Esai Morales is an actor currently starring as "Lt. Tony Rodriguez" on the ABC television police drama "NYPD Blue", and appearing in the PBS drama "American Family" and the HBO show "Resurrection Blvd." A native New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent, he was born in Brooklyn on October 1, 1962, to immigrant parents who divorced when he was a baby. He is also a political activist—primarily as one of the founders of the Hispanic Foundation for the Arts—taking inspiration from his mother, who was an organizer for the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union.
Esai's interest in acting was sparked when he saw Al Pacino in the movie Dog Day Afternoon at the age of 12. He began his pursuit of this career by attending the High School for the Performing Arts in Manhattan. His first professional performances were in theatre and television in New York, and his first film—Bad Boys, about teenagers in prison—was released in 1983. The role, which arguably made him a full-fledged star, however, was as a similarly unsympathetic character, the ex-convict/biker half-brother of 1950s singer Richie Valens in the 1987 movie La Bamba. Some of his other roles have reflected his socio-political interests, such as The Burning Season in 1994, My Family in 1995, The Disappearance Of Garcia Lorca in 1997, and Southern Cross in 1998. In the last three films, as well as in a few others such as Bloodhounds of Broadway in 1989 and Rapa Nui in 1994, Morales was given roles which showcased (with increasing amounts of both screen time and flesh) his prowess as a romantic leading man. The precedent for his portrayal of a police officer was set with the film Dogwatch in 1996.
Before "NYPD Blue", Esai appeared on television most notably in the mid-1980s, on "Fame", "Miami Vice", "The Equalizer", and "The Twilight Zone". In the 1990s, he guest-starred on "The Outer Limits", "Tales from the Crypt", and two shorter-lived series, "L. A. Doctors" and "The Hunger." Most recently in his career as a featured TV actor, he was seen in a two-part episode of "Family Law" in 2000. His tenure as the "head of the 15th precinct detective squad" began in mid-season 2001, and is scheduled to continue in the 2002-2003 season. Appearing in three different television series at once has not meant the end of his film career, however—Paid in Full is scheduled for release in October 2002. It will mark a return to a criminal character such as those which made him famous—in this case, a rich, well-dressed drug dealer named Lulu.
Never married, Esai Morales answers questions about the reasons why with variations on the expression "So many women, so little time!"