Esai Morales is an American actor best known for his roles as Bob Valenzuela in biopic La Bamba, as Lt. Tony Rodriguez on NYPD Blue and Joseph Adama on Caprica.
Esai Manuel Morales, of Puerto Rican decent, is the son of Iris Margarita (née Declet), a union activist involved with the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, and Esai Morales, Sr., a welder; his parents divorced when he was a baby. Morales lived with his mother after his parents separated, although a heated argument about his acting career choice with her in his early teens prompted him to leave home. He became a ward of the state of New York so his mother returned to Puerto Rico; he and his mother Iris have since reconciled.
While living in a group home, Morales found his way to the prestigious New York School for the Performing Arts, which helped him to make his stage debut at the New York Shakespeare Festival in a Joe Papp's production of "The Tempest" opposite the late Raul Julia. Other work from this early period included a stage production of "El Hermano" at the Ensemble Theater in New York.
Some of his most memorable theater performances include; Oscar Wilde's Salome with Al Pacino on Broadway; Tamer Of Horses for the Los Angeles Theater Center, for which he was awarded the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award; The Exonerated, directed by Bob Balaban; and the San Francisco run of the The Mambo Kings, Morales' musical theater debut.
Morales' film debut in the gritty crime drama "Bad Boys" (1983), brought him to national attention. As an unrepentant street thug seeking revenge against a fellow inmate (Sean Penn) in a youth correctional facility, Morales convincingly exuded enough malice that it allowed him to hold his own against the performance of the more seasoned Penn. He played the part so well, in fact, that for most of his career he has had to struggle against being pigeon-holed in the role of the angry Latino.
Morales has continually fought against ethnic stereotyping by playing a variety of them, including the role of a heroic Iranian in the TV miniseries adaptation of Ken Follett's bestseller "On Wings of Eagles" (NBC, 1986). Playing the hot-tempered "bad boy" would nonetheless remain a staple of his résumé, most memorably with his lauded portrayal of singer Richie Valens' troubled older brother in the hit feature, "La Bamba" (1987). Morales fared less well with the follow-ups "Bloodhounds of Broadway" (1989), and "Naked Tango" (1991). Other roles of the period included an impressive performance as a sociopathic kidnapper in the erotic thriller "Ultraviolet" (1992), and a small part in "Freejack" (1992). In the Kevin Costner-produced "Rapa-Nui" (1994), Morales delivered another admirable performance. That same year, he reunited with Raul Julia for the biopic of Brazilian activist Chico Mendes in "The Burning Season" (1994), directed by John Frankenheimer.
Morales earned strong notices for his portrayal of another troubled urban Latino youth in the generational drama "Mi Familia" ("My Family") (1995). By the second half of the decade, the actor found himself doing more television in such projects as "Dying to Be Perfect: The Ellen Hart Pena Story" (ABC, 1996). He tried gamely to add depth to an underwritten role in "The Disappearance of Garcia Lorca" (1997), a little-seen film that nonetheless earned Morales an ALMA Award nomination for his performance. Returning to TV, he essayed Miguel Gonzalez, the father of real-life Cuban refugee Elian Gonzalez, in "A Family in Crisis: The Elian Gonzalez Story" (Fox Family Channel, 2000). Morales' next big break came with his regular role as Paco Corrales in the drama "Resurrection Blvd" (Showtime, 2000-03), the first cable series to center entirely around a Latino family.
That role led to Morales' TV breakout part on the venerable police drama "NYPD Blue" (ABC, 1993-2005) as Lt. Tony Rodriguez in 2001, head of the 15th Precinct's detective squad. Morales next joined another dramatic series, "American Family" (PBS, 2001-04) in 2002, playing Esteban Gonzalez, a man struggling to raise his son and put his life back together after his release from prison. Morales picked up a cameo in Richard Linklater's odd adaptation of Eric Schlosser's scathing satire of America's conspicuous consumption, "Fast Food Nation" (2006), prior to joining the cast of the short-lived mystery series "Vanished" (FOX, 2006-07). He also landed a recurring role in the post-apocalyptic drama series "Jericho" (CBS). As futuristic family patriarch Joseph Adama in "Caprica" (SyFy, 2009-2010), Morales landed what had the potential to be one of his biggest roles, he played the father of future Battlestar commander Bill Adama. Unfortunately, the project failed, which led to its mid-season cancellation.
