‘Bluff City Law’ star Jimmy Smits talks about the Mid-Southerners who helped breathe life into his character

Updated: Nov. 25, 2019 at 5:55 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Jimmy Smits says he formed a special bond with a few local folks during his time filming “Bluff City Law” in Memphis.

“You know how you guys in this area have two mayors? Memphis and Shelby County? I got my two mayors,” said Smits.

WMC’s Joe Birch sat down with Smits at the Rendezvous with his Memphis wing men -- Princeton James and Thomas Woodley.

“So I just feel a real bonding with them,” said Smits. “They feel like brothers to me.”

Woodley’s vast knowledge of Memphis streets came in handy as Smits’ driver. The retiree spent much of his 33 years as a Memphis firefighter behind the wheel of pumpers and hook-and-ladder trucks.

“My role mainly is to transport the star,” said Woodley. “Transport the gold!”

James, an aspiring actor from Coldwater, Mississippi, served as Smits’ personal assistant.

“I’m just there for him whenever he needs me, just being his right hand man,” said James. “It’s been honestly like a master class to me.”

Smits became a star in the 1980s on NBC’s “LA Law” playing lawyer Victor Sifuentes. He later starred as Detective Bobby Simone on “NYPD Blue” and appeared as a Texas congressman on NBC’s “West Wing.”

As real life Memphis father-daughter lawyer team Richard Glassman and Lauran Stimac advised Smits and his cast on the finer points of the law, James and Woodley interpreted Memphis for the star.

“I do have a debt of gratitude,” said Smits. “They helped breathe life into Elijah Strait. Just as much as what I did.”

“He immersed himself into the curiosities of this city and the history of this city,” said Woodley.

Smits was adamant that Memphians get hired for the “Bluff City Law” cast and crew. There were Memphis extras, grips, gaffers, make-up artists, hair stylists, wardrobe helpers and production assistants.

“We do have people -- Memphians -- working on our set,” said Smits. “They do it with such pride in how we’re trying to represent the city.”

The duo who worked closest with Smits says they’re grateful.

“I learn so much every day, every hour, every minute,” said James. “Just learning how to develop a character. What his process is when he gets a script, and how he develops that. Just to see him who he is, a man of integrity. And to see him embody Elijah is just so magical to see the whole process happen.”

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“We met in February, but I promise you it feels like I’ve known these guys all my life almost,” said Woodley.

“I say three amigos in jest,” said Smits. “They’ve become family to me.”

We’re still waiting for news of a second season, but the creator of “Bluff City Law” says the season finale is “the best episode of television I’ve ever been part of.”

Watch “Bluff City Law” Monday at 9 p.m. on WMC Action News 5.

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