Jimmy Smits is always a welcome sight on TV. He’s got an ease and familiarity to him that makes you want to watch anything he’s on. In his current role, he plays Senator John Donovan on FOX’s 24: Legacy and he recently hopped on a conference call to chat about the show, his role and working with “pro to the max’ Gerald McRaney, who plays his father on the show.
24: Legacy airs on Mondays at 8pm on FOX
Is there anything you added to this character that you may not have originally been given when he was first broken down for you?
Jimmy Smits: Well, the broken down part, as you can see from the pilot, was very sketchy, so I’ve been adding a lot simply because the flow in terms of what has happened in the 12 hours has changed considerably. So, yes, I’ve had to make internal adjustments with regard to what I originally perceived that I wanted to do and what’s gone down.
But that’s part of working in television. If you’re working on a film or a play there’s a beginning, a middle and an end, and as a performer you want to be able to score things so that something that you allude to, whether it be with inflection or how you might play a certain scene might, in your scoring of it, foreshadow what might come.
So, the thing with me more than anything is to keep it honest and don’t get into the realm of being so enigmatic, as you see sometimes in a daily soap opera, and that is a different kind of genre and gear in terms of the performance of the two, but you can get into those things where you’re enigmatic because they really don’t know what they’re going to do the next day. So, it’s important for me as an actor to be able to do my work and not just say lines. Yes, so that’s been interesting in terms of adding or making adjustments this particular season.
Going back as far as Star Wars to 24, you are inhabiting a role of a world that has already existed for years. What is it like as an actor to immerse yourself in a world but yet have it be completely your own? And did you approach it differently than, say, a normal pilot with starting at ground zero?
Jimmy Smits: Right. Well, what you’re alluding to is that there is a definite visual template that is part of the show’s iconography, right, the lore of the show has a definite kind of visual template. And it’s one of the reasons why I took the job, because I really embraced it, I thought that it was game- changing when it first appeared. And really the whole real-time factor of it injected a kind of energy into episodic television in a different kind of way. So, I really embraced that aspect of it.
And the fact that Stephen Hopkins, who directed the original pilot of 24, was on to direct this, and has come back on with us in latter episodes that we were shooting subsequently, really gave me a kind of actor comfort zone that I was ready to live and breathe with all that stuff. My work in the pilot was, there wasn’t a lot there so it was relying upon a number of conversations, not many, but a number of conversations I had with the writers and producers who also had been part of the previous incarnations in different forms. And so that part of it was a real leap of faith.
When you signed on for this role it was perhaps the worst time in recorded history to be a politician, let alone a presidential candidate, so what appealed to you about playing this kind of a role?
Jimmy Smits: Well, again, it wasn’t so much about the political nature of it, it was more about the genre of the show. This is something I haven’t done much of and I wanted to delve into that and see where that would take me and that particular character.
Have you worked with Gerald McRaney before?
Jimmy Smits: No, we haven’t. I’m a huge fan, though.
Did you guys have a lot of time to work on the scenes episode, especially the last one?
Jimmy Smits: We actually did not. And as it is in these kind of circumstances, we just finished filming some of my work in the 12th episode, which is our final hour for the season, and there was some serious emotional terrain that we had to cover. And I guess I’m alluding to that because it’s just a testament as to the type of actor Mac is, you see he’s all over the place, he’s on Netflix, and House of Cards, and on that great show on NBC. He’s just a pro.
He’s a pro to the max. So, what I wanted to say about that was because of the way the filming went down it was very compressed and we didn’t have a lot of time. And as it is with professional actors you have to find a way into each other in very short notice, that’s part of what we do, just sharing little tidbits about our lives and what we’ve been through becomes an ice breaker for the performance but also for what we have to negotiate character-wise as well.
How likely are we to see you with a gun, or in a fight, or doing any of the real 24-ish things on the show?
Jimmy Smits: I might have mentioned this in another interview, but we shoot in Atlanta and I’m back and forth, too many times, between Los Angeles, or New York and Atlanta and I’m taking a lot of anti-inflammatories on those trips because of that. So, the answer to that is, yes, there will be an element of that, which is good, I signed up for that part of it, so I’m embracing that totally and I’m just trying to keep up with Corey and Miranda.
You have been a champion, especially for Latinos, in entertainment. How do you see that progression going, and what do you think the industry and the artists themselves can do to improve that situation?
Jimmy Smits: I think it’s a really important thing. And, yes, with regards to our show it’s another reason why I was really positive about jumping on to this with regards to Corey’s [Hawkins] casting and their choice of where they want to go story-wise. I love the fact that, and I’ve talked about this in interviews, that the women characters are very proactive and really move the story forward, and when they’re in positions of power they’re really exercising that power. Yes, so it’s something that I embrace totally.
And with regards to what you were saying about what’s happening generally, with regards to Latinos I think it’s a process. And of course you see the numbers in the major metropolitan areas increasing, and I think there’s a lot to learn with what the African-American community is enjoying right now in terms of a real resurgence in terms of story and quality types of writing and characters. And what we can see is that it’s not just about being in front of the cameras, to be in those positions where you’re doing writing, and producing, and directing, having people that are involved in it on those levels fortifies the possibility of those stories happening. So, if we can learn anything by that, that’s the place we have to get to, specifically with regards to your question about Latinos story-wise.