Jimmy Smits on long history of playing TV lawyers

The actor talks to Peter Travers about his newest role as an attorney in the drama series "Bluff City Law."
17:23 | 11/25/19

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Transcript for Jimmy Smits on long history of playing TV lawyers
To have Jimmy Smits is the guest he's got a New Year's callable what city law. You know your career in law a long. So great. That you should lecture. Oh no and no and yeah and we get invited to elect could you would you mind being the key note speaker at. But to be blank. Bar association. No whole. What do I have to off. Earth I will immediately just say. I object your honor if that guy in the exact question is irrelevant and now our way immaterial. I would loved to do that. You mean you don't have that it needs some time you don't go home and just pretend. You're in charge. And I don't have that. Part of news being a feeling comfortable like. To speak from the heart kind of thing because those numbers it really work in the courtroom. Well but I belittled I depend. And dependent great writer Ruth. Hopefully. You know make up for all in division seasons in the hands of this imagine him have attacked and the character yeah welcome regain your faith. And I'm seeing a fear it's up one after another you know I he LA law. He NYPD blue. I see the west what. He Dexter. The all of the things that you've done to people recognize you for one thing in particular. And no of those who mentioned Sons of Anarchy is that the backe to different now different generations. Different. Socioeconomic groups although you know that people suit and tie that a big gets away fans as well yeah but. No it's it's great to hear. From. A now attorney. Say you know a was going to law school when Nellie always. Hope you had come. And I am. One of the reasons why I am a lawyer now is that that. Makes you fit does something. Exhibit especially thinking basically you know did a lot about a law that's. To actually go it. It really really great I love that. Well let's do some due diligence here and talk about velocity line and the kind of where you win now. Memphis lawyer as opposed to who you did when you were openly where he's he's he. Doesn't have that kind of like. That balance that that idealistic. Young attorney and only law had. You know who has. Disguise he's a rock news. He's a rock to has Fisher's though. He's a steam in the community and has done all these social justice causes and runs this you know small boutique firm. Pillar of meant the society but there there's a lot of there's a lot of many people who are successful in their particular fields. You might look up to them a certain way. My daughter. In the series. Sidney straight they expect wonderful Kate Magee. That's the dynamic that we have as a father daughter relationship that's a little strange little strange. They've they're trying to find their way in fort itself or something towards each other again. So you're shooting death. In Memphis. We're doing it actually in. Meant little heard of that did you ever hear green screen everything done that way recently and what usually NYPD blue and come nearer. Actually do it on the fox slot and comes. Times three times a year if we reluctantly of this. Scripts. To to do like exterior shots and you know that that. For a type of show like that that's more inside because about the the workings of the precinct more so that that work but this. It mate so much sense to us. Having wanting to deal with the show that dealt with the law in its purest forms of the inspirational qualities of law. And and speaking for the voiceless. Who being the voice for the voiceless. Dealing with social justice causes. And not wanting to be in these big metropolitan areas to show. A different side of America and maybe a place that hasn't been shown you gotta be there. Because it becomes not just the backdrop. To have I don't know every permeates everywhere we wanted it permeated everything and I want it she you know keep that vibrant with the writing room. The writers' room who was in the Los Angeles that keep keep on. You know writing stories and come come and visit the sets in and see what we're doing so that the story lines are reflective of of that community. Your character lodge straight is that guy who sperm is the opposite of where his daughter had come from big corporate. Big city. I'm. I'm humid destroy. This is the way it is that and what ever personal flaws he may happen he's trying to do something good really. And the family. Terms of the way they approached the law and you mentioned a human being from a corp refer him. Win win win if it's a lot there's a lot different so they're finding their way. Towards each other through a tragedy that happens in the pilot episode. Yes but we know that from that the your wife is dead yet and therefore you getting maccast yes that apple that it. After the opening worked at so I. Askew from the begin what's the first thing you did was it Miami Vice was that the first one. We're Toma toes television. I'm I had done a couple of night spots before that but the first time I was the only applicant pilot at him with amendments. And you would gone. For perfect first five minutes of of the pilot and you that go. Well I hope they'll you know but it wasn't like commodities I don't back cavium look it up through that. Let's let women easily it would still be an explosion. Of that that you never got to have all that there Don Johnson kind of wardrobe very went it was fascinating to be there that time because of their for the pilot episodes. And Steve McMahon and comes Carter who directed the pilot and guns coming up with what he wants to do he's taken though taking his jacket and crumbling it up. Telling award to a person no I wanted you can't beat and it it becomes an iconic kind of you know local right through everything that it is. It's easy enough to wrangle and you could spend Thanksgiving you don't need to let people you can make all that happened they were pressing it confirmed as well I'm looking at you I'm thinking. Book harmful. Mr. how does it happen that you decide you know and I'm gonna do mom and dad. On elevated and understand that really does know this note this note touchstone. With the entertainment industry in my family and all of that they not. Other than watching you know. At television and at Mac's Original Amateur Hour altogether. You know that was. It was something that I found I think it had to do a lot with the fact that it moved we moved around allowed them him from Brooklyn of the Bronson of the Puerto Rico for time. Kind of this kid trying to fit into different economic situations. In their neighborhoods. Off all that's part of it. Ands and I was really great school but when they found that record. Found this thing this theater thing that I was interested in it spend hours in the library. Researching. You know historical significance of king sitting in London because of related to a Shakespearean play. It's great that you were in the library doing it now you do it on your phone I have been critical it with king and mediate. Acted. Siri. The actor's salary costs and I've played its part I need to do it was there anything you as Latino