Exclusive: Raúl Esparza Talks 'Law & Order: SVU,' Broadway, & Fame

We saw you played a bad guy in Trouble in the Heights?

This was a really fun film to make. My character’s name was Trujillo, like the Dominican dictator. He was a drug lord; he’s an out and out monster. They’re always the most delicious parts to play, where you just get to misbehave! Trouble in the Heights is about a little boy who gets into a serious amount of trouble, because of a fire occurs where a drug lord stashed something. Trujillo comes after them and hunts them down. I felt like I never get to use any of my Latin background so it was fun to play someone who was removed from myself and play such an extreme villain.

Do you have plans to go back to Broadway?

I would absolutely plan to do theater again, there’s no question that’s my home. Right now with this job and I’m also on Hannibal for NBC as well, where I play Dr. Chilton, it’s impossible to honor any commitment doing stage work. Theater is where I first started and that’s truly what I love because I love the conversation with an audience. It’s the capital of world New York City, particularly for the arts and when you’re working here on stage you’re working here with the best of the best. I’ve been very blessed to have 13 years of work on Broadway.

Do you think becoming more recognizable in your 40s opposed to your early 20s is better?

Fame is a tricky thing. It’s great now to have a head on my shoulders and realize that these things come and go and appreciate where you are while you’re there as opposed to looking for the next thing. When you’re starting out, you constantly have to prove yourself looking for what the next opportunity is. I can sort of put that at rest now, I’ve certainly done my work and kind of cherish where I’m at now. It doesn’t go quite to my head as much as it did when I was in theater in my 20s. It’s scary in real life; it’s like a dream. Everyone treats you like gold.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I like to explore the city.  I love travelling, especially to foreign locations. The last seven years I’ve gone to Hawaii to hike a volcano. I’m a huge reader; I sometimes read five books at a time. I started to become a not too bad snow skier, so I’m looking forward to the winter.

Do you often get a hankering for Cuban food?

There are a lot of good Cuban spots in New York City but it’s not the same as Miami. But I do my Cuban cooking at home. I do my aunt’s black beans, I do my grandmother’s masa de puerco, my mom’s ropa vieja, arroz con pollo from my aunt as well. I have stacks of recipes and books that are falling apart that we’ve collected from our relatives. There’s nothing like making that stuff at home. Of course I can’t eat like that right now because I’m on television, the camera adds 200 lbs.! So you cant have Cuban food all the time.

Watch Raúl Esparza on Law & Order: SVU tonight on NBC at 9/8C.