Mr. Smits Goes to Washington

Jimmy Smits talks softly and without a big shtick about the education of Hollywood, his love of cigars and a possible (scripted) move to the West Wing.

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The role has Smits's character tackling real-life campaign subjects as touchy as stem cell research, farm subsidies, women's rights, education and the role of fathers in "family values"—all subjects that will get the naturally quiet Smits into lively debate in real life—while stumping against a mixed bag of presidential hopefuls, including veteran actor Alan Alda as Sen. Arnold Vinick, the Republican candidate.
The show, known for its strong political story lines and an insider's view of political life in D.C.—or at least as much as Hollywood can grasp—has crafted a 2005 story line that's got viewers and Beltway pollsters glued to their seats. Show creator Wells has staged a fictional political race that could determine this fall whether it's Alda or Smits who will be inaugurated.
Although Wells insists that he isn't taking cues from actual events in the nation's capital (such as last November's election of a Republican president), could the show's GOP candidate be headed to the White House? Not if you go by the results of a recent viewer survey. In early March, real-life pollster John Zogby did an online interactive poll with viewers that saw Smits's character, Matt Santos, winning the fictional election by a landslide. Smits just laughs when asked if he should now be addressed as "Mr. President," and says that while he's heard the poll results and is pleased that viewers are that interested in the Santos character, he truly doesn't know what Wells and the show's writers have in store for him next season.
Since the show hasn't been officially picked up yet, that's assuming that there even is a next season.
"Am I the next president? I don't know, and I'm not even clear that they know. It would," he muses, smiling, "make for a great story line, though, wouldn't it?"
It's approaching one in the morning, and Smits decides to call it an evening at The Conga Room. Still smoking his Montecristo, he wanders out to the curb to have the valet pull his guest's car up and, while waiting, drops down onto one of L.A.'s Rapid Transit District bus benches. Even at this hour, in the wee hours of a Sunday morning, Wilshire Boulevard is busy. An LAPD police car with two officers cruises the street, slowing noticeably to give a once-over to the small crowd that's standing outside the club. They slow even further to check out the tall, well-dressed man lounging on the bus bench, long legs extended into the street, and then, in a moment of recognition, nearly stop.
Behind them, an RTD bus heading east approaches slowly, but passes by without stopping to pick up Smits and his guest.
"I guess we don't look like we're headed downtown," Smits jokes.
No, Jimmy, yours is definitely an uptown trip. Maybe even to the White House.
Seattle-based author Betsy Model is a former NPR/BBC correspondent who contributes to more than 30 domestic and international publications.
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