that you had. You thought this couldn't happen did you since. An air of impossibility. About it or was it always something you thought was. In the car. I think maybe that might be one of the reasons why I was drawn to the classics because it didn't feel like I had to. Do an identification. Kind of thing and could be you know. Yeah pool or a felony or or. Can and we 54 why not. There is no reason why. No and Mars beckons I was concerned there was you know and boundless. Going to see people like role Julian James Earl Jones. You know tackle the classics to me and I mean me having something in common with with both of them. If it gives you permission to aspire in the way. Somebody's doing it yeah yeah so though those with a first kind of seeds that happened for me and wonderful teachers on the way the kept on pushing me. And am looking you again because I think I'm singing your hope. It and I remember. How much I loved it when you've got to be the President. Clinton. In west. And and get to do this and now is that I don't run off but we went after the campaign went through can I liked the speech and that's that it would I want you with their now. Prop up wall it would be it would be not. Lawrence O'Donnell and was a writer while I was while I was on the Aaron Sorkin had not there have left by that time. And it's. He wrote this episode that it did with Alan all the which was alive debate because we were chronicling what. Campaign would be like him and we did this lives debate episode. On the East Coast and West Coast twice that they we rehearse it like it was a place it was it remains one of the high points and stuff that a violent television whose. There's a lot if high point do you have a favorite do you is it one thing I'll still another favorite like that work. What was the show that you work done on television that you learn the most from. Once it. Oh well OK so weird. I mean. Different things for different reasons that that live episode was grade them on west wing you know pushing envelopes and my PD blue in terms of book content what we were doing. You know the liberated the naked that he shouldn't exuberance that I had at Virginia hello low but I'm you know what the other thing called Cain. That. And the writers' strike. You know and that was a big disappointment for me but Ireland so much. For working it is a little bit. You know there. If program forward they went off. I guess I don't know. My idol like it when you play. Some of the because you're not afraid to show the flaw in the character even one. Who is taking us at least there's some sense of moving up work to do something for somebody but when you're on to get away with murder late. Viola Davis that's a really flawed tack. He beat her raped and he's messing up everything at the same time this but really you know. Well. I did it because that wanted to work by so bad and but yeah it's it's about trying to find characters with a complicated. Trying to find the flaws. And and the but keeping the point of view of the character. Clear or trying to clarify as much as possible not necessarily justify it with this clear. For their life path that that the character is going up so that the audience understand what he's really aft up but. He would I don't know why did that. There's always must and you can't be this you can't always have the white. And be doing art we have some questions now I now question what do our front pocket and a mr. Smith you are the real deal won't did you accept this part because you miss the days when you play a lawyer on LA law. No mr. Smits is now taking he's he's in law school arm and I think. Well we look maybe and then go back to the whole thing about theater. They have opening arguments and to the jury to have closing statements when they get them. And this does remind me of a bit of soliloquy ease or their strategies. In terms of the way. A lawyer performs with a can direct the energy of the jury. To their client. Or to that person that they're against war. That they perform in a lot of ways so. Maybe that's why you know. You've got better. Well Paul Hoch did art let's see one more question in your front. Thanks legacy I'm still pile up Wilma I'm still pumped about the in night's movie are you an Lin Manuel old buddies. That's exit anybody's Porter he can't its brands with every other reporter. That's basically how and back it thought. Third. I saw that play was in when it was in the works up and then I saw it again when it was off Broadway. 37 arts and and different incarnations of it on Broadway. And evicted had something special to him in Ciara. Who this who wrote who wrote in the heights. Middle do we know that he's gonna blow up in. Become you know you go look back at them and wild stuff cooks. He changed. Hamilton changed. The way we look at theatre held in did and this that unlike immigrants we get things done absolutely like when people saw what side story and they will. I mean. They're never gonna be able to goals he Oklahoma in the same kind of wasted it's it it's that shift the seismic shift in terms of the way. Theater is approaches he did that with with Hamilton and in the heights. We did did the movie this summer and John chew who directed and who did. Once it's a wonderful job on crazy which agents I'm so impressed with him as a directive so prepared. Pete. Like he goes home at night and edits. And and breezy the scene the way he had that movie in his mind. Good friend. He and with his. Just take it over it you're known for his doing aliens are yes yes you gotta do that again. It's the first time you've been on this show I don't know why you just in LA and Memphis. But the fact is that this show always and in a little bit of song. If it depth and you're gonna sing. I could blow a couple of them that's OK I'm not asking for a matter to them that every yours I don't believe you because I believe if you were playing the role you would do none of unknown but we know it's just that. Tiny little bit there must be used along in your head and in your art all the look at. Desperately looking for publicists. He's saying. Who got me on this this fists but it's just crazy that and that what you know so many people do that things went right yes they do and I fear. They go people actors who are just. Known to be the earth just the idea that they would just hit two notes. If for verifying truth is it really. C'mon okay. When I was gonna there was a group called the persuasion sense and youth did obstacles street corner symphony begins and it's like that I can look at it but can't look any better. That's a first. I loved on the there. Has three stroll. Two gang. Holes being hand news. While skiing alone them. So move in. All leaped to move that we. He don't know what to do. So only. You and. Me. So in. You land in. Or. And wow. That was who knew he knew without looking at thirteen it doesn't matter it was nothing Bert publicity. It was amazement that have been into it was just. And you know but I know why they came from the heart you know why he's so good because it's like just like conversations. Well no cards. President fluid throughout doubles.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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