EXCLUSIVE: Jimmy Smits on the Art of ‘The Get Down’ and How Netflix Rocked The Biz

Exclusive: Jimmy Smits on The Art of ‘The Get Down’ & How Netflix Rocked The Biz

The Get Down, Baz Luhrmann’s Netflix coming of age series, is hip-hop with a dash of West Side Story — and it’s made perfectly for our audience. There’s music, love, and us—we’re present in its title characters, Ezekiel and Mylene. And, of course, they won our collective heart when we saw Papa Fuerte, portrayed by Jimmy Smits, one of the most prestigious and decorated actors in Hollywood history.

Here, the Puerto Rican actor discusses one of the summer’s hits, his newbie cast mates, and the amount of creative liberty Netflix allows its artists.

MORE: Why You're Going to Fall in Love with The Get Down's Herizen Guardiola

What spoke to you about The Get Down?

It had to do with that time period and where the show was supposed to be living and breathing which was South Bronx. Yes, it was about hip-hop but I just wanted to make sure we had a presence there. I don’t think you can talk about the beginning of hip-hop, in the South Bronx, without having a brush stroke of the Latino community. And when I checked the kids out, we had like a read through, they were so gung ho and unjaded about the business. I was like, “Yeah I’m down to shepherd this in some way.”

You’re surrounded with a lot of promising young actors. Which one has really impressed you?

I had stuff to do with Herizen [Guardiola] and Justice [Smith] for the most part. I think Herizen is a wonderful singer and Justice has really impressed me with the range that he has shown. So the possibilities of him continuing and doing different types of roles, there’s no limits. All of them are really talented. It’s not about sitting down giving advice. I’m not a big storyteller. It’s more about doing—in terms of the work ethic and what you bring to the party on the set. How you carry yourself is very important. Show me, by doing.

There’s definitely a theatre element to each character.

Yeah, I’ve worked with Stephen [Adly Guirgis], who is one of the principle writers. [Because of his writing] there’s a poetry in The Get Down. I love that dynamic. Even the thug character can have beauty in the way he expresses himself. I do remember when I grew up, I remember being on rooftops in the Bronx and Brooklyn. All my Latino side is from the Bronx. I remember sitting on rooftops and pigeon coops. The beauty to me, we knew we were poor, but there was beauty in all that too. Even though there were buildings burning around us. There’s a beauty in terms of views, that was captured really well.

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