Sons of Anarchy’s Jimmy Smits on Nero’s Decision and Hooking Up With the Boss’s Wife

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Photo: Gregg DeGuire/WireImage

Spoilers for this week's episode of Sons of Anarchy.

Every time he thinks he’s out, they pull him back in! Nero Padilla, the pimp Jimmy Smits plays on Sons of Anarchy, has long been discussing an exit strategy from the flesh-peddling business. But can anyone ever really escape Charming, California? In this week’s episode, “Greensleeves,” Nero tried to talk his ladylove Gemma (Katey Sagal) into splitting town, but instead she recruited him for a SAMCRO mission to help a dead gay preacher’s widow kick heroin. (If you don’t watch SoA, don’t ask.) Smits spoke with Vulture about Nero’s gut, why he’s not reprising his role in the new Star Wars, and — oh yeah — that time Pee-wee Herman introduced him to Madonna.

Why has Nero decided to quit now — is it because all of his girls were killed?
There are just too many bad fuckin’ things happening. His gut is telling him to go. He’s always been looking toward the door, but especially in this world, shit happens, big time. Romance, brotherhood, camaraderie, business, blood and guts — all that shit happens. It’s just gnawing at him. He’s been very complicit, and there’s a feeling of people getting their just desserts and things coming back around.

Is there any hope of Nero escaping, or has he gone too far morally?
I think they’ve all gone too far.

He expresses genuine love for Gemma in this episode. Do you think it’s possible for them to have a real romance?
In this particular world, there are other things that trump romance. Your loyalty to family and the patch and the brotherhood trumps love in a lot of different ways. It wouldn’t be surprising to me, story-wise, if it all goes south.

Nero is asked in this episode if he’s a gangster, and he says, “I don’t think so.” Do you think he’s a gangster?
It depends on what your terminology of “gangster” means. He’s from the O.G. school. Original Gangster School. It’s all about justification. They’re all involved in criminal endeavors.

How’s it been for you shooting for the final season? You came onboard midway, but you’ve been on the show for a while.
They had a final read-through the other day. A lot of time I feel like I’m outside the candy shop, looking in. Having been on other shows in different capacities, I know the emotional ties one develops over a period of years. This is very strong and resolute with these guys. It’s not like some of the network shows I’ve been involved in. They’ve traversed a big journey, all these guys, and it’s emotional on a lot of different levels.

Your character has always been a bit of an outsider on the show — he’s not a member of the club, but he works with them. Does that mirror your real-life relationship — are you a little bit removed?
I’m like that in life. It’s just part of my dynamic — my lack of social skills. No, really! I’m there to do a job, and I’m all about collaborating and opening up and gaining people’s trust and being able to share things from my life and the character’s life that allows us to fire on all cylinders. I feel good about having accomplished that.

How is it playing Katey’s love interest? She’s married to your boss, executive producer Kurt Sutter. Is that ever awkward?
It has been awkward a handful of times, but we’re professionals. There will be a joke thrown in here or there, but it’s what we do.

What’s next for you? Do you want to do another series?
I’ll be out there, knocking on doors, like Willy Loman. I’m a traveling salesman.

Pee-wee’s Playhouse just came out on Blu-Ray, and you guest-starred on that show. What are your memories of the episode?
I was the official Conky Repairman! The thing I remember most was Paul [Reubens] was really cool. It was great to hear and see him not in character. One day he came up to me and said, "I want you to meet a friend of mine." We went into the next studio, and Madonna was shooting a video. It was like Candyland! That was a nice day at work.

Do you remember anything Madonna said to you?
No, she was into her thing, bro.

Is there any chance your character, Senator Bail Organa, will show up in the new Star Wars that J.J. Abrams is directing?
They didn’t call. They’re in the middle of shooting now.

Would you do it if they called?
Depends on what it would be. I wish them well. I’m from the other camp, the George Lucas camp, so I don’t know. George is opening a Star Wars museum in Chicago now. They were very meticulous about keeping every single little thing.

You’ve had an amazing run on TV. How do you feel when you look back over L.A. Law, NYPD Blue, The West Wing, Dexter, and now Sons of Anarchy?
You didn’t mention the clunkers. There were a couple of clunkers in there, too!

Okay, Outlaw and Cane. But I liked Cane
I loved Cane!

That’s still a great batting average — five out of seven series. That would get you into the Hall of Fame, right?
You just try to do the best you can when you get up at bat, man.