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April 6, 2000
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Glory days
Jimmy Smits takes on first heavyweight role since NYPD Blue
By LOUIS B. HOBSON


HOLLYWOOD -- Since Jimmy Smits left NYPD Blue 18 months ago, he hasn't exactly been idle.

 He and his fiancee Wanda De Jesus have opened The Conga Room, a dinner club in Los Angeles, and he has been working out intensively in a local gym.

 "I love dancing and in Wanda I have the perfect dancing partner, so it was a natural move to open a dinner and dance club. We're doing well," says Smits, beaming.

 As for the daily visits to the gym, Smits was preparing for his role of a frustrated former boxer in Price of Glory.

 He plays Arturo Ortega, a boxer who should have been a contender, but was rushed into major bouts before he was ready.

 Now Arturo lives his dreams of glory through his three sons, whom he has groomed to be champion fighters.

 "I understand where this father is coming from because I saw the same thing in my own father," says Smits, 44. "His push wasn't for athletics, it was for education. He didn't have the opportunity to go to college, so he was determined his children would."

 Smits, who was raised in Puerto Rico and later in Manhattan, had been a star high- school linebacker. To please his father, he studied to be a teacher.

 "Then I saw Raul Julia in a Broadway play. He was a Latino and had made it to the top of his profession. I wanted to follow in his footsteps."

 Within four years, Smits was a member of the prestigious New York Shakespeare Festival.

 "My father was not that thrilled. We don't have an entertainment background anywhere in our family. My dad was a plant manager at a factory and my mom was a nurse. Having a theatre actor for a son didn't quite compute.

 "Dad would have preferred I do a toothpaste commercial or be on a TV show."

 Smits' father got his wish in 1984, when Jimmy was cast as Don Johnson's partner for the pilot of Miami Vice.

 "I got killed in the first 15 minutes so they could make way for Philip Michael Thomas, but I ended up getting the gold ring anyway.

 "My next show was L.A. Law. When I got the role of Victor Sifuentes, I was driving a rent-a-wreck to get me to and from auditions.

 "When I saw I wasn't going to get killed off, I bought myself a Toyota and when the show became a hit, I bought my dad a Toyota.

 "This double-whammy of seeing me on a weekly show and getting a car convinced him I'd made a right choice."

 When Smits announced he was leaving the top-rated cop drama NYPD Blue, there were those who thought he was foolish.

 "There is this perception that if you get a hit TV show, you're made for life. That's not so at all. The money is excellent, but your creativity is eventually stifled."

 For his first post-NYPD feature film, Smits chose Price of Glory because "it gave me the opportunity to play a character who had some obvious flaws. Arturo means well, but he's misguided and it brings tension, stress and tragedy to his family."

 Smits is adamant that Price of Glory is not a Latino movie.

 "This is a Latino family, but the problems they face are universal. Given it's also a boxing movie, the family could easily have been Irish or African-American. It was always our intention to make a crossover movie that would appeal to mainstream audiences."

 After completing Price of Glory, Smits spent two months in Toronto filming the supernatural thriller Bless the Child with Kim Basinger.

 "I play a kind of Fox Mulder FBI agent investigating an X-Files possession case."


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