In 2002, Morales won The Alma Award as "Best Actor in a Television Series," and was honored as Entertainer of the Year at the 17th Annual Imagen Awards for his work on NYPD Blue. He won an Imagen Award for "Best Actor" for his tour de force performance in Gun Hill Road, and an Imagen Award nomination for "Best Supporting Actor in a Television Series" for his work in American Family. His performance on Lifetimes We Have Your Husband won him a NAACP nomination.
A self-described "actorvist," Morales has been an advocate for countless charities and causes, including literacy, environment, health, immigration, arts funding and social justice issues. He is one of the founders of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, taking inspiration from his mother, and was a founding board member of E.C.O. (Earth Communications Office).
On Criminal Minds
Starting on the Season Nine episode "To Bear Witness", Morales portrays the new Section Chief Mateo Cruz, overseeing both the Behavioral Analysis Unit and the International Response Team, among other specialized units and teams of the FBI.
- Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders - "La Huesuda" (2017) TV episode - Section Chief Mateo Cruz
- Chicago P.D. (2017) - Chief Lugo
- How to Get Away with Murder (2016-2017) - Laurel's Dad (2 episodes)
- Blue Bloods (2015-2016) - Sgt. Trey Delgado (2 episodes)
- Adam Ruins Everything (2016) - Alfonso
- Hit the Floor (2016) - Joe Desario
- Never Back Down: No Surrender (2016) - Hugo Vega
- Casa Vita (2016) - Rodrigo Vita
- L.A. Series (2016) - El Mono
- Untitled Laura Steinel Project (2016) - Bruce
- Mozart in the Jungle (2015) - Juan Delgado (2 episodes)
- From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series (2015) - Lord Amancio Malvado (10 episodes)
- The Brink (2015) - President Julian Navarro (10 episodes)
- Criminal Minds - 6 episodes (2013-2015) TV episodes - Section Chief Mateo Cruz
- Spare Parts (2015) - Pablo Santillan
- Cleaners (2014) - Father Brooks (3 episodes)
- Jarhead 2: Field of Fire (2014) - Captain Jones
- Major Crimes (2013) - Deputy Manuel Diaz
- Teachers (2013) - Manny
- Magic City - 3 episodes (2013) TV series - Carlos 'El Tiburon' Ruíz
- Atlas Shrugged II: The Strike - 2012 - Francisco d'Anconia
- Fairly Legal - 6 episodes (2011-2012) TV series - D.A. Aaron Davidson
- Seattle Superstorm - (2012) TV movie - Tom
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit - "Home Invasions" (2012) TV series - Jimmy Vásquez
- 17th Precinct - (2011) TV movie - Liam Butterfield
- We Have Your Husband - (2011) TV movie - Eduardo Valseca
- Los Americans - 8 episodes (2011) TV series - Lee Valenzuela
- Gun Hill Road - 2011 - Enrique
- Caprica - 18 episodes (2009-2010) TV episodes - Joseph Adama
- King of the Avenue - 2010 - Natas
- CSI: Miami - "All Fall Down (2010) TV series - Stephen Madsen
- Cherry - 2010 - Wes
- Kill Kill Faster Faster - 2008 - Markie
- Jericho - 7 episodes (2008) TV episodes - Major Edward Beck
- La Linea - 2008 - Pelon
- Burn Notice - "Broken Rules" (2007) TV series - Ernie Paseo
- 24: Day Six - Debrief - 5 episodes (2007) TV mini-series - Agent Jorge Ramírez
- The Cure - (2007) TV movie - Jorge
- Vanished - 11 episodes (2006) TV series - Agent Michael Tyner/Michael Tyner/Supervisor Kyle Tyner
- How to Go Out on a Date in Queens - 2006 - Frankie
- Fast Food Nation - 2006 - Tony
- Jurukan - (2006) TV series - Guest
- The Virgin of Juarez - 2006 - Father Herrera
- Company Town - (2006) TV movie - Ray Dupre
- Freddie - "The Courtship of Freddie's Father" (2005) TV series - Carlos
- True Crime: New York City - (2005) Video Game - Captain Victor Navarro (voice)
- American Fusion - 2005 - Jose
- Heartless - (2005) TV movie - Rick Benes/David Lopez
- Once Upon a Wedding - 2005 - Pineda
- NYPD Blue - 66 episodes (2001-2004) TV episodes - Lt. Tony Rodriguez
- Sudbury - (2004) TV movie
- Dora the Explorer - 5 episodes (2002-2003) TV series - Papi
