(PCM) Veteran actor Jimmy Smits, who plays the role of latino gangster Nero Padilla, in the FX hit series “Sons Of Anarchy” recently spoke to us about what is in-store for his character, the ways in which Nero is such a multi-layered character and just why he may be taking a turn for the dark side coming soon!
Q: It’s been evident for a few episodes now that Nero is feeling a lot of confusion over his relationship with Jax and his affiliation with the MC. After this weeks episode, he gets a pretty attractive offer from Alvarez. Well, it wasn’t attractive at first, but maybe after what he discovers from Juice it becomes a little bit more attractive. So where is Nero’s head at by the end of this episode?
JIMMY SMITS: Just where Kurt Sutter likes to keep all of his characters—off kilter. He’s navigating between what the character started out with was with this kind of goal to have some kind of exit strategy, and that’s not working at all, and now it’s combined with this pull between his past and what the characters are each calling the streets and these new affiliations that he has with the sons, and specifically with Gemma and Jax. So there’s a real kind of pull there. And as in Kurt Sutter style, all of the characters are left kind of off kilter after this particular episode.
Q: Now, too, I feel like by the end of the episode that the moment where Nero goes to embrace Jax there’s a moment where I feel like he wants to embrace him over what he’s going through, but he wants to choke him at the same time. So if he does decide to break away from that partnership do you think that it will be enough for him to break away or will he want to teach Jax a lesson?
J. Smits: You mean if he decides to go for choke? Yes. Well, one thing that I’ve noticed just in watching the shows previous, being in fan mode of the show, is that Kurt’s been really good about people getting their comeuppance and things that you do tend to come back and bite you. That’s been this recurring kind of shade that he’s had going through all of the six seasons I think, and you’re seeing with the loss of different characters that that is a big thematic force with regards to the show. So also the whole, I mean Gemma touches on it in this episode but I do think it’s another kind of deep resonant chord that goes through the show, is that this sense of family and betrayal and what betrayal means when you’ve “sacrificed” something and the person transgresses in a way.
So I don’t know where it’s going. It’s going to materialize in some heavy-duty fashion. But he’s definitely torn right there because, as Gemma has said in the previous episodes to the Nero character, there’s an affinity that Jax has for him. He has many kind of consigliores in this show that offer advice or that he gets wisdom from in different ways, and I think that Nero realizes that, and with the relationship that has developed with Gemma’s character it’s become even more kind of solidified. But, having said that, his past and where he came from and what all that means is very, very strong as well. So there you have it.
J. Smits: That originally wasn’t scripted… All I can say is that I always try to find– when Kurt writes these characters that have some grit to them, that are on the wrong side of the law, and when you’re doing somebody like that, even when I was involved in Dexter a couple years ago, I’m always trying to find people just don’t do bad things because they want to just do bad things, there’s some kind of reason behind it that they feel justified in doing what they do so that’s always trying to find their kind of justification that makes them feel in their minds morally right. So that’s been a constant with me in terms of Nero in trying to find out what makes him tick.
So I don’t know if because of that there’s a certain vulnerability that came out that I don’t think that they expected, and they’ve kind of been writing towards that, to that rather I should say. My job is just to keep, and we talk about this constantly, is that to keep the edge going with him at the same time, because you want the character as much as possible to be fleshed out. So that’s the whole thing about a television show is that there’s a fluidity to it, and then the writers they’ll write something and they’ll see a spark there, whether it’s, “Hey, I didn’t know that there could be a comedic aspect to this particular character,” and they will start writing towards that. And so then it’s your job to keep things in moderation, too, because you want the character to be as flushed out as possible within the scope of the show, because everybody they’re like cogs in a wheel, all the characters serve different functions.
Q: What have been some of your favorite scenes to film this season?
J. Smits: The little physicality that Jax and I had a couple of episodes ago, although I haven’t actually seen that particular episode, I missed that particular episode but I saw pieces of it when they were putting it together, was great for me, because I literally and figuratively got to exercise a different kind of muscle. So that was fun to do. And they had some great stunt people there that did a lot of work, and they wound up using not a lot of that; they might have used a frame of it. So we really, Charlie and I that day, that was a long night, and fun, fun to do.
