EXCLUSIVE: Jimmy Smits on Playing Outlaws: "There Might Be An Ethnicity Thing to It"

Puerto Rican actor Jimmy Smits talked to Latina.com about his new role on NBC’s legal drama, Outlaw, the rebels he’s played in his career, and Hollywood’s proclivity for casting Latinos as outsiders.

Are you having a good time playing Cyrus Garza on NBC’s Outlaw?
The character has a kind of quirkier, lighter, edgier side to him—which is more of a challenge for the actor to play. I had a great time working on the pilot—and in the landscape of television, this is a good opportunity for me to do something that’s character driven, and that’s topical in terms of theme—the show is going to be hitting on different hot button issues that are about something.
 You’ve played so many outlaws throughout your career, on NYPD Blue, L.A Law, The West Wing and Dexter. Has it been a conscious choice on your part to seek out these roles?
I don’t know if on some subconscious level—not only on my part, but also on the industry’s part—that might have an ethnicity kind of thing to it.  Latinos are not the majority in this country—so when you, as a Latino, are in the workplace—you might walk into a room where you’re the lone Latino in the room. I’ve done characters that have kind of fallen into that category—whether they are police officers or lawyers. But I don’t think of Latinos as being outside the box. I’ve enjoyed doing the work that I’ve done and what I’ve always tried to do with my work—no matter how large the role—is try to keep the work varied and versatile.  I’ve tried to say something positive about the human condition and I’ve tried to give another spin in terms of the way the larger society perceives Latinos in this country.
Did your strict Catholic family ever take issue with you playing outlaws throughout your career?
It’s taken them a while to separate the choices that I make sometimes artistically with those kinds of values that they tried to embed in me. But I think that they’ve come around and understand that at my core I’m not Miguel Prado or anything like that. They’ve come to understand that it’s not real. It’s something else.

Have you personally ever felt conflicted by the kinds of roles that you play?
Not really, because I try to look at the larger picture. You can play a negative kind of role but the piece that you’re involved in says something more positive about the human condition. I have trouble when there’s just negativity throughout a particular piece in and of itself. It might sound like justification, but it has worked for me so far.

 Has there ever been a time in your career when you struggled to make it in this business?
I’m always struggling. I’ve had a lot of blessings, [and] I’ve been successful in a lot of ways. But there are always things that I want to do and I’m always trying to challenge myself or to get people to realize that I’m able to do a particular role. Or, if I’m interested in getting on the other side of the camera there are challenges with regards to that. There are always struggles that you’re dealing with.