Fresh off his presidential win on The West Wing, Jimmy Smits lends his voice as narrator to Yo Soy Boricua Pa'que Tu Lo Sepas! (I'm Boricua, Just So You Know!), director Rosie Perez's moving, informative and humorous documentary about Puerto Rican pride and the history of the U.S. commonwealth, premiering tonight at 9 pm/ET on IFC. TV Guide spoke with Smits about hailing his heritage, as well as having to bid adieu to both the White House and Star Wars.
TV Guide: In the documentary, Rosie asks why Puerto Ricans are so proud. How do you answer that?
Jimmy Smits: [Long pause] It's complicated. But I think it has to do with the fact that we have this status [politically] that is very unique, yet at the same time we want to feel a kind of independence. There's a sense of identity with regards to who they are on the island.
TV Guide: Your mother is Puerto Rican. What's it mean to you to be, I guess, half Puerto Rican?
Smits: I don't even consider myself half Puerto Rican. My dad is from a Dutch colony in South America, but he just totally assimilated to the Puerto Rican culture he had no choice! [Laughs] I was born in New York, but we moved to Puerto Rico [for three years]. I look back at that time as the formative time for my identity.
TV Guide: Do you think the relationship with the U.S. will ever change? Statehood, perhaps?
Smits: I don't think it's going to change because it's very complicated on the island. There's a split there. People know that economically [statehood] would help Puerto Rico, but they don't want to lose that pride, that identity, which they feel would happen if they were to go the whole hog in terms of being a state.
TV Guide: Now that The West Wing is over, what do you have planned?
Smits: I have a development deal with Disney. It's mostly television, and not necessarily just stuff for me to act in. Part of the deal is shepherding something, so I'm talking to a lot of young writers and seeing what's out there.
TV Guide: How would you have felt if the West Wing writers had Vinick [Alan Alda's Republican senator] win the election instead? It's been reported that that was a potential outcome.
Smits: They did go back and forth. I wouldn't have taken it personally, but on some level [winning the election] means a lot to me with what we were trying to do with the Santos story arc. But I would have been a good loser. [Laughs]
TV Guide: Were you sorry to see Wing end?
Smits: I was sorry to see it end the way it ended. I'm disappointed in the way [NBC] handled the show's farewell. I was miffed by it. They moved the show from Wednesday to Sunday; that Sunday spot was a dead zone. They had to help it out with advertising and promotion, which they really didn't. But I think we all could hold our heads up high in terms of keeping up our end of the bargain.
TV Guide: Ever see any of your old L.A. Law or NYPD Blue pals?
Smits: I do. I see Corbin [Bernsen], who's got a show coming out on USA [Psych]. I see Harry [Hamlin] on occasion. And I see Blair [Underwood] very frequently, because we share some of the same social organizations. I talked to Dennis [Franz] recently; he's in Idaho. Everybody's well.
TV Guide: I think it's cool that you did the Star Wars prequels.
Smits: I did that one for the kiddies. I had fun being in the green-screen world. I just wish I had had a light saber in my hand just one time. [Laughs]