As an actor, Jimmy Smits is very familiar with the justice system, having played attorney Victor Sifuentes on L.A. Law for six seasons. In his new series Outlaw, he begins the show in the highest courtroom of all, portraying Supreme Court Justice Cyrus Garza. A playboy and a gambler, Justice Garza always adhered to the strict interpretation of the law until he realized the system he believed in was flawed. In a shocking decision, he quits the bench to return to private practice. Using his inside knowledge of the justice system, Garza and his team take on today’s biggest and most controversial legal cases.
Jimmy Smits spoke with us about his unique new character and series.
Were you looking for a show to do?
I was given the script and I had a lot of meetings with John Eisendrath (the series’ Executive Producer) and questioned him about what he wanted to do with the show, and I thought it was really great jump-off point in terms of what I was looking for.
When I think about the things that I’ve done before, and how those shows have been topical in a lot of different ways, this kind of satisfied that in a way. We deal with strong, substantive subjects but, at the same time, have a character that in a lot of ways was outside the box of what I’ve done.
How much input did you have into the story or character?
I’ve been involved in the sense of making sure that John was surrounded by a writing team that has people who were prosecutors, defense attorneys, people who had been before Supreme Court justices, so that you have that same kind of dynamic working in the writers’ room that the character has. That was the most important thing for me.
Did you meet any Supreme Court justices to do research?
No, I didn’t meet them to do research. The thing to me that stayed with me specifically is this summer when I visited the Supreme Court, when I was in Washington D.C. doing the 4th of July celebration that I’m involved in with PBS, is the trappings of the court are so incredibly majestic.
To make a decision that this particular character makes, has to have real ramifications that are extreme, so that kind of cemented it in a lot of different ways
Are you looking forward to exploring points-of-views on issues that are different from your own?
Well, I’m quite sure you know how liberal I am in terms of the things that I’ve done in the past. This show is not going to be about a conservative that becomes a liberal overnight, but the fact that he does have a kind of conservative bent. I think he’s much more Libertarian in the way he looks at the strict constitutional aspect of certain issues.
For me the bottom line is what’s on the page. And I think it was an opportunity to deal with legal matters and hot-button issues that are substantive in terms of a legal show. At the same time, he’s a character that is outside the box in a lot of different ways.
Since we’re at a point where we’re logger-jammed in terms of the political right and left, and because of what happens to him in the pilot, where he makes such a radical switch and then surrounds himself with a team of people that have different types of political viewpoints, it does give an opportunity for us to tackle these hot issues in a new and fresh way.
John Eisendrath has said, ‘Because Cyrus Garza is played by Jimmy Smits, we look at Garza a different way than we would if he were just some other person doing these things.’ What does that mean to you, what do you have to bring to it?
I think John’s created a really fascinating character that’s a challenge for an actor. It’s a wonderful meal for an actor to play. And it’s something different than what I’ve done before.
In this kind of instance, I’m going to be able, as an actor, to tackle stuff that’s very substantive and play a character that’s much more loose and comfortable than I’ve had a chance to play. So it’s a challenge for me to do and one that I can’t wait to do.
By ‘loose and comfortable,’ do you mean you’re bringing a little more of your offstage self to it in terms of persona?
You haven’t seen me tackle this type of character before. Of course you draw from yourself, but the artistic nourishment that you want to get is to be versatile and do something different. And I think I get a chance to do that in a lot of different ways here.
Compared to the work you did on L.A. Law, is Outlaw only connected to it by the fact that there’s law involved with both of them?
I would say so. When we shot this pilot in Philadelphia, to walk into the (courtroom) and see the jury box there on the side, it was a little intimidating because I have this Sifuentes thing in the back (of my mind). But they’re very far apart, because there is that young idealism factor that the Sifunetes character had. And this guy is more open and loose because he has been on both sides.