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Jimmy Smits: 1955—: Actor

Worked To Further Latino Arts

Smits remained on N.Y.P.D. Blue until the end of 1998, when he again decided to leave to pursue new film roles. In 1995, he had won outstanding reviews for his lead in Mi Familia, an intergenerational saga about a Mexican-American family in Los Angeles from the 1920s through the 1980s. Smits played one of the sons, Jimmy Sanchez, a withdrawn young military veteran who falls in with a criminal element when he returns to civilian life. He becomes a father, eventually accepts responsibility for his son, and marries a Salvadoran woman to save her from deportation. Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum gave Mi Familia a favorable review, calling it "one of those uplifting, life-affirming things you'd see on public television's American Playhouse … and as such it's unshakable in its inspirational intensity, with an earnestness that might jade the dyspeptic." James M. Wall, writing in Christian Century, declared that "Smits is especially strong … in a deeply moving scene that is also one of the film's strongest tributes to familial love."

Smits also appeared in the lead in a 2000 prizefighting drama, Price of Glory. He played an aging former middleweight, Arturo Ortega, who is determined to turn his three sons into a powerhouse boxing trio. Entertainment Weekly writer Owen Gleiberman reviewed the film, and while granting that elements of the story seemed predictable, "Smits' performance is more shaded than that. He makes this driven patriarch a complex, sympathetic dynamo, boiling over with love and resentment and ambition and Latin pride." Smits also returned to the stage in 2002, after an absence of some years, in a New York Public Theater production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night as Count Orsino.

Smits was pragmatic about his career and the options open to him. When asked by Washington Times writer Gary Arnold about whether he had consciously tried to choose film roles over television parts, Smits replied, "I don't see the boundaries…. People go back and forth from series to TV movies to features all the time now. It's all work, and it's always good roles you want to find. Very few actors are ever in a position to get too choosy. I still go out and audition for stuff."

Despite the dramatic changes in the entertainment industry since he began on L.A. Law in the mid-1980s, Smits has teamed with others to raise awareness about the still-meager numbers of Latino characters on television and film. He co-founded the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts in 1997 with actor Esai Morales. The group's goal is to increase visibilty of Latinos in film and television, and also behind the cameras throughout the industry; its fundraising events support a scholarship fund and lobbying efforts. Smits pointed out in a 1998 interview with Los Angeles Times writer Yvette C. Doss that there was still much work to be done. "The representation of Latinos in the media today is abysmal," he noted, and talked about his work for the ALMA (American Latino Media Arts) Awards, which serve to highlight positive images of Latinos in the arts. "The ALMA Awards deal with the fact that the Latino performer and the Latino in this country is a significant part of the mosaic of what this country's all about … I'm not saying everybody needs to be this PC shining knight," he told Doss. "But we need to level the playing field so that we are not solely getting negative stereotypes."

Selected works


Running Scared, 1986.

The Believers, 1987.

Old Gringo, 1989.

Vital Signs, 1990.

Fires Within, 1991.

Switch, 1991.

Mi Familia, 1995.

Lesser Prophets, 1997.

Star Wars: Episode II-Attack of the Clones, 2002.


L.A. Law, 1986-1991.

The Tommyknockers, 1993.

The Cisco Kid, 1994.

N.Y.P.D. Blue, 1994-1998.

Solomon & Sheba, 1995.



Dictionary of Hispanic Biography, Gale, 1996.


Austin American-Statesman, November 24, 1998, p. E1.

Back Stage West, September 5, 2002, p. 12.

Christian Century, July 5, 1995, p. 667.

Entertainment Weekly, November 11, 1994, p. 23; May 19, 1995, p. 44; June 9, 1995, p. 14; June 23, 1995, p. 42; October 23, 1998, p. 56; April 14, 2000, p. 50; August 2, 2002, p. 64.

Esquire, March 1996, p. 116.

In Style, February 1998, p. 89.

Los Angeles Times, July 5, 1997, p. 6; June 4, 1998, p. 6; November 23, 1998, p. 6.

Maclean's, February 19, 2001, p. 48.

New Statesman, August 1, 1997, p. 41.

People, June 22, 1987, p. 105; November 2, 1987, p. 13; October 23, 1989, p. 17; May 20, 1991, p. 12.

Washington Times, March 31, 2000, p. 5.

—Carol Brennan

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Nate Smith Biography - Fought His Way into the Union to Theodosius II BiographyJimmy Smits: 1955—: Actor Biography - Almost Bombed Out Of Hit Show, Returned To Television Stardom, Worked To Further Latino Arts