Born in Brooklyn in 1955, Jimmy Smits originally started acting in high school. Smits received Bachelor’s degree in theatre from Brooklyn College and a Master of Fine Arts from Cornell University. He also traveled the country appearing in stage productions.
In 1984 Smits made his first appearance on television with the series premiere of Miami Vice, in which he played Eddie Rivera. He only appeared in one episode due to the fact that his character was killed off in the series premiere.
Then two years later Smits broke out as a star, first appearing in the 1986 film Running Scared as drug dealer Julio Gonzales. Later that year he was casted for a television scene on the series LA Law. Smits continued to play the role of the attorney Victor Sifuentes for five years. The show won various awards and more importantly the series received the Emmy Award for “Outstanding Drama Series” in the years 1987, 1989, 1990 and 1991. In 1990 Smits also received an Emmy for “Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series” in the year 1990.
In 1991, Smits stopped acting on television all together to pursue a career in the world of film. Smits, at this time, didn’t get any real traction as an actor on the big screen, so he returned to television. Once he came back onto the television scene he was casted for The Tommyknockers, based on the Stephen King novel of the same title.
In 1994 Smits was offered a lead role on the second season of a New York-based police drama N.Y.P.D. Blue. Coming on as character Bobby Simone who filled the role of Detective Andy Sipowicz’s partner, Smits remained on the show from 1994 to 1998 from which he earned five Emmy nominations for “Lead Actor in a Drama Series” for this role.
His appearance on N.Y.P.D. Blue helped Smits finally break into the world of the big screen. He joined the cast of the 1995 film Mi Familia (My Family) alongside other famous Latinos including Edward James Olmos, Jennifer Lopez, and Esai Morales. He appeared in films such as Murder in Mind, The Million Dollar Hotel, Bless the Child and Price of Glory. Smits also appeared in the final two Star War films (Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith) as Senator Bail Organa.
In 2004, Smits returned to television as part of The West Wing, portraying the character of Matthew Santos, a Democratic U.S. Representative. For this role, Smits won an ALMA Award (2005) for “Best Actor in a TV Series” and an Imagen Award (2005) for “Best Actor in Television” . Then he received a nomination for an Imagen Award for “Best Actor in Television” in 2006. The series also won the ALMA Award (2005) for “Best TV Series” and an Imagen Awards for “Best Primetime Series” in 2005 and 2006.
Smits co-founded the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts in 1997. This organization promotes Latino talent in the performing arts. He has also invested in The Conga Room, the famous Los Angeles dance club which serves as a display for Latino music.
Smits was on the Showtime hit, Dexter in 2008 as Miguel Prado and in the NBC series Outlaw in 2010 as protagonist Cyrus Garza.