Jimmy Smits won an Emmy Award during his tenure on “L.A. Law,” but he's still having to brush up on legal matters for his new series role.
With stints on such other shows as “NYPD Blue,” “The West Wing,” “Dexter” and “Sons of Anarchy” also under his belt, the actor returns to weekly television as the NBC drama “Bluff City Law” premieres today. Smits stars as renowned Memphis lawyer Elijah Strait, who reunites with his impulsive attorney daughter Sydney (played by Caitlin McGee) upon her mother's death. She ponders his offer to rejoin his firm, though their vastly differing styles signal complications to come.
After portraying “L.A. Law's” idealistic Victor Sifuentes, the sincere Smits notes that his new alter ego Strait “doesn't have the kind of bounce in the same way. Luckily, besides having a really great pilot script that is a wonderful jump-off point for all these characters and this (father-daughter) relationship, we had some really great technical people that were able to work with us that are (Memphis) attorneys ... and a particular duo that have the same type of father-and-daughter relationship. That was really helpful as well.”
Co-star McGee reasons that her new connection to Smits “reflects our relationship in the show as well as our relationship in life. He has more experience as an actor than I do. We're all just getting to know these characters, and how we approach the law in the show is very different. He's conservative (in the series), and I like to wage war and get thrown in jail and such, but I think it's just fun to work with someone who has that experience. We're all starting from scratch with these people and getting to know them ourselves.”
Series creator and writer Dean Georgaris (“The Brave”) vows that “Bluff City Law's” cases will stay in step with the times: “Issues like free speech, issues like privacy, these are things that we're all talking about right now. Frankly, it's a really interesting time because these definitions are changing. Every week, we'll be taking those on – and, by the way, sometimes from a more comedic perspective. If it's all drama, I think it doesn't feel real. If you don't laugh every now and then, it's not representative of life.”
With fellow “24” alum Jayne Atkinson also in the “Bluff City Law” cast, Smits says the decision to tackle another series doesn't come easily for him. Admitting that the location filming is leaving him “homesick,” he notes, “The bottom line for me has got to be what's on the page and who the people you're going to be working with are. And, is the work going to be challenging?”