Esai Morales is a veteran actor, performing artist and activist. From roles in TV series and films to Broadway productions, his career in the entertainment industry spans over four decades. Conscious of his heritage, he has been a key advocate in reforming the image of Latinos in Hollywood and expanding positive representation. 

Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, by his Puerto Rican parents, he began his pursuit of acting at New York’s High School of Performing Arts in Manhattan. He landed his first major role when cast as Paco Moreno in the 1983 film Bad Boys. A few years later, he would climb to new heights with the role of Bob Morales in the biographical film La Bamba. The film follows the life and short-lived music career of Latino rock and roller Ritchie Valens. Before accepting the role, he was simultaneously offered a part in the sci-fi comedy Batteries Not Included. He faced a choice between the two films: one a highly anticipated movie created by Steven Spielberg that could launch his career, the other a story that might not see great success but reflected the Latino journey in America and moved him to tears when he read the script. In a time when meaningful Latino roles were lacking, he followed his heart and heritage and rolled the dice with La Bamba. The film became a massive success and is now considered a must-see Latino biopic. He has since performed in theater productions such as The Mambo Kings and Oscar Wilde’s Salome, TV series like NYPD Blue and Ozarks, and movies like The Latin from Manhattan and My Family/Mi Familia

Beyond his acting accomplishments, Morales has been an outspoken activist for social justice and equality issues. In 1997, he founded the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts (NHFA) with fellow actors Jimmy Smits, Sonia Braga, Merel Julia, and attorney Felix Sanchez. The organization is dedicated to promoting and advancing the presence of Latino students, artists and storytellers in the entertainment and media industries (NHFA). They have provided hundreds of scholarships for Hispanic/Latino students and offer various programs focusing on advocacy, talent cultivation and visibility. 

Morales has also been a vocal advocate for animal rights. When given the chance to be a part of the film Fast Food Nation, which examines the health risks and ethics of the fast-food industry along with its environmental and social consequences, he jumped at the opportunity. In an interview with the animal advocacy group PETA regarding the film, he says, “I think animals help us realize what it is to be human. They need interaction. They need care. They need love just like human children. There is so much they can teach us…Do unto others as you would have done unto yourself. Now, does that mean only other humans? If they (the audience) walk out of this movie, I hope that they realize there is a better way. If we all care, the industries have to respond to that.”  

While Latinos have come a long way in America, there is still work to be done. He spoke with NBC News about Latino representation in entertainment. He noted, "People are conditioned to seeing Latinos in a certain light, including our own people, and that's a problem. Kids need to see something that they can aspire to. Hollywood doesn't always go to Latinos for heroes and it’s sad because we have them. We don't see our people save the day…Latinos constantly see themselves grouped in the four Hs of Hispanic Hollywood: overly humble, overly hormonal, overly hostile, or overly hysterical. I want to provide a few more options than that.”

With an impressive four-decade career under his belt, the actor has no plans of tapping out soon. He is currently taking on the role of the main antagonist, Gabriel, in the action film Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One. The sequel is set to come out in 2024.


"Latinos are still considered a bit of 'other', Arabs are still 'others,' Africans as American as they can be are still visually 'other' so I would like to say, 'Hey, we are part of the same family.' We all contribute to this nation. We over-index in the consumption of entertainment but we under-index in the representation and the quality of representation.
- NBC News

“Learn what's special about yourself. Keep your ego in check and believe in yourself enough that you to climb at great heights. Figure out what makes you glow on the inside. That's your bliss. That's what you follow. What truly matters is doing what makes you feel better about yourself as a human being.
- NBC News

“I do play a lot of villains, not only villains. But unfortunately, when I play the hero there’s never a big budget…I think audiences are used to seeing exotic bad guys.
- Focus Hollywood 

Website and Social Accounts

Instagram @esai_morales
Facebook @esaimoralesfb
Twitter @Esai_Morales


Esai Morales on his decades-long career in Hollywood – BEONDTV -

Esai Morales Interview "The Latin from Manhattan" Red Carpet Premiere | Dances With Films 2022

Esai Morales' PETA Interview