But there’s a real good– Charlie’s work has been really superb, and I really give the guy a lot of props as an actor. He’s the lead on this particular show and the way he comports himself really kind of funnels down. And he’s a very bright guy and loves to talk acting, so there was a kind of good rapport that we’ve had. But when you get involved in some kind of physical thing like that it manifests itself in 30 second of a fight scene or whatever, but there’s something that transpires between the two people that are involved that brings the relationship literally to another kind of level. That’s the only way that I can explain it. So I really feel much closer to him as an actor and as a supporter.
Q: I’m curious to know, as you continue to delve into this character is there anything that you’ve found that you’ve been surprised to learn about yourself?
J. Smits: Not really. I mean I didn’t know that I was going— Kurt kind of like casually mentioned the aspect of the son, and I didn’t realize where that was going to—you haven’t really seen the kid a lot—but I didn’t realize how important that was going to be, that element was going to be. I thought, because the first time that he appeared it was just kind of it felt like it was not–perfunctory is not the right word, because he wasn’t there very much–but I just started to realize that that particular his essence and what he represents, because of his disabilities, plays so much into where that character and where Nero kind of lives and breathes and the choices that he makes. So it was kind of like serendipity that the make-up artist chose to put the kids’ name so prominent on the guy’s neck and just little things like that that you kind of go, “Oh, this makes sense on another kind of level.” So Kurt makes references to him, but I guess it’s been a surprise to me how much I happen to the kid, even though you don’t see him. Does that make sense?
Q: Oh, yes. Absolutely. And fans of the series are very notorious of being very vocal about what they like and what they don’t like, and how happy are you with how the fan reaction has been to your character, because they seem to have really embraced him?
J. Smits: I hear from Stephanie and from Carol Marshall, my publicist, who is also on the call, about how vociferous the fans are. I’m not really a social media person, so I’m not on Twitter and I don’t have a Facebook page and everything like that. And that’s not a down on it, because I really see the value of it, I’m just, I don’t know, I’m slow, remedial. But I’ve been told that I understand that they are very vociferous, they really are engaged in the show, and I think that that core audience that we have that is like that is so great for the show. And I’m amazed that they’ve kind of like embraced him the way they have, and we’ll see what happens when things turn.
Q: I was thinking to myself as I was watching the episode back to those lovely suits you got to wear and everything on LA Law, and now you’re wearing this crappy cardigan and you have a guy literally puking on you. Have you ever thought to yourself, “How the heck did I get here from where I started?”
J. Smits: I’ve gone from suits to sweaters. Those cardigans might look crappy. As Kelly, our wardrobe person who kind of came up with this idea of this guy, like she says, “I want Nero to rock those cardigans.” Those cardigans are very expensive I’ll have you know.
Q: Oh, ok..(laughs)
J. Smits: No, no, no, no, no, no, but they’re meant to look the way they do, because it was kind of like him trying to how does this guy that really doesn’t have money to kind of like—well, he decides to put his money in different places. He wants to be part of the streets, well he is part of the streets, but he wants to try to give a business kind of look to himself. So she came up with the cardigan idea, and we all make fun of it’s not Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, it’s Mr. Padilla’s hood.
Q: Certainly, I mean in terms of the arch of your career, though, I mean if 2013 Jimmy Smits could talk to mid 1980s Jimmy Smits about like the stuff that’s available on TV today. Could you ever have fathomed that this type of show would even exist like over the wide course of your career and all the things you’ve done? But it’s kind of a remarkable time for TV and you’re kind of in a unique position, because you’ve kind of worked in every sort of era since the mid ‘80s. So like have you got any just sort of general thoughts on the type of TV you’re doing now that maybe wasn’t available obviously years ago?
