His was not a subtle introduction into the world of SAMCRO … "L.A. Law" and "NYPD Blue" star Jimmy Smits's Nero Padilla made his "Sons of Anarchy" debut in the Season 5 premiere, in the episode's opening moments, as Nero was getting very, very busy with Katey Sagal's Gemma Teller — Katey Sagal, "SoA" leading lady and wife of "SoA" creator Kurt Sutter, who also penned that particular episode. Um … awkward much?
Since that one-night stand brought him into the mix, Nero has become an integral part of SAMCRO's business ventures and Gemma's personal life, while Smits's performance as the complicated, but likable recovering addict and former gang member has only helped make "SoA's" run to its likely series finale next year all the more rich and entertaining.
Smits and Nero have become even more front-and-center this season, and with just three episodes left in Season 6, the actor talked to Yahoo TV by phone about how Nero's torn between his love for Gemma and his desire to stay out of the gang lifestyle, about what might await Nero at the end of the season, and, yes, about those love scenes with Sagal.
So much has been thrown at Nero, between all the legal problems, the school shooting, the death of his cousin, the business dealings with Jax, and Gemma admitting she had a big role in the death of John Teller … where's his head with all of this?
I think [series creator Kurt Sutter] is really just trying to set up this scenario where you see we're moving toward the end of this particular season. They're just confounded by so many different things that are happening. There's a lot of confusion happening with these characters. Things are not coming to fruition the way they envisioned. The whole exit strategy that Nero started out with, where he and Jax were supposed to find a way to, "legitimize" would be a stretch, but try to get to a place where he can move on … well, as with so many of the characters on the show, they try to follow a particular course and then just kind of get pulled back in by the forces that they started out with. That's happened to [Nero], and yeah, in ["Huang Wu"] it just went further. It was just a continuation of what happened in last week's episode, with Nero not being able to choose a clear path with regards to Gemma, with regards to his relationship with Jax, with regards to his exit strategy. He's feeling torn.
Nero loves Gemma, even the things about her that others might not. He genuinely loves her. And he and Jax have a genuine friendship. But then you also have to ask, how much can this man continue to look past?
Well, yeah. I think that's what slowly has happened. He's becoming ensnared in the mythology of, what are the Sons? We'll question whether that'll be for better or for worse. I don't know.
Does Nero think his life is better since he met them and became involved with them? He's obviously been pulled back into some activities that he did not want to be a part of any longer. But he's in love with her.
I don't think there's a lot of hindsight in this equation. There are feelings there. The fact that they both have cuts in their hearts, literally and figuratively (laughing) … that's part of what the construct is of these two people. There's a kindred spirit thing that's happening there. I just think it's forward motion right now.
How much did you know about Nero's arc, his overall story, when you joined the cast? It sounds like it was a very organic thing, that you and Kurt had talked about it, and maybe he didn't even know exactly who the character was when he began talking to you about coming on to the show. Is that true?
Yes, as it is in a lot of circumstances, with regards to adding characters, when you're talking about television. Television's a kind of fluid thing. ["NYPD Blue" and "Deadwood" creator] David Milch used to say that every show, it's like an organism. It has its own kind of symbiotic relationship with the characters, and continues to keep on moving and changing. I really believe that's true, in large part, with many shows. There's lot of spokes in the wheel there. Kurt definitely has an idea of where he wants to go with show, long range. He's talking about maybe another year, or a little more than that. I'm not going to get into that right now, but he knows what's his end point. Getting there, when we first had our conversations, it was more or less about a short arc [for Nero]. Then you start seeing dailies, and relationships between people and the characters, and what's on the screen, actors how everybody jibes together. In that fluid vein, it's become more than that.
Again, I'm going to refer to this thing about the mythology of the show. Whether or not this particular character integrates with the rest of that mythology, I don't know. It's become much more than just a season arc that is an antagonistic foil. That has a lot to do with the way they're writing it. There are no black and white characters here. As long as they keep that forward motion thing happening … as long as Nero keeps mixing it up with the guys, and he's not just the counsel for Jax, or the romantic interest for Gemma … it just makes it more enjoyable for me as an actor.
Have you been surprised by where the show has gone, and even where Nero has gone, since you've been a part of it?
I have not been on a show where I have had so many surprises, in terms of twists and turns, and of where the show goes. On a week to week, on an episode to episode basis, that's true, and particularly this season. There's a lot of twists and turns.
You have fantastic chemistry with Katey Sagal, and obviously, Kurt has no problem with the romantic scenes since he's the one writing many of them. But is it ever awkward when everyone's on set, and you're playing out the steamier moments?
(Laughing) When you say "on set," Kurt's really not on set when we're filming most of the stuff. When I first started, there was a little awkwardness, when we started with the first couple of scenes. I don't know if you remember when [Nero] was introduced? But we're professional actors, it's just what we do. By now, there's a real trust level that we have, I think. The fact that my lady [actress Wanda De Jesus] was on the show the first six episodes … it was all kinds of a little bit awkward, right? But thinking about it now, that made it a little bit more edgy, in a way. I think it worked on a lot of levels. No, there's no relish or anything in it, but we're professionals and this is what we do. When it's awkward, somebody will say something about it, and it's just out there and you deal with it.
In this week's episode, you also had great chemistry with Dayton Callie's Unser. You two brought some much-needed levity to another very intense episode.
You really need it, because sometimes it feels unrelenting, so you really do need that. While we were doing it, we would look at each other after takes, and really not say anything, but kind of know like, "This could work." (Laughing) I love working with Dayton, because he's so quirky. That's the only way that I can explain it, and I love actors that bring that to the party. And it furthered the storyline, with regards to giving information about Wendy, but it was a nice diversion. You wouldn't normally have thought about putting those two characters together. I thought it was a really nice little stroke that the writers came up with.
And they're both so important in Gemma's life, it seemed inevitable that they interact with each other in some way. Will we see these two hanging out again this season now that they've forged a little bond?
Definitely, definitely. I'm trying to think what else we shot … yeah, definitely, and that will probably take a turn for the worse, too. (Laughing) I shouldn't say that, but that will take turns also.
After "Huang Wu," we're down to just three more episodes in Season 6. What can you say about the rest of the season?
Kurt's got this motorcycle revved up, so it's going to get wild. Those last couple of episodes, they're just wild.
Are you finished filming?
Yes, ma'am. We just finished two weeks ago. I'm all shaved, with hair cut. I can't speak for the other guys, but as soon as we're done, and I get an all clear, in terms of reshoots and stuff, I always try to press the delete button as much as I can. It has to do with physicality, and so for the past two seasons, that's what I've been doing, as soon as we wrap.
As you said, Kurt has talked about next season probably being the last one. Does this make you look past that and think about the next thing, like another cable series, another drama that you might want to do?
I'm always looking, because I don't really know what's going to happen. (Laughing) There could be a bullet waiting for this character, that I can't be talking to you about right now, at the end of the season. But I'm always looking at stuff.
Watch a preview of the next "Sons of Anarchy" episode:
"Sons of Anarchy" airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.