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Esai Morales

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Esai Morales
Morales in 2009
Esai Manuel Morales Jr.

(1962-10-01) October 1, 1962 (age 61)[1]
EducationSchool of Performing Arts
  • Actor
  • producer
  • director
  • musician
Years active1982–present
Elvimar Silva
(m. 2010)

Esai Manuel Morales Jr. (born October 1, 1962) is an American actor. He has had notable roles in the films Bad Boys with Sean Penn and La Bamba with Lou Diamond Phillips. His television roles include the PBS 2002 drama series American Family, the Showtime series Resurrection Blvd. (2000–2002), portraying Lt. Tony Rodriguez on NYPD Blue (2001–2003), Joseph Adama in the science fiction series Caprica (2009–2010), Camino del Rio in the Netflix original series Ozark (2017), and the DC Comics supervillain Slade Wilson / Deathstroke in the superhero series Titans (2018).

Morales appeared as Gabriel, the main antagonist in the 2023 spy action film Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One opposite Tom Cruise, a role which he will reprise in the untitled eighth Mission: Impossible film in 2025.

Early life[edit]

Of Puerto Rican descent, Morales was born in Brooklyn to Esai Morales Sr., a welder, and Iris Margarita (née Declet), a union activist involved with the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union.[3] Morales began his pursuit of an acting career by attending the School of Performing Arts in Manhattan.[4]


His first professional performances were in theater and television in New York. His first major film was Bad Boys (1983), about rival teenagers sentenced to a juvenile correction facility. Morales appeared in a 1985 episode of the TV series Fame. He co-starred with Burt Lancaster in the 1986 NBC miniseries On Wings of Eagles, playing the Iranian Rashid, the hero of a true story about Ross Perot. Morales also appeared in Miami Vice, The Equalizer, and 24.

He played Bob Morales, the real-life ex-convict and biker half-brother of 1950s rock and roll singer Ritchie Valens, in La Bamba (1987). He also played Nicholas Walker in Ultraviolet (1992). Some of his other roles have reflected his socio-political interests, such as The Burning Season in 1994, My Family/Mi Familia in 1995, The Disappearance of Garcia Lorca (1997) and Southern Cross (1999).[5] In the latter three films, as well as in others such as Bloodhounds of Broadway (1989) and Rapa-Nui (1994), Morales saw increased amounts of screen time, starting with a role in the Pauly Shore film In The Army Now (1994). He portrayed a police officer in the film Dogwatch (1996) and Father Herrera in The Virgin of Juarez (2006).[6]

In the 1990s, he guest-starred on episodes of The Outer Limits, Tales from the Crypt, and two shorter-lived series, L.A. Doctors and The Hunger. He appeared in a two-part episode of Family Law in 2000. He was part of the main cast of the long-running series NYPD Blue for three and a half seasons, from 2001 to 2004, as the head of the 15th precinct detective squad.

He played a drug dealer named Lulu in the 2002 film Paid in Full. In 2005, he was a voice actor in the video game True Crime: New York City.

Morales (right) with Grace Park (left) and Eric Stoltz (center)

Morales was cast in the film American Fusion (2005),[7] and in 2006, he joined the cast of the Fox series Vanished, as FBI agent Michael Tyner; the series ran for one season.[8] In 2007, Morales appeared in an episode of the USA Network drama series Burn Notice, as a Cuban shopkeeper being shaken down for "protection" money by local criminals. In 2008, Morales had a role in the CBS drama Jericho, as Major Edward Beck. He appeared in all seven episodes of the shortened second season That same year, he appeared in Kill Kill Faster Faster, a film noir based on the novel of the same name by Joel Rose.

Morales played the role of Joseph Adama in the science fiction television series CapricaSyfy's prequel to the series Battlestar Galactica.[9][10] The series, though highly anticipated, only ran for one season in 2010. In 2009, he served as an official festival judge for the Noor Iranian Film Festival in Los Angeles.[11]

In 2011, Morales starred in the drama film Gun Hill Road as Enrique,[12] and in the web drama Los Americans airing on PIC.tv.[13] Morales worked with Tony Plana, Yvonne DeLaRosa, Lupe Ontiveros, and JC Gonzalez in Los Americans, an Internet program launched in 2011.