J. Smits: Well, it’s a great point and a great question, because I have kind of like traversed a lot of genres and I’ve gotten to do that in the television arena. Certainly like Bochco will say that for him to pitch NYPD Blue now on network television he would be hard pressed to get that particular show on the air. But now, with the advent of cable and such, you guys are calling it the golden age of TV in terms of the writing and stuff, but it’s kind of naturally found; it’s like different branches of a big tree TV’s become. And they’ve found these great outlets for writers to be able to paint these very broad canvases, and, as Kurt has done here, give insight to kind of so it’s not just doctor, lawyer, politician kind of things. You’re getting an insight to a particular culture thing with regards to this motorcycle “club” that people haven’t seen before. So they’re learning about all of that, but they’re getting engaged in this whole thing about family and this kind of like Shakespearean undertones that Kurt has put in there. It’s just great to see that we’ve been able to find these kinds of different outlets.
And now it seems like, to me, that it’s jumping into, with all of the binge watching that’s happening, it’s jumping into another, it’s morphing itself into something else, and I’m going to be fascinated to see what happens with the different platforms like Netflix and all of these other stations, all of these other arenas that are happening where people will be able to see television in different ways.
Q: You mentioned earlier in one of the other answers that you were a fan of the show before you came on board. Over the course of the show we’ve seen Jax kind of struggle to find a good father figure, and even though he and Nero started off as sort of wary of each other and maybe a bit untrustworthy they very much developed a sort of father/son relationship. With the information that gets revealed in tonight’s episode it seems like the crux of that relationship could be threatened. How has that been for you as a fan of the show to kind of develop that relationship during your time on there and where do you see it going after tonight’s episode?
J. Smits: Well, it definitely, as I mentioned before, this whole thing about Jax having these different voices that have been— If he’s the Hamlet character he’s had his Horatio it hasn’t been just one person, that there have been many kind of Horatio’s that he’s had, and they all kind of serve different purposes. Yes, with this Nero character coming on board there is this kind of brother relationship, and because of the differences in age I guess it floods over into a father/son kind of thing.
But again, as I mentioned in one of the previous questions, this whole aspect that Kurt deals with in terms of what betrayal is when you’ve formed a relationship, a familial relationship, the whole thing about betrayal and family and what that means is a deep chord, and in this episode you see it again. Everybody’s kind of Jax is betrayed, Nero feels betrayed, Gemma feels betrayed; there’s all that going on, and you know, again I mentioned this before when we first started, that this trademark is like shit that you do it comes back to bite you. So everybody’s kind of left off kilter and everybody’s going to exact their own way of their own revenge or finding, and I’ll be—
We’ll see what happens. Hey, listen, we still have one more episode, so maybe Nero won’t get to exact revenge.
Q: Yes maybe not. Now with Nero’s relationship with Gemma I mean it’s very obvious how much he cares about Gemma and then how important that relationship is to him, but you think that’s important enough to sort of stay his hand if push comes to shove? Is Gemma enough to kind of keep him in place and keep him from doing something he may wind up regretting?
J. Smits: I think you hit the nail on the head right there. What has developed over these past two seasons between these two characters they’ve really developed a—you’ve watched them kind of do this awkward different kind of courtship that’s happened. I mean they’re saying I love you to each other now, and who would have thought that would have come out of Gemma’s mouth. Not just to her son and stuff, but to another relationship guy. So it’s very interesting. We’ll see how that all plays out. There’s a definite pull there.
Q: Nero is so freaking romantic in this. I mean my feeling, I feel like Nero is too good for Gemma. What do you think of your character and do you think Nero is savvy enough to realize that you know what, I am really too good for this chick?
J. Smits: He’s a companionator; that was what Kurt put in his mouth the first time you saw him, “I’m a companionator.” So I guess his way of dealing with the opposite sex is definitely very different from what you might normally think of when you think of the P word, the pimp word. So I think that that kind of like floods over in terms of the way he deals with everybody, and that includes Gemma as well. But there’s a kindred spirit there; it’s no accident that they both have these like cuts where their heart is, and they’re trying to keep that repaired.
Q: Just wondering two seasons into Nero now, and you’ve been on shows for short stints and shows that have longer runs, I was just wondering how your Sons of Anarchy experience stacks up so far with all your TV experience?
J. Smits: I’m having a great time on the show. Each of those experiences are different in and of themselves. David Milch used to say that every television show becomes like this organism because of all the different parties that are involved.
