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Why Kevin Rosario From In The Heights Looks So Familiar

"In the Heights" is finally making its long-awaited cinematic debut. The film version of the popular Broadway musical from "Hamilton" creator Lin-Manuel Miranda was originally supposed to premiere in the summer of 2020, but that date was pushed back, like so many others, due to the COVID-19 pandemic (via What's On Stage). But now "In the Heights" — which tells the story of characters from the largely Dominican New York City neighborhood of Washington Heights and their pursuit of the American Dream — will soon be in the theaters. Narrated by Usnavi de la Vega (Anthony Ramos), the proprietor of the De La Vega Bodega, the story unfolds as Nina Rosario (Leslie Grace), the first one to make it out of the barrio and into college, returns from her first year at Stanford University. 

But Nina's bringing some bad news with her: she dropped out of college after crumbling under the pressure; pressure, it would be fair to say, that comes from the entire neighborhood. As she broods over having to tell her parents, Nina gets her feelings tangled up with Benny (Corey Hawkins), with whom she's clearly had a previous connection. There's just one huge, steaming pile of problem: Benny works as a taxi dispatcher for Nina's overprotective father, Kevin Rosario, and while he may be trustworthy enough to employ professionally, he's unlikely to win approval as a love interest for his daughter. That particular dynamic is hardly new to film and television, and the actor behind Kevin Rosario should be just as familiar as his archetypal character and the relationship trope. It's Jimmy Smits, a veteran TV and film actor who's been in more big projects than we have time to list. Here's why Kevin Rosario from "In The Heights" looks so familiar.

Smits appeared in the '80s legal drama L.A. Law for six seasons

Jimmy Smits was a part of the main cast of 1980s legal drama "L.A. Law" for the show's first five seasons, after which he took on a guest role for Season 6. He took on the part of Victor Sifuentes, an associate attorney at the law firm of McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak. The series was among the first television shows to delve into the personal lives of legal professionals and it broke further ground with its casting of Smits, becoming the first successful drama to cast a Latino actor in a central role, according to OZY. In an article entitled "The Latino Lawyer Who Revolutionized Television," writer Sean Braswell shows how revolutionary the decision was by demonstrating how the first scene in which Victor Sifuentes mirrored the cultural breakthrough: Sifuentes demands to see his client at a local police precinct but refuses to be frisked before doing so, for which he's escorted from the premises and demeaned with racial epithets, being derogatorily called "Jose" and "Pancho freakin' Villa." But the crafty Sifuentes has the last laugh, using the incident as leverage to get the case dismissed on the grounds that his client was denied access to counsel.

For such a groundbreaking role, "L.A. Law" fans may be surprised to know Smits almost didn't get the part because he bombed his first audition, he revealed to Entertainment Tonight. Describing his tryout as a "last-minute thing," he revealed "It didn't go well. I'm really methodical about stuff and I've never really done well off the fly." But a friend convinced him to fly out to L.A. and seek out another audition, which he did manage with the show's creator. "I did get another chance to meet Steven Bochco and people that were involved. I was very prepared and was able to verbalize what I could bring, what I felt was there and what could be there, and it went good." Smits received six Emmy nominations for the role and won the award for Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Drama Series in 1990.

He played Detective Bobby Simone on NYPD Blue

Jimmy Smits must have gotten plenty of practice emoting with his facial expressions, because he perfected the art of the scowl for his next big role. He found work on another Steven Bochco show, making his debut as Detective Bobby Simone in the second season of the groundbreaking police procedural "NYPD Blue," which became the first show in network television history to have its use of the word "dickhead" cited in a respondent's brief to the Supreme Court of the United States for a case involving the Federal Communications Charter's application of indecency standards. As for Smits, he showed up in Episode 5 of Season 2 as a replacement for Detective Andy Sipowicz's (Dennis Franz) partner John Kelly (David Caruso), not an ideal posting for a Latino character whose new partner in Sipowicz is an unapologetic racist, but Simone didn't let anything off color fly when they were in each other's company. While the working relationship between the two on-screen detectives could be contentious as times, such was never the case when it came to that of the two actors.

"I lucked out. That was a beautiful blessing, and a really a fine cast. To have a partner to be with on a daily basis in Dennis Franz was pretty special," Smits told Entertainment Tonight. But, Smits said, the differences between the two characters helped drive the show's plot. "And then having to be partnered up with another character who was so polar opposite in terms of their politics... It just was such great fodder for good stories." Smits' character was killed off in the sixth season of "NYPD Blue" after developing an infection following a heart transplant. He left the show with five Emmy nominations and the 1996 Golden Globe award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Drama.