In 2015, Robert Rodriguez cast him as Lord Amancio Malvado for the second season of horror series From Dusk till Dawn: The Series,[14] which was followed in 2017 by a main role in the first season of the Netflix original series Ozark, and then in 2019 in an antagonist role for the second season of the DC Universe superhero series Titans as Slade Wilson / Deathstroke.[15]

Morales appeared in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One as Gabriel, the film's main villain, a role which he is reprising in the second part.[16]

In 2023, Morales starred in the western thriller Cottonmouth, which is set for release in 2024.[17]

Awards and honors[edit]

In 2005, Morales (along with Mercedes Ruehl) received the Rita Moreno HOLA Award for Excellence from the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors (HOLA).[citation needed]

He received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arpa Foundation for Film, Music and Art, for his impact as an actor and role model.[citation needed]


Morales has described himself as an "actorvist",[18] primarily as one of the founders of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, taking inspiration from his mother, who was an organizer for the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union.[19] He is also interested in environmental issues and was a founding board member of E.C.O. (Earth Communications Office).[20]

In a February 28, 2007, all-star benefit reading of The Gift of Peace at UCLA's Freud Playhouse, he portrayed a hopeful member of a struggling immigrant family. The play was an open appeal and fundraiser for passage of U.S. House Resolution 808, which sought to establish a Cabinet-level "Department of Peace" in the U.S. government, to be funded by a two percent diversion of the Pentagon's annual budget.[21]

Personal life[edit]

Morales is a vegetarian.[22] He has a daughter, born in 2010.[23]

Morales' first name is frequently used in crossword puzzles, because its rare construction makes it a prize for crossword constructors (it is a four-letter word in English that is 75 percent vowels, including the first and last letters). One crossword clue website estimated that between 1994 and 2016, "ESAI" had been used as a crossword answer over 100 times in American papers such as Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.[24]


Denotes works that have not yet been released


Year Title Role Notes
1982 Forty Deuce Mitchell
1983 Bad Boys Paco Moreno
1986 Rainy Day Friends Neekos Valdez
1987 La Bamba Roberto 'Bob' Morales
The Principal Raymundo 'Raymi' Rojas
1989 Bloodhounds of Broadway Jack 'Handsome Jack'
1990 Naked Tango Zico Borenstein
Amazon Jack Uncredited
1992 Ultraviolet Nicholas Walker
Freejack 'Ripper'
1993 The Waiter Julius
Living and Working in Space: The Countdown Has Begun Kenny Direct-to-video
1994 Rapa-Nui Make
Don't Do It Charles
In the Army Now Sergeant Stern
1995 My Family 'Chucho'
1996 Livers Ain't Cheap Collin
Death in Granada Ricardo
The Real Thing Collin
Dogwatch Murrow Direct-to-video
Scorpion Spring Astor
1997 The Disappearance of Garcia Lorca Ricardo Nominated Alma Award
1998 The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit Dominguez
1999 Southern Cross Philip Solano
2000 American Virgin Jim The Director
Spin Cycle Nickens
Doomsday Man Mike Also Second unit director
2002 The Adventures of Tom Thumb and Thumbelina Vergas Mouse (voice) Direct-to-video
Paid in Full 'Lulu'
2005 Once Upon a Wedding Pineda
American Fusion Jose VC Film Fest Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival Best Actor Award Winner
2006 The Virgin of Juarez Father Herrera
Fast Food Nation Tony
How to Go Out on a Date in Queens Frankie
2008 Kill Kill Faster Faster Markie
The Line Pelon
2010 Cherry Wes
King of the Avenue Natas
The Town FBI Taskforce Agent Marcus
2011 Gun Hill Road Enrique FilmOut San Diego, US Best Actor Award Winner
2012 Atlas Shrugged: Part II Francisco D'Anconia
Seattle Superstorm Tom Reynolds
2013 Playin' for Love Principle Jose Martin
2014 Jarhead 2: Field of Fire Captain Jones Direct-to-video
2015 Spare Parts Mr. Santillan Nominated Imagen Foundation Award Best Supporting Actor
2016 Never Back Down: No Surrender Hugo Vega Direct-to-video
2018 Superfly Adalberto Gonzalez
Imprisoned Governor Mandera
2019 The Wall of Mexico Henry Arista
2021 Senior Moment Diego Lozana
2022 Art of Love Professor / Writer
Master Gardener Oscar Neruda
2023 Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One Gabriel
2024 Crescent City Luke
2025 Untitled eighth Mission: Impossible film Gabriel Filming
TBD The Latin from Manhattan Papi Post-production