These guys are really they’re very tight knit. They are a real family in a lot of ways, not only because the whole thing about them spending time. They have this added thing, the guys that are involved in the club, have this added this that they do something that other people don’t get to do with regards to the motorcycles, and that kind of bonds them in a really special way and you see that on set. But they’ve been great, really, really, really great in terms of being open armed and respectful and making me feel like I’m part of the deal with them. So I get to kind of like enjoy both worlds and I get to kind of pull away and do my thing. I’m having a great time. It’s a different experience, but really good. I’m having a good time.
Q: When you signed on was it with the understanding that it could be a multiple season thing or did it grow once you got into it?
J. Smits: No, when I signed on I really thought we were going to do what we did when I signed on to do Dexter, which was like 10 episodes and we’re out. So I don’t know. I was surprised that it kind of morphed into what it has, and I had to kind of like change gears in the middle of the– Last season there was a point where I did kind of have to shift gears a little bit, because we started having these conversations about the possibility of staying on and Kurt seeing things, all of those things that happened, and because of that I did feel like I shifted gears a little bit and we’ll see how it manifests itself. I just need to keep on point with them. We’ve had many conversations about this in terms of keeping the character’s edge going. I mean that’s very kind of important to me, because of what the world is and the way you saw him start out. So it’s important for me not to become this just kind of like functional character for one specific aspect of the show. I’m not down with that, so we talk about that a lot.
Q: From the beginning Nero has always said that he’s looking for the end game, and here you are a couple seasons later. How do you see that end game now?
J. Smits: The end game it’s morphed into other things. I don’t know I think I’ve alluded to this with regards to other questions, is that Kurt really likes to keep his characters kind of off kilter. This world that they’re in there are no easy answers. So that light at the end of the tunnel that he thought he saw there’s a realization that he has this relationship now that it’s very kind of real, he has this business partnership with the club and the relationship with Jax and that’s very real, and this tug with his past, where he came from, what the streets mean to him, and that is very, very real. So I think in one of the episodes he alludes to something in a kind of jovial way about it’s the Godfather syndrome, I keep getting pulled back in, and I think that’s very much the case with a lot of the characters on the show.
J. Smits: Oh, yes. Definitely. No, no, no, he has to desperately keep reaching for that no matter what these ties do, because I think that’s his engine, that’s what keeps him in forward motion. And we’ll see how the tugs that he has on either side what direction that takes him to, because it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be a straightforward path towards the end game; there’s going to be a lot of like curves that he’s going to have to take. And certainly this transgression that he’s found out that happened with the death of that young woman and what that meant to him and what he feels about that transgression with Jax and what that means is going to take a lot of different turns.
Q: What has Sons of Anarchy done for you as an actor? Has it ignited something different in you now for the future? I mean what are you looking for in the future that maybe Sons has fueled or has maybe made you look further for? What do you see in the future beside Sons?
J. Smits: It’s ignited well, certainly, I’m touching a different audience than I did when I was involved on Law or Blue. I definitely feel that, and that’s a good thing. I like the fact that this world is dark and gritty in a lot of way, so that’s accessing something different for the performer. When I signed on to do Dexter a couple of years back it was with that kind of conscious intention to kind of like take the perceived television image and flip it on its head, and I felt like in a lot of ways we were able to do that and walk away from that experience like having done what I set out to do. And this is kind of like I initially went into this with that expectation, and it’s kind of morphed into something else because I’ve stayed on, but I’m happy that it’s worked out the way it has.
In other Sons Of Anarchy news:
FX’s top-rated drama Sons of Anarchy will air the first eight minutes of its post-show, “Anarchy Afterword,” on FX immediately following the finale episode December 10th from 11:52 PM – 12:00 AM ET/PT. The remaining 52 minutes of “Anarchy Afterword” will stream live at www.anarchyafterword.com from 12:00 AM – 12:52 AM ET/PT.
Hosted by comedian Chris Franjola (Chelsea Lately) from the SOA set, the finale episode of “Afterword” will feature interviews with SOA creator/showrunner Kurt Sutter, Katey Sagal (‘Gemma’) and Maggie Siff (‘Tara’). In addition, the post-show will look back on moments from the entire season.