- George Lopez - "Who's Your Daddy?" (2002) TV series - Manny Lopez
- Resurrection Blvd. - 7 episodes (2000-2002) TV series - Paco Corrales
- Paid in Full - 2002 - Lulu
- The Adventures of Tom Thumb & Thumbelina - (2002) video - Vargas Mouse (voice)
- American Family - 8 episodes (2002) TV series - Esteban González
- Doomsday Man - 2000 - Mike
- Family Law - "Telling Lies, Conclusion" (2000) TV series - Mr. Santiago
- A Family in Crisis: The Elian Gonzáles Story - (2000) TV movie - Juan Miguel González
- Spin Cycle - 2000 - Nickens
- American Virgin - 1999 - Jim the Director
- Southern Cross - 1999 - Philip Solano
- Atomic Train - (1999) TV movie - Noris MacKenzie
- L.A. Doctors - "The Life Lost in Living" (1999) TV series - Vince Duralde
- Adventures from the Book of Virtues - "Charity" (1998) TV series - Guillermo (voice)
- Circle of Deceit - (1998) TV movie -Jeff Silva
- The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit - 1998 - Domínguez
- The Hunger - "I'm Dangerous Tonight" (1997) TV series - Tony
- Dog Watch - (1997) video - Murrow
- The Outer Limits - "Heart's Desire" (1997) TV series - Frank Kelton
- Dying to Be Perfect: The Ellen Hart Pena Story - (1996) TV movie - Federico Peña
- Death in Granada - 1996 - Ricardo
- Scorpion Spring - 1996 - Astor
- The Real Thing - 1996 - Collin
- Deadlocked: Escape from Zone 14 - (1995) TV movie - Tony Archer
- My Family - 1995 - Chucho
- Tales from the Crypt - "The Bribe (1994) TV series - Puck
- Don't Do It - 1994 - Charles
- The Burning Season - (1994) TV movie - Jair
- In the Army Now - 1994 - Sgt. Stern
- Rapa Nui - 1994 - Make
- Living and Working in Space: The Countdown Has Begun - (1993) video - Kenny
- The Waiter - 1993 - Julius
- The Legend of Prince Valiant - TV series - "The Visitor" (1991) - Sir Geoffrey (voice) and "The Trap" (1992) - voice
- Freejack - 1992 - Ripper
- Ultraviolet - 1992 - Nicholas Walker
- Bay City Story - (1992) TV movie - Jim Duran
- Amazon - 1990 - uncredited
- Naked Tango - 1990 - Zico Borenstein
- Bloodhounds of Broadway - 1989 - Handsome Jack
- The Twilight Zone - "A Game of Pool" (1989) TV series - Jesse Cardiff
- Miami Vice - TV series - "The Home Invaders" (1985) - Pete Romano and "God's Work" (1987) - Felipe Cruz
- The Principal - 1987 - Raymi Rojas
- La Bamba - 1987 -Bob Morales
- On Wings of Eagles - (1986) TV mini-series - Rashid
- Rainy Day Friends - 1985 - Neekos Valdez
- Fame - "Savage Streets" (1985) TV series - George
- The Equalizer - "Lady Cop" (1985) TV series - Officer Miguel Canterra
- ABC Afterschool Specials - "The Great Love Experiment" (1984) TV series - Miguel Rados
- Bad Boys - 1983 - Paco Moreno
- Forty Deuce - 1982 - Mitchell
- Los Americans - 8 episodes (2011) TV series
- Gun Hill Road - 2011
- Behind the Mask of Zorro - (2005) TV documentary - Co-producer
- Precious Cargo - (2014)
- America's Most Wanted: America Fights Back - (1994) TV series documentary
- The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit - Performer: "Muevete"
- For an up-to-date Filmography: imdb.com/ Esai Morales
- As a child, Esai was so concerned about his mother's smoking that he hid her cigarettes.
- He is a vegetarian.
- Is co-founder, with Sonia Braga and Jimmy Smits, of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts.
- Spoke only Spanish until age 5.
- He first became interested in an acting career at age 12 when he saw Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon (1975).
- He originally auditioned for the role of Ritchie Valens in La Bamba (1987), and Lou Diamond Phillips originally auditioned for the role of Bob.
- His first name frequently appears in crossword puzzles, since it is rare to find an English four-letter word that is 75% vowels.
- Participated in the 2011 National Record-A-Thon by recording children's book titles for RFB&D (Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic)'s audiobook library.