Year Title Role Notes
1984 ABC Afterschool Special Miguel Rados Episode: "The Great Love Experiment"
1985 The Equalizer Officer Miguel Canterra Episode: "Lady Cop"
Fame George Episode: "Savage Streets"
1985–1987 Miami Vice Pete Romano / Felipe Cruz 2 episodes
1986 On Wings of Eagles Rashid TV mini-series
1989 The Twilight Zone Jesse Cardiff Episode: "A Game of Pool"
1991–1992 The Legend of Prince Valiant n/a (voice) 2 episodes
1992 Bay City Story Jim Duran TV movie
1994 The Burning Season Jair TV movie
Tales from the Crypt 'Puck' Episode: "The Bribe"
1995 Deadlocked: Escape from Zone 14 Tony Archer TV movie
1996 Dying to Be Perfect: The Ellen Hart Pena Story Federico Peña TV movie
1997 The Outer Limits Frank Kelton Episode: "Heart's Desire"
The Hunger Tony Episode: "I'm Dangerous Tonight"
1998 Adventures from the Book of Virtues Guillermo (voice) Episode: "Charity"
Circle of Deceit Jeff Silva TV movie
1999 L.A. Doctors Vince Duralde Episode: "The Life Lost in Living"
Atomic Train Noris MacKenzie TV movie
2000 A Family in Crisis: The Elian Gonzales Story Juan Miguel Gonzalez TV movie
Family Law Mr. Santiago Episode: "Telling Lies, Conclusion"
2000–2002 Resurrection Blvd. Paco Corrales 7 episodes
2001–2004 NYPD Blue Lieutenant Tony Rodriguez Series regular; 66 episodes

Outstanding Actor in a Television Series Alma Award Winner

2002 American Family Esteban Gonzalez 8 episodes

Nominated Prism Award

Nominated Imagen Foundation Award Best Actor in a supporting role

George Lopez Manny Lopez Episode: "Who's Your Daddy?"
2002–2003 Dora the Explorer Papi (voice) 5 episodes
2004 Sudbury n/a TV movie
2005 Heartless Rick Benes / David Lopez TV movie
Freddie Carlos Episode: "The Courtship of Freddie's Father"
Behind the Mask of Zorro Narrator TV documentary (co-producer)
2006 Company Town Ray Dupre TV movie
Vanished Michael Tyner 11 episodes
Jurukan Guest 1 episode
2007 The Cure Jorge TV movie
24: Day 6 Debrief Agent Jorge Ramirez 5 episodes
Burn Notice Ernie Paseo Episode: "Broken Rules"
2008 Jericho Major Edward Beck 7 episodes

Nominated Alma Award

2009–2010 Caprica Joseph Adama Series regular; 18 episodes
2010 CSI: Miami Stephen Madsen Episode: "All Fall Down"
2011 Los Americans Leandro 'Lee' Valenzuela 8 episodes, also producer
Fairly Legal District Attorney Aaron Davidson Episode: "Bo Me Once"
Seattle Superstorm Tom TV movie
17th Precinct Liam Butterfield TV movie
We Have Your Husband Eduardo Valseca TV movie
Nominated - Image Award
2012 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Jimmy Vasquez Episode: "Home Invasions"
Hola Guest 1 episode
2013 Magic City Carlos "El Tiburon" Ruiz Season 2, 6 Episodes
2013 Major Crimes Deputy Diaz Episode: "Jailbait"
2013–2015 Criminal Minds[25] Section Chief Mateo 'Matt' Cruz 6 episodes
2013 Teachers Manny TV movie
Magic City Carlos 'El Tiburon' Ruiz 6 episodes
2014 Cleaners Father Brooks 3 episodes
2015 The Brink President Julian Navarro Series regular; 10 episodes
From Dusk till Dawn: The Series Lord Amancio Malvado Series regular; 8 episodes
Mozart in the Jungle Juan Delgado 2 episodes
2015–2016 Blue Bloods Sergeant Trey Delgado 2 episodes
2016 L.A. Series 'El Mono' TV movie
Casa Vita Rodrigo Vita TV movie
Hit the Floor Detective TV special
Adam Ruins Everything Alfonso Episode: "Adam Ruins Immigration"
2016–2020 How to Get Away with Murder Jorge Castillo 8 episodes
2017 Chicago P.D. Police Chief Lugo 6 episodes
Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders Section Chief Mateo 'Matt' Cruz Episode: "La Huesuda"
Ozark Camino Del Rio Season 1
2018–2019 NCIS: Los Angeles NCIS Deputy Director Louis Ochoa Recurring role; 7 episodes
2018 Mars Roland St. John 4 episodes
2019 Titans Slade Wilson / Deathstroke Main role; 10 episodes
2020 Curb Your Enthusiasm Francisco Episode: "#10.3"

