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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.
Betsy Model
From the Print Edition:
Jimmy Smits, May/June 2005

(continued from page 4)

Like all Star Wars films, Revenge of the Sith's plot is closely guarded, and Smits is careful not to spill any beans. He does, however, admit that his character, while still that of a statesman, does get to finally see a little action. "Let me just say that there's a speeder involved," Smits grins.

Smits admits that while he took the original film offer without knowing anything about what the role would ultimately entail, the opportunity to work with Lucas was a no-brainer. "I was fascinated not just by what we were doing every day, but about the life that George has led. He has pushed the envelope in terms of the technical aspects of this business, and to look at the way he pushed Panavision and Sony to construct this digital camera…he's revolutionized the way we perceive or are going to perceive cinema in the future."

Following Revenge of the Sith, Smits returned to the stage, a move and a medium that, he says, "always calls to my heart. I am someone who's left roles, big roles, to take other, smaller things, and I've never regretted it."

He had a starring role in the 2004 Shakespeare in the Park presentation of Much Ado About Nothing, which was almost immediately followed by the leading role in the Pulitzer Prize—winning Anna in the Tropics.

Written by Cuban-American playwright Nilo Cruz, Anna in the Tropics is a story about a family-owned cigar factory where, while hand-rolling Flor del Cielo cigars, the workers listen to the new lector (Smits) hired to read Tolstoy's Anna Karenina to them.

Did Smits get to pick out the cigars he smoked on stage?

"Yes…and no. When we first started doing the play, we had technical advisers—cigar rollers, or torcedors—come in, and they made recommendations. Then there was a place in Princeton [New Jersey] called A Little Piece of Cuba that was a cigar joint. I got to go and pick out cigars that they could afford for the production and that I liked. So in Princeton, I got to smoke Buteras," Smits says. "And in New York, Shermans, a short called the Harrington. The Sherman family brought a box of them to me as a gift, and the Harrington has a little sweetness to it, so I used that in the play."

Smits confesses that while he doesn't specifically remember ever swiping any of his father's Tiparillos as a kid, he remembers buying cigars for the first time to celebrate his daughter's birth. "I like short smokes," Smits continues. "And I started off smoking Davidoffs…I like a cigar that has a little sweetness to it. But my attorney, Tom—he and I were at [an event] recently and he brought some Montecristos…now that was a friggin' good cigar!"

Smits uses our visit to The Conga Room as the perfect excuse to light up another Montecristo. We're in The Havana Room, the indoor smoking room at the club—there's also an outdoor patio—and Smits is clearly relaxed and at home.

When a couple at the club come by to introduce themselves and tell Smits that they're big fans, Smits is gracious, offering his hand and a few words about how he hopes that they've enjoyed themselves. With the club's staff—whether security guard or valet attendant, cocktail waitress or band member—he's even less guarded. He greets many by name, slaps hands while walking by, or, in the case of a singer who's taking a break from the stage, a slap on the back and a warm compliment.

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