Bitten by the acting bug while in high school, Jimmy Smits earned a B.A. from Brooklyn College and an M.F.A. from Cornell. His excellent work in off-Broadway productions led to his being cast in several movie and TV projects, notably the two-hour pilot for Miami Vice (1984).
In 1986, Smits was signed to play tyro attorney Victor Sifuentes on the weekly NBC series L.A. Law, a role which would win him a fervent fan following as well as an Emmy. He eventually left the series to pursue a theatrical film career, but by 1994 was back on the small screen in such cable-TV productions as The Cisco Kid and Solomon and Sheba. While filming the latter production in Morocco, Smits was asked by the producers of the TV series NYPD Blue to replace another actor with movie aspirations, David Caruso. In the fall of 1994, Smits made his NYPD Blue bow in the role of detective Bobby Simone, almost immediately reclaiming the viewers who'd sworn to desert the series when Caruso left. Following this personal triumph, Smits starred in 1995's Mi Familia, a critically acclaimed film of barrio life.