As the FX mega-hit series SONS OF ANARCHY comes to its final for this season, everyone is trying to figure out who is doing what and how and why and where – yes, it’s all over the place.
Jax has now rid the club of the Irish and the Chinese giving the gun trade to Pope’s businessman. Tara is still playing games and the DA doesn’t know if she’s being played or needs to play harder. Just when you thought it was safe to be a member of SAMCRO – it may be time to clean house again and that’s just a few of the details that have been brewing this season.
No stranger to television Smits has been in some remarkable shows such as L.A. Law, NYPD Blue, The West Wing and a stint on Dexter. He has even found time to join the Jedi set playing Senator Bail Organa in STAR WARS: Episode III-Revenge of the Sith.
Joining SONS OF ANARCHY in the 2012-2013 season, his presence brought a different angle to the show. As Nero Padilla fans have come to embrace Smits portrayal and now we can hear from the man himself about the role and his thoughts about Nero and Gemma.
Thanks for joining us! Nero is obviously having a hard time with Jax and what’s going on with the Sons, where is Nero’s head at now with the finale near?
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.
When Nero is consoling Jax, do you see the yin and yang of wanting to help Jax and wanting to throttle him?
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.
Was there something about the character of Nero that you added on your own?
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.
Do you have a favorite scene this season?
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.
Playing Nero, have you learned anything about yourself?
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?
Fans have no problem talking on social media about how they feel a character is doing good or bad but Nero seems to be embraced very well by fans.
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.
From L.A. Law to Sons of Anarchy, have you asked yourself, “How the heck did I get here from where I started?”
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 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.
You’ve been in television since the 1980’s, what do you think about the differences between then and now?
That’s 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.
Jax and Nero might be at a cross roads here. After what happened this week how do you see that relationship going forward?
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.
Nero and Gemma may be in love but do you think it’s enough?
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.
Do you think Nero can be considered the moral center?
Kurt never said that and I’ve never really thought about that in terms of what the overall scope of the show for the season, like the season arch. So if that has come up in conversations in the writer’s room that wasn’t expressed to me. I’m just trying to follow that little guide path that I get every episode when I get a script.
How do you see Nero’s romantic side?
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.
What has your SOA experience been like for you?
I’m having a great time on the show. Each of those experiences are different, Stacey, 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.
Do you know how long you’d have the role of Nero?
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.
How much did you know coming into the season or did you?
I had much more of a sense last season. There was much more of a kind of dialog that Kurt and I had last season. I mean we checked in with each other a lot more, and, of course, we had all those initial meetings about what he wanted to do with the character—with a character, not Nero, because it wasn’t Nero at that particular point—but just a character that he wanted to bring in and just his feelings about the show. So I felt much more I don’t want to say connected to him, but we just checked in with each other a lot more. And this season we didn’t really—well, the season’s over—we didn’t really have the opportunity to do that, but I realize there was a lot going on; there were a lot of changes going on and he’s got his eyes already on finalizing this in a way, because we’re only going for one more season. At least that’s what—I don’t know if the FX people that are on the line can say maybe something else–but that’s what I’ve been told. So we’ve talked, but I’ve kind of been more on autopilot in terms of my trust in him and that group of writers, and this is going to speak in terms of the beginning of your question about how I feel about them as a group of writers, is my trust factor with them is solid so I feel like on firm ground. And what I’ve mentioned before about the only thing that I’m really adamant about is making sure that he gets to show different sides and there’s not just one, that you just don’t see just one functional aspect of a character, that I want him to be as three dimensional as possible. So it’s important that that edge that he has keeps on going, and they’ve written towards that, they’ve facilitated that, they’ve shown a little lighter humorous side with little things that we had this season that I thought they were great that they were able to kind of like get that in there, too, and write towards that. So I’m good with the fact that we didn’t check in as much. Now we’re going to have serious conversations in the next month or so to determine what happens.
