In the new film, Gun Hill Road, (opening in select cities on August 5th), Puerto Rican actor Esai Morales plays Enrique, an ex-con who returns home from prison to discover that his son Michael (Harmony Santana) is now a transgendered girl named Vanessa. Esai says the new movie—which he describes as the "Latino Crying Game meets Precious"— isn't for people with weak stomachs. It's intense, dark, and at times brutal.
But off-screen, Morales—who is best known for his roles in NYPD Blue and La Bamba— is basking in much lighter activities as the adoring dad of a 10-month-old baby girl named Mariana. "When you have a little 10-month-old who is climbing up your leg because you are their mountain—there's no nobler reason to get out of bed everyday," Morales, 48, told Latina.com in New York City last week. "There's no better reason to live, to make sure you provide as much guidance, and as much room for that child to thrive."
Morales started filming Gun Hill Road when his wife was seven months pregnant with their child, and while he can laugh about it now, he says it was difficult to leave her during her third trimester. "I left my wife alone at home, seven months pregnant," he recalls. "That's like the seventh inning stretch. And the thing with her was, she wouldn't take help from anyone but me, so she said, 'if you really believe this film is that special, go ahead. But I have to warn you — if you could live with yourself missing what could be your only child's birth, you go right ahead," he says with a laugh. "I was like, "guys, we've got to finish this movie on time!"
Morales said he made this film for his daughter. "I dedicate this film to my child," he says.