Video games[edit]

Year Title Voice role Notes
2005 True Crime: New York City Chief Victor Navarro [26]


  1. ^ Esai Morales Biography, archived from the original on 2016-03-04, retrieved 2011-08-29
  2. ^ "Esai Morales Biography". BuddyTV. 2021-10-26. Archived from the original on 2023-03-21.
  3. ^ Gliatto, Tom (2002-03-25). "Esai Does It". People. Retrieved 2017-04-18.
  4. ^ Esai Morales Biography
  5. ^ "Southern Cross (1999)". Blockbuster. Archived from the original on 2012-10-18.
  6. ^ "The Virgin Of Juarez". StarPulse.
  7. ^ "Cast". AmericanFusionTheMovie.com.
  8. ^ "Vanished: Watch the Last Episode of the Cancelled TV Show". tvseriesfinale.com. 30 December 2008.
  9. ^ "Esai Morales Cast on Caprica — as Adama's Father". TVGuide.
  10. ^ "Caprica star Esai Morales sees parallels with these great stories". Blastr.
  11. ^ Festival, Noor Iranian Film. "2009 Festival Overview". Noor Iranian Film Festival. Retrieved 2019-02-18.
  12. ^ "Gun Hill Road". filmcritic.com. Archived from the original on 2011-08-05.
  13. ^ "Interview with Esai Morales". thecelebritycafe.com. Archived from the original on 2011-02-13.
  14. ^ ""From Dusk Till Dawn" Casts Its 'Lord Amancio Malvado'". Bloody Disgusting. 18 March 2015.
  15. ^ "'Titans': Esai Morales Joins DC Universe As Deathstroke". Deadline. 2019-03-13. Retrieved 2019-03-13.
  16. ^ Couch, Aaron (May 21, 2020). "Esai Morales Replaces Nicholas Hoult in 'Mission: Impossible 7'". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on January 30, 2021. Retrieved April 28, 2022.
  17. ^ Andreas Wiseman (September 28, 2023). "Martin Sensmeier, Ron Perlman, Esai Morales & Eric Nelsen Lead Western 'Cottonmouth'; Filming Underway In Oklahoma". www.deadline.com. Retrieved September 28, 2023.
  18. ^ Introducing the actors who bring American Family to life
  19. ^ ASHA and Film/TV Star Esai Morales Collaborate on Safe Listening Public Service Announcement, 1 August 2011
  20. ^ Esai Morales Award-Winning Actor & Activist, archived from the original on 2011-09-24
  21. ^ The Gift of Peace
  22. ^ "Famous Vegetarians - Esai Morales". ivu.org.
  23. ^ "Esai Morales Welcomes Daughter Mariana Oliveira". People.com. Retrieved 2020-11-17.
  24. ^ "Clue: Actor Morales". crosswordtracker.com.
  25. ^ "Exclusive: Esai Morales Joins Criminal Minds as New Section Chief". TVGuide.com. Retrieved July 26, 2013.
  26. ^ Surette, Tim (September 19, 2005). "True Crime: NYC cuffs voice talent". GameSpot. Retrieved May 23, 2015.

External links[edit]