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‘Sons of Anarchy’ star Jimmy Smits buckles up for final ride

“Sons of Anarchy” takes its final ride Tuesday with a two-hour-long series finale where we’ll presumably find out, among other things, whether Nero ends up buying the proverbial farm or finally getting to live on it in peace.

Since joining Kurt Sutter’s biker drama in season five, Nero Padilla has evolved from a gangbanger, ex-junkie pimp into the show’s moral compass, a respected elder statesman who’s been a beacon of strength among the blood-soaked chaos.

The cardigan-clad old gangster became a fan favorite — a guy you could consistently root for — thanks largely to Jimmy Smits’ soulful performance.

The veteran TV actor whose previous credits include “The West Wing” and “NYPD Blue” initially signed on to the FX hit for a 10-episode arc. Two seasons later, he goes into the finale as one of the last men standing — no mean feat in a series that offed three main characters in the penultimate installment.

RELATED: ‘SOA’ director goes out with a bang on season’s best episode

After last week’s emotional “Red Rose” episode, Smits talked to reporters about his experience on the show and the “grim” series finale:

Nero wasn’t supposed to stick around this long.

“It was supposed to be 10 episodes and out. I remember having a conversation with Kurt [Sutter] at the end of the second season I was on, which was season six, and he expressed interest in me thinking about — the way he framed it — the Nero character becoming part of the mythology of the show. The character served this purpose of confidant, foil, love interest, all of those spokes in the wheel.”

Finales are tricky business. A good one (“Breaking Bad”) can cement a show’s legacy. A bad one (“Dexter” — a series Smits was on) can irrevocably tarnish it.

“I don’t think audiences are going to be disappointed at all. I think they’re going to be satisfied. It’s touching in a lot of ways. It’s sad. It’s grim, too. I was a little surprised specifically about the way Nero ends up. But I totally get it. That’s as much as I can say without spoilers.” (Creator Kurt Sutter took to Twitter on Friday to apologize to fans for a spoiler leak sparked by the early release of an “SOA” companion that contains details about the finale — a situation Sutter labeled as “a storyteller’s worst nightmare.”)

Saved by the Max,1941 W. North Avenue, opened today. | Lou Foglia/Sun-Times
Nero and Gemma Teller (Katey Sagal)

Once Nero knows Jax (Charlie Hunnam) can find Gemma (Katey Sagal), he urges Unser (Dayton Callie) to get to his lover before her son does, saying “This isn’t about saving Gemma. It’s about saving Jax.”

“That particular line … I tried to give it a little bit of weight so that it really means both. I don’t think that he meant to discard Gemma. I hope that didn’t read like that. You did see him in subsequent scenes in the bedroom that reinforces even though the events that transpired transpired, he still had a deep love and connection with the Gemma character.”

What if Nero had gone to Gemma’s aid instead of Unser?

“If Nero had gone, there probably would’ve been three dead bodies.”

Does Nero feel guilty about sending Unser?

“You’ll see more than guilt.”

If there’s going to be any semblance of a happy ending on “SOA,” it would include Nero, Wendy (Drea de Matteo) and the boys escaping the outlaw life and living in peace on Nero’s uncle’s farm. (It would also be nice TV karma for de Matteo to live happily ever after given her brutal exit on “The Sopranos.”)

“Their sobriety is something they have in common. It’s a strong bond they share. It takes the stink off the possibility that there’s a romantic thing. It’s more paternal, a brother-sister vibe.”

Smits said the most difficult scene he filmed on “SOA” took place in season five, when Nero’s half-sister Carla (played by his real-life partner Wanda De Jesus) killed herself in front of him.

“That was a very tough day. You’re looking at a character who’s supposed to be your sister but in real life it’s the person you live with and love. That was a difficult day as a performer and character as well.”

Nero never got to ride a motorcycle.

“When I first knew I was going to be working with the show … I got my motorcycle license. And then I found out it wasn’t going to happen. Through the past three seasons I always kept myself in tune with the hopes that I open up the script and it says, ‘And then Nero jumps on Jax’s motorcycle and rides away.’”

The series finale of “Sons of Anarchy” airs from 9 to 10:53 p.m. Tuesday on FX.