Interview with Esai Morales

By Chantal Cook,

Esai Morales is known for his role as Bob Morales—Ritchie Valens' brother--in 1987's La Bamba. He is also a founding member of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts. Esai is currently promoting his new film Gun Hill Road which will be released this spring.

TheCelebrityCafe: How are you doing today?

Esai Morales: I'm okay; just been doing a little painting and exercising and trying to work off the old-age belly [laughs].

TCC: You just came back from Sundance where you were promoting Gun Hill Road and it got picked up for theatrical release. I know you must be excited.

EM: Oh, we had a terrific time. Yeah, it got bought so that's been really good. There are some films that are winning prizes but don't get bought, but we got bought! And hopefully we will be looking at a window sometime before the summer blockbuster season.

TCC: Tell us about the film.

EM: I can say that it is a family story first and foremost, but a young man is going through a dramatic transformation, and his father comes out of prison and tries to reestablish his right as a father and as a husband and make his life better. But, unfortunately, he is not really prepared to deal with the changes his child is going through and he tries--in not so pleasant ways--to fix his son. It's part Bad Boys meet Crying Games--you know the original Bad Boys from the 80s--and it has a little bit of gangster in it and a little surprise in it. It's really about a father and son and mother that are trying to find each other and try to recognize each other after my character went away. We should love our children no matter what and our children are not objects.

TCC: Do you think modern families in society today can relate to this film?

EM: Everybody's got some sort of secret in life. In this case, the kid has his secret and is trying to keep it from the father. Who doesn't have that kind of dynamic going on? Most people may not be going through the same transformation that my son is going through in this film but people in general have issues relating to even the very people that do. For a long time I myself didn't communicate with my own father. That was just some religious stuff because he is hardcore and I am a more open-minded person who said, "Listen, I respect what you believe but at the end of the day that is what you believe." It is very hard to prove or disprove anything; that's why they call it faith.

TCC: You also have other projects: Lives of the Saints and Los Americans.

EM: We just finish shooting Los Americans and now we're in the process of editing. It's a really neat concept that I did with some friends and the it focuses on an Americanized Latino family. My character is visited by a cousin who has an illegal immigrant wife and needed to stay with me for a while. We're just trying to move on up and the man is kind of dragging us down. It is very interesting in dealing with so many issues but I like about it is that we worked with Robert Townsend and company.

There will be a website that is attached to this web series, so if have you issues and problems that are featured on our show then you can actually click on the link and that will help you get help and guide you to places where they are prepared to help people deal with things like family alcoholism, teenage pregnancy, unemployment, relationships, anger management and infidelity. I mean we cover quite a lot in this series. Los Americans is dramatic but funny at times.

TCC: Los Americans is a web series. When it comes to production is it different shooting a web series than a TV series?

EM: We shot it as a pilot and it will be broken up into 15-minute segments. It wasn't very different but the reality of making a web series is there isn't a lot of money in it. But we find ways to get around that and get as much production value as we can.

TCC: Have you started production on Lives of the Saints yet?

EM: It just got pushed back a little bit so we probably will be shooting that later on this month. I did a little cameo with Meg Ryan and it is a pretty cool script, very much like Crash in how people's lives intertwine.

TCC: Lives of the Saints has a big name cast: Meg Ryan, 50 Cent, Kat Dennings, Anthony Anderson, director Chris Rossi.

EM: I will probably be working mostly with Meg Ryan because of my character, but I love Anthony Anderson and I love 50 Cent. He is quite the business man. I just want to get in the mix with some folks that I haven't worked with before. Hopefully we get a chance to cross paths, and if not then we can see each other at the premier for sure.

TCC: You have described yourself as an "actorvist". What does that mean to you?

EM: I coined the term about a dozen of years ago because I felt like I wasn't just an actor or I wasn't just an activist. I feel like an amount of things in general and more than one thing. As human beings we try to connect and label each other in so many ways that we have to find each other and I don't think enough has been done to show that we have so much more in common.

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. I think we live in a society that says, "Hey, you got to be number one and you got to compete" but competition isn't always the best condition in which to raise a family.

Let's put it this way, America reveres competition but let's just say a person had a family and are trying to raise a child and is competing for their father's attention. If don't think that's healthy and when there is more than one father competing for the mother [pause] competition doesn't always provide the best results. There's something called cooperation, there's something called working together. Live simply so that others can live simply.

I just think we live in a society where it's about consume, consume, consume. People shouldn't have to feel forced or manipulated to buy things that they need. You need to know how to use your resources wisely and use what you need and a little for what you want. We live in a world that not everything is what it seems and there is a lot of double standards and missed information and people don't know what's going on.

TCC: Like other actors who become activists sometime in their career, do you feel like actors have a role to stand up for a cause they believe in and do you see more doing so?

EM: Yeah, and I think it goes back-and-forth. 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. We've been on the rocks and I know there are actors that sit around but it comes to a point where enough is enough and it's too much. I think activists should really know what they are talking about because in many cases you have a good cause that sounds good and they give you a line and you turn around and find out that you were used. You were used to make money for someone else. I used to do that for certain health issues but found out that I was only promoting an ideology. When you get out there and you use your fame to focus on something more important than yourself, I think that is a noble act.

TCC: Do you feel like more actors are being used or that fundraisers and foundations are working hand-in-hand to promote for something good?

EM: "Good" is a relative term; what is good for some people is not good for others so it all depends. I think most actors go in there sincerely. What happens when you don't challenge what you're being told and look towards context--who is putting this out, whose message am I telling, what is the message--then you run the risk of being used.

TCC: You see more minority actors winning awards nowadays than ever before so do you feel like the problem is getting better or we have a long way to go?

EM: I think it has gotten better but deep down inside of me I feel we have a long way to go. I think that racism has gotten more subtle and it's not even racism anymore, it's placism. Like where you live or whether you went to community college or Harvard and it exists within the race.

We have so many contributors to our society and we need to use them in a real meaningful way. So, yeah, things have changed because now we have shows like "Dora the Explorer" that really help open some doors for us and show that a little Latino girl can have her own show.

TCC: What do you see as being a solution to this ongoing problem?

EM: Look at Tyler Perry. He created his own market and he can finance his own films, and someone like Robert Rodriguez. What we have to do is not let authority tell us what is mainstream. That doesn't mean that we can't go to mainstream movies but I don't want to go to mainstream movies and they keep leaving us out. Shows like Seinfeld and Friends, they have like one or two damn characters throughout the whole series that are minorities. C'mon, it seems like certain people are more comfortable with the world without them, and it makes me feel like "Okay we're the problem" and we're not the problem. I mean, what you going to do besides express yourself or sit quietly? I feel like you have to try to figure out ways to contribute. I think a lot of people are afraid of the possibility that after what they have done to us, what are we going to do back? It's adding to the theory of the inmate taking over the asylum. But it's not about payback but instead about pay forward.

TCC: You are one of the founders of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, can you tell me a little about that?

EM: Here the concept: I noticed years ago that Latinos and others were being left out. So Jimmy Smits, Sonia Braga, Merel Julia, Felix Sanchez and I put a foundation together to help raise money and help people no matter their background--white, black, Asian or Latino--to help in the community, with scholarships and, more importantly, build on a trade. We had young Puerto Rican and African men who won that scholarship a few years ago and actually walked up to me one day and told me all the exciting things that were going on with them. So that's what it does and we are actually at the point where we given one scholarship recipient not only a year of school but gave them an opportunity to jump in a movie. Finally we give out awards and honors and put our best foot forward and show the world what the community has to offer.



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