How do you see the relationship between Gemma and Nero with all that’s happened?
Gemma’s character has been good for making people realize getting the whole thing about the comeuppance. She doesn’t forget, man. If you cross her it might be two seasons down the line, but she’ll come back at you. But I do feel that the characters there is a bond there because there was a piece of them that was kind of missing, and them coming together kind of, well, seemingly so, anyway, since they’ve met, they kind of have found a way to fill in that missing piece, that void that each of them had in their own way. And I’ve liked the way they’ve kind of had to kind of negotiate their lives realizing what each of them bring to the party at the beginning, what he does, what she is involved in, and they’ve found ways to navigate through all of it. Certainly it was not easy for me to rationalize in my head how a guy would accept some of the things that have happened to her this season and not go off about it. So my initial reaction when I saw the fact that she had to do the conjugal and had told him, I, Jimmy, it was hard for me to process that, but I had to like reset and go back to where I think the beginnings of the character and what he said and what he does for a living and how he deals with women, and I became much more accepting of that. Again, I think that speaks to the whole process of them completing each other in a way.
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?
The end game it’s morphed into other things. I don’t know, Jeri, 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.
Do you see for Nero that every decision now maybe there’s still that spark that there can be an end game for him?
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.
Nero makes a lot of tough choices, so as an actor how you enjoy that kind of role?
Well, I mean I like that he writes for his characters in such a way where they’re kind of like they think they’re on, “Oh, I finally made it to kind of like terra firma,” and there’s just some more quicksand so that they’re all kind of like always off kilter. I actually like that. And I understand I mean I don’t know anything about motorcycle gangs and pimping and stuff like that. You have to substitute; that’s what we do as actors. So I do, in a kind of deep way, and just kind of what I do is magnify it, but I do understand what the tug is from your past. I’m speaking to you specifically about this because you said you’re from Brooklyn, and Brooklyn it’s very much a part of me, where I grew up and how I grew up and the different places I grew up. I carry that in a special place, and it fuels a lot of the choices that I make. So I understand when I’m faced with a character like this who has this kind of tug. I just magnify it to a much higher degree, because he’s going through something that is, because of his involvement, the way that it went down, it’s much more intensified. So I understand it and then there’s a special place in it for me. And I think the writers have kind of got that in a way so they’ve written towards that also. So it’s very important. Glad you picked up on that.
How much are you like Nero is the other way around?
Well, that really happened on just about every show; it’s the dynamic of television. And it’s very fluid, because it continues and you can’t but help personality traits or qualities that a person has, because of the length of it, the length of what happens, start kind of like bleeding through. And I think I’ve kind of alluded to this, and I’ll repeat it again, I very much have to keep in check that this guy is different from me. So there are always conversations that we have about keeping the edge happening with him and just keeping the character kind of like fully fleshed out. He’s going to take a turn, and it ain’t going to be pretty when that happens. So I’m kind of looking forward to that myself, because it will be another kind of muscle kind of exercise. So it’s nice to kind of like start out in a way with a big bang like he did when the character first came on, and find his way in terms of relationships with Gemma’s character, with Jax’s character, with the club, and what that all means and his past, and it will be fun now to kind of like—because you get to take the audience for a ride then—and it will be fun when the other thing happens. And it looks like, because of the transgression that I alluded to before, that this underlying chord that Kurt has in his writing about betrayal and people getting their comeuppance and all of that stuff biting you back, that the turn, when it happens, it’s not going to be pretty as far as Nero is concerned.
What has playing Nero ignited in you?
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.
Thanks to Mr. Jimmy Smits for taking the time to gives us some insight to his character. This Tuesday on FX is the two-hour season finale of SONS OF ANARCHY. Jax has some loose ends to tie up and, just so you know in advance, I will be sitting front row and center of Hall H at the 2014 Comic Con International panel of SONS OF ANARCHY to see if I can get any tidbits for Fall of 2014. Tuesday night is going to be EPIC – so be there!