Jimmy Smits played President Matt Santos on The West Wing

Jimmy Smits had a pretty eclectic resume in the early 2000s.  Starting in 2002, he played a role in the "Star Wars" prequels, appearing as Senator Bail Organa in "Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones." Then, in 1999, acclaimed writer Aaron Sorkin launched "The West Wing," a political drama that dove into the lives of members of the White House staff, as they worked in support of fictional President Josiah Bartlett (Martin Sheen). The show was an immediate critical darling, with its first season boasting a 96% critics score and Certified Fresh rating from review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. The show's success came due in no small part to its cast, which featured an ensemble of talented actors. John Spencer played Leo McGarry, the president's right-hand man and chief of staff. Allison Janney played press secretary C.J. Cregg, who eventually took over as chief of staff. Richard Schiff played communications director Toby Ziegler, with Rob Lowe as deputy comms director Sam Seaborn. Bradley Whitford played deputy chief of staff Josh Lyman, who would leave the White House to go work for the presidential campaign of U.S. Rep. Matt Santos, played by Jimmy Smits.

Smits joined the cast of "The West Wing" as a series regular in the show's sixth season. President Bartlett convinces Santos to run for White House to succeed him in the Oval Office, a campaign in which he's successful and is sworn in as president in Season 7, with Lyman serving as his chief of staff. Smits told Entertainment Tonight he was honored to have the opportunity to play a candidate for president from an underrepresented group. "John Wells, who was one of the creators of the show, wanted to explore this path of a minority candidate and what going into a candidacy would be all about ... I felt like there was something else that was going on in terms of what he could potentially represent," Smits said.

Smits played the role of Miguel Prado in the third season of Dexter

In the middle of his tenure on "The West Wing," Smits reprised his role of Senator Bail Organa, taking custody of Anakin Skywalker's daughter, Leia, to raise her, in "Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith." After being elected president and adopting the offspring of a Sith Lord, Smits resumed his fictional law career, taking on the role of fiery Assistant District Attorney Miguel Prado in the third season of the acclaimed Showtime crime drama series "Dexter." Miguel transitions from best friend and golf buddy to Michael C. Hall's "Dexter" title character to fraternal murder accomplice and eventual primary antagonist, as his bloodthirsty nature is revealed to rival Dexter's own need to kill. The difference is that, while Dexter lives by the Code of Harry and only kills those whom he meticulously determines deserve to die through his own twisted and sociopathic morality, Miguel likes to make things personal and kills for revenge, in addition to the pleasure it gives him. Things get even more awkward when it's revealed that Dexter had accidentally killed Miguel's younger brother, Oscar, the event that initially brought the two into contact with each other. Of course, the fact that Miguel is supposed to be Dexter's best man at his upcoming wedding only further complicates things.

Smits offered glowing praise of Hall in an interview with Vanity Fair, calling the actor behind the show's protagonist "very Zen," saying "Michael was so cool as an actor about trusting me when I came on. I have tremendous respect for him." Smits also detailed that it wasn't easy for him to approach a character that was, essentially, bad. "As an actor, it's hard to approach any character with negatives. I can't play him as 'corrupt,' for example. I have to think about all of the things that make up his character construct and that force him to do the things that he does."

He appeared as Nero Padilla on Sons of Anarchy

Jimmy Smits must have really enjoyed playing a character who operated outside the law in "Dexter," because one of his next television roles came on the outlaw biker drama "Sons of Anarchy." As motorcycle matriarch Gemma Teller-Morrow (Katey Sagal) tries to recover from her split with husband Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman), who killed her first husband John Teller — who was the father of her son, Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) — she does what any woman would do in her place: she gets drunk and hooks up with a gang-leading pimp named Nero Padilla, played by Smits. Well, Nero prefers the term "companionator" for his role in running a brothel, but that's really just a charming way of splitting hairs. Nevertheless, Nero becomes a quick ally and business partner to Jax and the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club's Redwood Original charter, despite the inherent awkwardness of the romantic relationship between Nero and Jax's mother, whose current husband remains, for the time being, nearly 6-feet-tall standing upright, as opposed to six-feet-under, laying horizontally. 

Smits touched on the bond between Jax and Nero in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, explaining the nuanced nature of their rapport. "The relationship has to do with the fact that it operates on a lot of different levels," the actor said. "There is a paternal aspect to it. There's a brotherly kind of thing — they're both in this outlaw world, that kind of bro thing that they have. I think the fact that they both have children and there's a lot of guilt there that they haven't been the fathers that they could've been. I think that's one of the reasons why there's an emotional bridge between them. It's okay for them to have these softer moments."