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'Sons of Anarchy' star Jimmy Smits talks Nero's heartbreaking scenes

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Sons Of Anarchy Suits Of Woe 04
FX

Sons of Anarchy‘s Nov. 18 episode, “Suits of Woe,” will go down as one of the series’ finest thanks in part to the performance delivered by Jimmy Smits (Nero): First, audiences watched Nero’s face as Jax (Charlie Hunnam) told him over the phone that he’s learned Gemma (Katey Sagal) killed Tara. (As episode director Peter Weller told EW, “Kurt [Sutter] said as a tone note that he would rarely give an actor a beat where we don’t hear what he’s hearing, so it’s all played on his face, but he would definitely give that to Jimmy Smits because Jimmy Smits is unbelievable.”) And then, viewers saw Nero try to comfort Jax as the son broke down trying to process how his mother could brutally murder his wife, how he could still love Gemma, and how he can possibly recover.

Smits phoned in to EW Radio to talk about that moment when Nero desperately wanted Gemma to talk to him and buckled his knees like an impatient child. “From this guy who I really perceived as being somebody who’s very solid in a lot of ways in this kind of outlaw world, there’s a sensitivity to him but he’s a kind of guy-guy, that was an interior little boy moment that was able to kind of peek through,” he said. “I think it was because of the relationship. When two people are in love—real love—you’re able to let down all of those guards that you put out there for the world. What the audience sees physically that moment is, ‘Stop the lies. No more deceit between us if we say we love each other.’ That’s what I hope that moment conveys.”

Hearing that 10 percent of fans, per an EW.com poll, would like to see Jax end up on that farm with Nero when the series ends, Smits just laughed. (“A couple of motorcycles, an ATV.”) But that bond, he explained, is deep. “The relationship has to do with the fact that it operates on a lot of different levels. 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,” he said. “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.”

Listen to a clip below. We can also report that Smits didn’t take one of Nero’s cardigans, but he did leave some of his tattoos on. They’ve started to fade. 

Tune in every Wednesday at 4:15 p.m. ET to “News & Notes” on EW Radio (SiriusXM 105) for a Sons of Anarchy recap with hosts Julia Cunningham and Mario Correa and EW‘s Mandi Bierly.

And for the lighter side of Smits, revisit his 2013 EW Pop Culture Personality Test.