Edward James Olmos and Esai Morales in Gregory Nava's My Family/Mi Familia (1995), where he nabbed an Independent Spirit nomination for Best Male Lead. He then starred as Solomon, with Halle Berry as Sheba, in Robert M. Young's television movie Solomon and Sheba (1995). He also acted in the films The Last Word (1995), Murder in Mind (1997) and Lesser Prophets (1997), and in the television film Marshal Law (1996), as Jack Coleman. He provided the voice of Old King Cole in Mother Goose: A Rappin' and Rhymin' Special (1997).
Back to films, Smits had famous roles in three features debuting in early 2000. First, he teamed up with a strong cast of talent (Mel Gibson, Milla Jovovich and Gloria Stuart) for the Berlin Festival premiered thriller The Million Dollar Hotel, directed by Wim Wenders. He was then cast in the lead role of washed-up boxer Arturo Ortega in the sport-themed Price of Glory before playing a police detective, John Travis, in the supernatural thriller Bless the Child, opposite Kim Basinger. Two years later, he was introduced to a wider audience as Senator Bail Organa of Alderaan, Princess Leia's adoptive father, in the Star Wars films Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002), a role he reprised in 2005 for Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, the final film in the Star Wars saga. In between the movies, he took on Shakespeare as Orsino in a Broadway performance of “Twelve Night” in 2002. He also appeared in the Broadway production of the Pulitzer Prize winning Nilo Cruz play “Anna in the Tropics,” the next year.
It was in 2004 that Smits was again put in the television spotlight when he landed the regular role of Congressman Matthew Santos in the 1999 political drama series “The West Wing.” His performance in the ever-popular NBC show won the actor a 2006 ALMA for Outstanding Actor in a Television Series, a 2005 Imagen for Best Actor- Television, and a SAG nomination in the category of Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series (shared with such costars as Alan Alda, Kristin Chenoweth and Janeane Garofalo). He stayed with the series until it came to an end in 2006. In 2005, Smits appeared in the ensemble cast of the HBO original movie Lackawanna Blues, based on Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s autobiographical one man show.
The actor will play the supporting role of Daniel in the drama/romance film The Jane Austin Club Book (2007), for director Robin Swicord. Among his costars in the upcoming film are Emily Blunt, Maria Bello, Kevin Zegers, Hugh Dancy and Maggie Grace. He is also set to star as Alex Vega in a TV series pilot for CBS titled “Cane,” which is about a Latino family who works together to run a rum business. The show will air in September 2007.
ALMA: Outstanding Actor in a Television Series, “The West Wing,” 2006
Imagen: Best Actor – Television, “The West Wing,” 2005
ALMA: Outstanding Individual Performance in a Television Series in a Crossover Role, “NYPD Blue,” 1999
ALMA: Outstanding Individual Performance in a Television Series in a Crossover Role, “NYPD Blue,” 1998
Golden Satellite: Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Drama, “NYPD Blue,” 1998
Golden Globe: Best Performance by an Actor in a TV-Series – Drama, “NYPD Blue,” 1996
NCLR Bravo: Outstanding Television Series Actor in a Crossover Role, “NYPD Blue,” 1996
Emmy: Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, “L.A. Law,” 1990
Viewers for Quality Television: Q Award, Best Supporting Actor in a Quality Drama Series, “L.A. Law,” 1990