Esai Morales is an American actor best known for his roles as Bob Morales in the biopic ‘La Bamba’, Lt. Tony Rodriguez on ‘NYPD Blue’, and Joseph Adama in the television series ‘Caprica.’ He has always challenged stereotypes and imbues his characters with individuality. Inspired at the age of 12 by Al Pacino's performance in ‘Dog Day Afternoon’, Morales decided to become an actor. He started acting in stage productions and eventually made his screen debut in 1982 with ‘Forty Deuce’. With his roles as Paco Moreno in ‘Bad Boys’ and Bob Morales in ‘La Bamba,’ he proved himself to be an upcoming talent. His performances as an Irish bootlegger in ‘Bloodhounds of Broadway’, an Argentine gangster in ‘Naked Tango’, and as an Easter Island native involved in a civil war in ‘Rapa Nui’, earned him rave reviews. He also impressed the critics with his roles in ‘My Family’, ‘The Disappearance of Garcia Lorca’, and ‘A Family in Crisis: The Elian Gonzales Story’. He stood out in his performance as Lt. Tony Rodriguez in ‘NYPD Blue’, which earned him an ALMA nomination. Besides his acting projects, he volunteers for organizations like the Earth Communications Office, the Wildlife Preservation Fund, and the Health Education AIDS Liaison.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born as Esai Manuel Morales, Jr. on October 1, 1962, in Brooklyn, New York. He is of Puerto Rican descent. His father Esai Morales, Sr., was a welder and his mother Iris Margarita was a union member of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union.
He was interested in acting from a young age. Wanting to take up a professional acting career, he graduated from the High School of the Performing Arts in New York.
Continue Reading Below
You May Like
Esai Morales started his acting career with stage performances in New York, followed by minor roles in television. In 1982, he debuted in Paul Morrissey’s drama film ‘Forty Deuce’, followed by ‘Bad Boys’ in 1983. The latter film was about rival teenagers who are sentenced to a juvenile correction facility. In 1984, he appeared in one episode of ‘ABC Afterschool Special’ as Miguel Rados.
His theater credits include Oscar Wilde's ‘Salome’ (Broadway), Joe Papp's production of ‘The Tempest’, ‘Tamer of Horses’ at Los Angeles Theater Center, ‘The Exonerated’, directed by Bob Balaban, and his musical theater debut in ‘The Mambo Kings’.
In 1985, he appeared in an episode of the crime drama television series, ‘The Equalizer’. In the same year, he played the role of George in one episode of ‘Fame’. The following year, he did two films—‘On Wings of Eagles’, and ‘Rainy Day Friends.’
Some of his films like ‘The Burning Season’ in 1994, ‘My Family/Mi Familia’ in 1995, ‘The Disappearance of Garcia Lorca’ in 1997, and ‘Southern Cross’ in 1999 have reflected socio-political issues.
In 2011, he was featured in the film ‘Gun Hill Road.’ In the same year, he appeared in two TV series. He was cast as Lee Valenzuela in eight episodes of ‘Los Americans’, which he produced as well. He played D.A. Aaron Davidson in ‘Fairly Legal’, aired on USA Network. He also starred in three TV movies—‘Seattle Superstorm’, ‘17th Precinct’, and ‘We Have Your Husband’.
He was cast in the 2012 film ‘Atlas Shrugged: Part II’. The film was based on the novel ‘Atlas Shrugged’ by Ayn Rand. However, the film failed to generate profits. In the same year, he was featured as Tom Reynolds in ‘Seattle Superstorm’. That year, he also appeared in the ‘Home Invasions’ episode of the series ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’, a police procedural, legal, television series set in New York City.
In 2013, he played the recurring character of Section Chief Mateo “Matt” Cruz in six episodes of ‘Criminal Minds’, a police procedural crime drama television series.
In 2014, he played Captain Jones in the direct-to-video war film ‘Jarhead 2: Field of Fire’, directed by Don Michael Paul. That year, he also played Father Brooks in three episodes of the action television series ‘Cleaners’, created by Paul Leyden and Morgan O'Neill.
In 2015, he did three television series—‘The Brink’, where he played President Julian Navarro; ‘From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series’, where he portrayed Lord Amancio Malvado; and two episodes of ‘Mozart in the Jungle’. In the same year, he appeared as Sgt. Trey Delgado in the police procedural drama series ‘Blue Bloods,’ aired on CBS.
Continue Reading Below
He portrayed Nego Vega in the 2016 martial arts film ‘Never Back Down: No Surrender’, directed by Michael Jai White. It was the sequel to ‘Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown.’ He also did two TV movies the same year—‘L.A. Series’ and ‘Casa Vita’.
In 2017, he appeared in ‘Chicago P.D.’, where he played the role of Police Chief Lugo in five episodes. It was a police procedural series created by Dick Wolf and Matt Olmstead. He also appeared in ‘Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders,’ another police procedural series created by Erica Messer which aired on CBS. The show was a spin-off from the original series, ‘Criminal Minds’, aired in 2013 on the same network.
Esai Morales portrayed Roberto “Bob” Morales in the 1987 film ‘La Bamba’, a biographical film written and directed by Luis Valdez, which is about the life and career of Chicano rock 'n' roll star Ritchie Valens.
In 2017, he was cast as Del in the Netflix series ‘Ozark’. It was a crime drama thriller web-television series created by Bill Dubuque. The first season consisted of nine one-hour episodes, and a final 80-minute episode. It was released on Netflix on July 21, 2017.
Awards & Achievements
Esai Morales (along with Mercedes Ruehl) was honored with the Rita Moreno HOLA Award for Excellence from the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors (HOLA) in 2005.
He received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arpa Foundation.
He was nominated for Imagen Foundation Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Mr. Santillan in the 2015 drama film ‘Spare Parts,’ directed by Sean McNamara.
Esai Morales is in a relationship with Elvimar Silva. Their daughter Mariana Oliveira was born on September 24, 2010.
He is one of the founders of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts to encourage the presence of Latinos in the media, telecommunication, and entertainment industries. He is also a founding board member of Earth Communications Office.