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Sons of Anarchy: Interview with Jimmy Smits

            I had the opportunity to chat with Jimmy Smits about his role as Nero on Sons of Anarchy this morning – along with a few other journalists. When I asked him for specifically spoilery information, he politely indicated that Kurt Sutter would not be happy with him if he answered! Here’s some of what he was able to share with us...
            While he couldn’t give us specifics about the on-going storylines, he did keep reminding us that Sutter likes to “blow things up” and that inevitably a “turn” would be coming.
            In large part, Smits was brought into SOA by Producer Paris Barclay with whom he had worked on NYPD Blues. His wife, Wanda de Jesus, who is also guest starring this season, was a huge fan of the show and urged him to take the part. As Smits put it, the show is somewhat of an industry darling as a lot of people in the business love the show. Smits attributes this to the high production values and also had high praise for his fellow actors. Season three’s Irish storyline was identified as “jumping the show into another gear” for Smits who also gave a nod to the show’s very cinematic feel and its signature “grittiness”. Titus Welliver, who played Jimmy O’Phelan is seasons 2 and 3, was also mentioned by Smits for his work in the season 3 story and as someone he’d worked with on NYPD Blues. In fact, Smits has ties to several other cast members such as Danny Trejo and Ron Perlman.
            When asked about Nero’s relationship to Jax, Smits likened it to Horatio’s relationship to Hamlet. In fact, this was another thing he praised about the show – it’s archetypal images that reference Hamlet and help to give you insights into a world that you don’t know, the world of SOA. Like Horatio, Smits sees Nero as a kind of mentor or friend or “bro” to Jax, much as Opie was. Smits would have liked to do more with Ryan Hurst.
            Smits mentioned that Nero is all about the exit strategy and how they can manoeuvre to be on the straight and narrow and that that likely is going to take a turn in some way...
            When asked about Nero’s decision to stay with Gemma after being warned to stay away from her, Smits said that Nero doesn’t get told what to do very often. He also indicated that that was the exact wrong way for Jax to go about getting Nero to stay away from Gemma, and would be far more likely to result in Nero saying, oh yeah? You can’t tell me what to do.
            Several questions asked about how Smits crafted the role of Nero. When asked about preparation for the role, Smits revealed that he likes to do a lot of research and finds it just as fascinating as discovering the character on set in interacting with other characters. He interviewed people in Latino motorcycle clubs, people who had been in prison and were now trying to live on the straight and narrow, and even people with tattoos to get a better sense of how they view carrying the story of their lives on the canvass of their skin. Smits emphasized that he is a sponge for the information he gathers but also said that the medium requires him to be fluid to adapt to where the storyline takes him.
            Another question asked how Smits made Nero so decent. Smits commented that people don’t walk around thinking that they’re the bad guys. There can be decency anywhere and he tries to find the glimmer of that everywhere as that resonates more with the audience. He says it’s great to play the “bad guy” because you get a lot to do, but he looks at the why, at how did the guy get there.
             When asked if we were going to see another side to Nero, who appears to be a good guy, Smits answered that we’ve already seen some of his past start to come to light, such as his involvement in the penal system. He also said that Sutter likes to lay the ground work and then blow stuff up so that it ends up that nothing is as it seems.
            While he couldn’t specifically answer if things would get violent with the Sons or if the legitimate business would actually result in a way out for Jax – due to the looming threat of Sutter! – Smits did say that there might be some “weaponry” involved that would be a signature for Nero come the end of the season.
            When I asked if he ever wanted to ride one of the bikes, Smits said of course! In fact, as soon as he was anticipating being on the show, his research went right to motorcycles! He went out and got his motorcycle license and started practicing. And then he talked to Sutter. Smits said it was an exact parallel to the conversation he had with George Lukas about Star Wars. That conversations started with “There will be no lightsaber...” and the conversation with Sutter started with “There will be no motorcycle...”
            Finally, Smits was asked if he had anything he wanted to say to the fans. His response was an enthusiastic “Keep watching!” and he praised the loyal fanbase which has grown even larger this season.

I’ll be posting a longer version of the interview in the next few days, so stay tuned...

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