Esai Manuel Morales Jr. was born on October 1st 1962 in Brooklyn, New York and attended the School of Performing Arts in Manhattan after first becoming interested in acting at the age 12 when he saw Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon. Esai’s own acting career began on the theatre stage and in 1982 he was cast in his first big screen role as Mitchell in Forty Deuce alongside Kevin Bacon and Orson Bean. He followed this up by playing Paco Moreno in the 1983 cult cinema classic Bad Boys alongside Sean Penn, Reni Santoni, Ally Sheedy, Clancy Brown, and Alan Ruck.
“I remember doing ‘La Bamba’ and thinking, ‘Do you really think that Latinos will be accepted in mainstream?’ and I said, ‘Someday I hope so, but there is no guarantee.'”
Roles followed in The Equalizer, Fame, La Bamba, The Twilight Zone, Miami Vice, The Principal, Bloodhounds of Broadway, Naked Tango, The Legend of Prince Valiant, Freejack and Ultraviolet.
Through the 1990’s Esai made appearances in In the Army Now, The Burning Season: The Chico Mendes Story, Tales from the Crypt, Deadlocked: Escape from Zone 14, Scorpion Spring, The Real Thing, Death in Granada, The Outer Limits, The Hunger, L.A. Doctors, Atomic Train and Southern Cross.
“My character Esteban is a guy who really didn’t think he was gonna be there at this point in his life. He’s in his early 30s. He’s got a son. He’s raising his son as a single father.”
As the new millennium rolled in Esai was cast as Esteban Gonzalez in the television show American Family. He would reprise the role over eight episodes.
“We hear a lot in this country about family, and ‘American Family’ just shows us a portrait we haven’t seen as much of yet. ‘American Family’ lets us know that being American isn’t about the color of your hair or eyes or skin: it’s really a state of mind.”
Esai followed this up with the role of Paco Corrales for seven episodes of Resurrection Blvd. In 2001 Esai was cast as Lt. Tony Rodriguez in NYPD Blue. HE would play that role until 2004. He would also begin a voice role that he would reprise over the years, that of Papi in Dora the Explorer.
Roles followed in Lethal Seduction, American Fusion, the video game True Crime: New York City (as Captain Victor ‘Vic’ Navarro), Fast Food Nation, Vanished, Burn Notice and as Agent Jorge Ramirez in 24: Day Six – Debrief.
In 2008 Esai was cast as Major Edward Beck in the television series Jericho, he would also appear in CSI: Miami. Also, Esai was cast as Joseph Adama in Caprica.
More big roles followed in Los Americans, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Fairly Legal, Atlas Shrugged II: The Strike, Magic City, Cleaners, Criminal Minds, and The Brink. Next, Esai found himself cast as Lord Amancio Malvado in From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series.
Further big roles followed in Ozark, Chicago P.D., Mars, NCIS: Los Angeles, How to Get Away with Murder and most recently as Slade WIlson/Deathstroke in Titans.
“I believe if people understood each other more, if people took the time and realize it’s not ‘all about me’ and I’m on a big planet with a lot of other people and concerns, maybe we can learn how to get along with each other.”
Alongside Sônia Braga, Jimmy Smits, Merel Julia and attorney Felix Sanchez, Esai co-founded the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts in 1997 to advance the presence of Latinos in the media, telecommunications and entertainment industries. The Foundation has concentrated on increasing access for Hispanic artists and professionals while fostering the emergence of new Hispanic talent.