In the West Wing

Having fallen into the world of American politics in viewing the documentary I Am the Ambassador (about Rufus Gifford, until recently the US ambassador to Denmark), I went on to doing the whole 7-year run of the tv series The West Wing, which I am urging everyone to watch at least some of — as a canny depiction of American political life (Wikipedia tells us that it “received acclaim from critics, as well as praise from political science professors and former White House staffers”), as a gripping drama with an earnest moral core, and as a show worthy of praise for its snappy dialogue, inspired casting, and first-rate acting.

This posting is about just two of the actors, Mark Feuerstein and Jimmy Smits (both prominent in season 6 of the series, which I’ve just finished watching), solid members of what I’ve called the “acting corps“, the bank of accomplished and reliable actors (short of first-magnitude star rank) that make the stage, the movies, and television hum for our pleasure and enlightenment. I find them both attractive, as men and as actors — in particular, as embodiments of an “acting persona” (a more or less enduring persona that cuts across an actor’s roles).

Through Smits, that exploration will take us to another member of the acting corps, the admirable Marg Helgenberger. (I know, I know, you also want me to write about Allison Janney and Stockard Channing, among others, but there’s only so much I can do in one posting.)

On acting personas. This is an idea that I have often blogged about in connection with porn flicks, as in these comments on pornstar Kevin Wiles and his

more enduring persona, his “porn persona”, if you will, that cuts across different roles and indeed, helps to determine which roles he’s offered and which ones he’s willing to accept and how he will realize any particular role

(A porn persona is just a special case of an acting persona, of course.)

Feuerstein has already gotten a posting of his own here (on 7/21/15), mostly about his role on the tv series Royal Pains, with two photos of him smiling (smiles are important to me), one of them also showing off his physique (shirtlessness is a regular preoccupation of this blog; ok, I’m sometimes a bit shallow).  His acting persona embraces an enormous amount of charm and a significant identity as a Jew. (For Smits, it’s passionate intensity and a significant Hispanic identity. For Helgenbarger, it’s unflappable toughness.)

But here are two more photos of Feuerstein, without his customary broad smile: one shirtless, one in character as Cliff Calley on The West Wing:



Feuerstein is a hunk, but he’s a compact hunk: nice muscles on a 5′ 8″ body. (On a personal note, this is a body type I find quite attractive. Not just me: the actor has a huge and enthusiastic fan base.)

Smits, in contrast, is a really big man: 6′ 3″, with broad shoulders, so he’s quite imposing. Here he is on the cover of the DVD for the tv miniseries Tommyknockers:


The Tommyknockers is a 1993 television miniseries based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King. It was directed by John Power, and starred Marg Helgenberger and Jimmy Smits in the two lead roles. (Wikipedia link)

I’ll get back to Helgenberger in a moment. First, on Smits, from Wikipedia:

Jimmy Smits (born July 9, 1955) is an American actor. He played attorney Victor Sifuentes on the 1980s legal drama L.A. Law, NYPD Detective Bobby Simone on the 1990s police drama NYPD Blue, and Matt Santos on the 1999-2006 serial political drama The West Wing. He also appeared as Bail Organa in the Star Wars Prequel trilogy and Rogue One, and as ADA Miguel Prado in Dexter. In 2012, he joined the main cast of Sons of Anarchy as Nero Padilla.

… Smits’ father, Cornelis Leendert Smits, was from Paramaribo, Suriname, and was of Dutch descent. [Suriname is a multi-ethnic country, with Dutch as the primary first language, and the English-based creole Sranan as the second.] Smits’ mother, Emilina (née Pola), was Puerto Rican, born in Peñuelas. He has two sisters, Yvonne and Diana, grew up in a working-class neighborhood, and spent time in Puerto Rico during his childhood.

Smits identifies himself as Puerto Rican and was raised in a strict, devout Roman Catholic family. He frequently visits Puerto Rico.

The actor is passionate about Hispanic causes, especially advocating education for Latino youth — a stance mirrored in some detail in his character, Democratic presidential candidate Matt Santos, on The West Wing. In real life, the man is focused and intense, and that’s part of his acting persona as well. But he also has a great smile:


And he has a wide streak of playfulness, as manifested (for instance) in his send-up of the Cisco Kid, in a 1994 movie that had Cheech Marin playing his sidekick:


And, much more pointedly, in a delicious Saturday Night Live skit (Season 16, 1990) — which you can watch here — in which NBC News employees (Phil Hartman, Jan Hooks, Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Julia Sweeney) over-emphasize Spanish pronunciations, but the new economics correspondent (Antonio Mendoza, played by Smits), who’s actually Hispanic, refuses to, and who eventually explodes in anger over the others’ absurd shifts into hyper-Spanish pronunciations of Spanish names and other lexical items.

Marg Helgenberger. From Wikipedia:

Mary Marg Helgenberger (born November 16, 1958) is an American actress. She began her career in the early 1980s and first came to attention for playing the role of Siobhan Ryan on the daytime soap opera Ryan’s Hope from 1982 to 1986. She is best known for her roles as Catherine Willows in the CBS police procedural drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (2000–12, 2013) and the subsequent TV movie Immortality (2015) and as K.C. Koloski in the ABC drama China Beach (1988–91), which earned her the 1990 Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series.

In her character as Catherine Willows on CSI:


And looking glamorous, in p.r. for the tv series Intelligence:


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