"It wasn't heavy lifting on the musical thing. But I still had to kind of convince them that I could do it," the veteran actor said.

By Andrea Towers
June 14, 2021 at 10:17 AM EDT

NYPD Blue wasn't exactly known for being a musical. But Jimmy Smits was well aware that if he wanted a role in Lin-Manuel Miranda's movie adaptation of In the Heights, he had to prove his musical chops. So the actor went searching through his own career highlights to find clips that demonstrated his vocal abilities - and yes, that included using the gritty cop drama as an example of his talents.

"We were scrambling putting together little video clips of me singing 'Duke of Earl' with Dennis Franz in the squad car or a little song flourish in West Wing," Smits told USA Today in an interview. "It wasn't heavy lifting on the musical thing. But I still had to kind of convince them that I could do it."

Although he only had about six singing lines, the actor hit the ground running with vocal and dance help from Wanda De Jesus, his long-time salsa-dancing partner, who he said "really ran me through the paces" and his dedication paid off. Smits ended up being one of the film's veteran performers in a cast that included Broadway greats such as Daphne Rubin-Vega and Olga Merediz as well as newcomers like Melissa Barrera, Corey Hawkins, and Leslie Grace.

"Every day that I acted with Jimmy, I was taking notes," Grace, who played Nina Rosario - the daughter of Smits' overprotective Kevin Rosario - told EW. "There were moments where I would get frustrated because I don't know the process of making a movie and he was so generous with me. I had a similar experience with both Daphne [Rubin-Vega] and Olga [Merediz], our matriarch who knows this story through and through."

In the Heights
Jimmy Smits in In The Heights
| Credit: Macall Polay/Warner Bros.

For Smits, that generosity came from the closeness that the cast had with each other thanks to their mutual experience of being part of a project that celebrated and honored their own culture.

"That cohesion that happened, in terms of what ensemble is and what community is, those are the themes that Lin and Quiara [Alegría Hudes] wrote when the show was originally done," Smits told EW.

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