“I would’ve been here on time but I had to get dressed and pick up the wine,” he says in his low panty-melting voice.
Somewhere along the Hollywood food chain of publicists, assistants and minions, two crucial bits of information had fallen through the cracks: interviews are always casual, and Wine X supplies the wine.
My immediate instinct is to thank him for being so well prepared, but my conscience gets the best of me. I explain there must’ve been a mix up and suggest that he put the case back in his car.
“Dude,” he says, undaunted, “I just spent $600 on this shit. Let’s check it out.”
The tall, muscular, Puerto Rican actor doesn’t just enter a room. He takes it over. Within minutes of his arrival, he’s threatening to disrobe for the photographer, breaking into an impressive full-throttle a cappella version of Ave Maria and rhapsodizing with great enthusiasm about the holy trilogy — wine, women and song. For the next two hours I uncork bottles and we bond while I attempt the interview. I say attempt because trying to focus the never-been-married 38-year-old on questions in the presence of a female photographer and music is as futile as…well you fill in the blank. And then there’s the part about how he surreptitiously turned off the tape recorder halfway through the interview. But why put a fine point on Esai’s charm.
After surveying the nine bottles, we decide to open the Pasquera (his choice) and the Cain Five (my choice).
“The Pasquera should be decanted for a couple of hours,” he warns.
Bob Blumer: How’d you choose this stuff?
Esai Morales: I enlisted some help at the store. I’m really, really dumb about describing wine, but I like wine that’s full-bodied and dry. Like silk. I like it to be deep, rich and weighty, not flighty…like it makes love to your palette… like chocolate cake in a bottle.
I pour the Cain Five
Esai takes a deep whiff. “Mmm, I like it already. Here’s to the next thousand years,” he says lifting his glass.
For the next half hour we swirled our way through the Cain and opened a budget table wine (which Esai jokingly claimed to like the most) to use as a control group. As he commented on the wines, his understanding and appreciation superseded his lack of proper descriptives.
B: Do you listen to a lot of music?
E: Not enough, but what I listen to, I hear over and over.
B: What’s in your car stereo?
E: Three Jeff Buckley CDs. Grace and a new two-CD set (Rhino Records). Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn, produced by Peter Gabriel. (He hums a few bars.) I just did a salsa basement tape that an A&R friend is into singing. I’d like to do music. I love acting but… I like the Beatles. They’re at the core of my musicality. And John Lennon’s my spiritual father. Dude, I’m finishing all your cheese.
“Come to think of it,” he said, “there may only be three good pictures of me. The hair really determines how I look.”
B: Did the producers of NYPD Blue create a look for you?
E: They don’t create shit. I just arrive, they hand me a script and say, do it.
B: What about direction?
E: I’m myself, and if something seems weird, they tell me.
B: Is the character you?
E: Yes, but it’s a facet of me. I’m a simony [Samaritan sorcerer for those of you who haven’t studied drama] of emotions. I design the character, then they say, “We need more authority in the voice.”
Switching seamlessly into his character’s voice he booms:
“In order to be a lieutenant, you’ve got to have authority in your voice. No matter how young your face looks, you’ve got to let your guys know that you’re in charge. Your voice lets people know what’s behind your look.”
B: I’m convinced. What would Tony Rodriguez’s favorite donut be?
E: That’s easy. Krispy Kreme. They’re so light.
B: If Tony’s a part of you, what’s the rest of you like?
E: I’m a very romantic person. But who wants to wear their heart on their sleeve, just to have it get walked on and stained. So I hide it with a gruff inappropriateness. I love being irreverent. But I hate being irrelevant. I love being irreverent because at the end of the day your actions belie your intentions. I love shocking people. I love bringing roses to a woman when she least expects it. I have a T-shirt with a picture of El Diablo (the red devil) on it. And when I wear it, I scare some people…and some of the people I scare scare me. I went jogging up on Mulholland. In the middle of my run I had some form of asthma attack and couldn’t even walk. I couldn’t get a ride one block to my house. I thought I was going to die.
B: Why did no one stop for you?
E: They see some Latino guy with a goatee and a devil T-shirt in his grubby sweats. People slowed down then sped off. I was embarrassed for the people who drove away. I always pull over for people who need a push.
B: So what’s the moral of the story?
E: If you don’t look like the ruling class, bring your inhaler.
B: I think the Pasquera is calling out to us. (pouring) How did you get the NYPD Blue role?
E: (Tasting) Mmm, much fruitier. I’ve had better Pasqueras than this one in Spain. I auditioned like everyone else. On the second show I was on, 17 million people tuned in. Isn’t that weird?
B: What’s it like to be seen by so many people?
E: I don’t get paid like a person that everyone knows, but I get paid so much more in so many ways. You know, I’m not making top dollar, but when you’re making top dollar, there are a lot of people waiting for you to fall. Being an actor you have a lot of expenses. You think that you get to keep it all, but that’s bullshit. You’ve got clothes, you pick up tabs, people expect gifts. Then there are agents, managers, lawyers and business managers. It’s crazy.
I serve a grilled pizza with heirloom tomatoes, caramelized onions and Stilton cheese.
“Awe, don’t you have something with Velveeta,” he asks, tearing into it like a ravaged lion, literally roaring between mouthfuls. Dude, I’m making a fucking mess.
B: (Trying to reel back the conversation) When you got the role, did you prepare by going out on any drive-ons.
E: No, I just spoke to some cops and a friend who’s an undercover guy, like my character.
B: Have you ever been arrested?
E: No. Well, actually yes, in 1988. There was a warrant for me because my assistant hadn’t paid a ticket of mine.
B: Has your love life changed since you scored the role?
E: Women who were luke-warm before, are all of a sudden like: “Hiiiiii, why haven’t you called me. There’s a party tonight.” All of a sudden there’s this incredible interest. And the guilt trip they try to put you through.
B: What do you do?
E: You look for people who’re sincere.
B: In all sincerity, can we open another bottle?
E: We can do anything we want.
We open the Lancaster. It’s big, soft and sensuous.
E: This is fucking wine, dude
B: Who would you love to work with?
E: Oldman, Pacino, De Niro. Do you have a guitar?
Suddenly a guitar becomes the center of the universe. Egged-on by Esai’s request, I call several neighbors. No luck.
“I know where there’s a guitar,” he says wickedly.
Corks are hastily stuffed into half-empty bottles, and within minutes the G forces are pressing my back deep into the plush leather seat of Esai’s high-performance Lexus as he navigates the sharp curves of Mulholland Road at breakneck speed. The turns are so sharp that the axis of the satellite navigation system in his dashboard is doing 360s. All the while he’s checking the messages on his cell phone. We complete the 15-minute journey in nine and arrive at his sprawling Hollywood Hills bungalow, complete with pool, Jacuzzi and bar.
“Not bad for a Puerto Rican kid from the Bronx,” he says as he takes me on a tour of the house, pausing for a moment in the bedroom to scroll through several additional booty calls on the home machine.
Discounting them all, Esai grabs his acoustic guitar, plunks himself on the couch and begins belting out credible renditions of the Beatles Norwegian Wood, Bob Marley’s Redemption Song, the Doobie’s Black Water and a passionate version of La Bamba. He rocks n’ rolls for an hour as the late night calls keep ringing. When I finally roll myself out of the house, it’s apparent that at the rate this talented, gregarious actor is going, he can continue to be as selective about his roles as he wants to be.