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Hot Faces: 'La Bamba's' Morales & 'babysitting's' Shue

Who's hot in Hollywood?: Calendar continues its six-part survey of the Hot Faces of 1987 making their marks in summer films

July 22, 1987|JOHN VOLAND

"This isn't MGM in the '30s," Esai (pronounced E-sigh) Morales says between bites of Chinese chicken salad. "We've finally gotten to the point as a society where we realize we don't have to worship these people, these actors, that we pay so damn well. If they don't measure up--as personalities or as professionals--then the next generation is right around the corner."

Over a long lunch, Morales considers and reconsiders the young, professional actor's responsibilities and needs from his personal vista: a fiery screen persona contrasted with a reasoned, even philosophical personal outlook. He made a splashy film debut opposite Sean Penn in the 1982 prison drama "Bad Boys," and has a meaty co-starring role this summer in "La Bamba," to be released by Columbia Pictures on Friday.

"I'm beginning to get parts now at a time when a lot of those zany teen movies are not being made," Morales says. "That's good and bad. Good, because the parts--reflecting the way people think about those characters--will be more real, more substantial. Bad, because . . . there are less of them."

Morales is aware of the fact that he may be typecast as a Latino actor and not cast in those roles that have no specific ethnicity. So Morales, who is of Puerto Rican descent, spends a good deal of time thinking about how to manage his talent and career.

"I have gotten a lot of trouble in the press about being arrogant, or too cocky or whatever. I felt a bit used--it's hard not to when a portrait is painted of you that's not necessarily flattering. But let me tell you something: You just have to have a little rooster in you."

But he is cautious of "taking oneself way too seriously, as young people do. It's embarrassing to hear some young actor talking about a part in the latest Roman numeral movie as if it were 'Macbeth.'

"The money or the project isn't so damn important that you have to say yes to it--even though you just hate the idea," he said. "I feel very strongly about that. If you don't like who you'll be working with, or you feel the producer did you the dirty once, or whatever . . . you stay off the film. Staying hot isn't as important as trying to improve."

Morales has an agent and lets the professionals market his screen and stage appearances. (He has done "Short Eyes" on stage and played an Iranian in the TV miniseries "On Wings of Eagles," among other roles.)

But he is scornful of what he regards as "the overmanaged, overpackaged young actors.

"You just give up your right to be a professional, I think, when you're giving 30% of what you make away to other people. I mean, no one can be as intimate with your career as you can be; no one knows what you want like you do. And a lot of young guys like me fail to see that--they start believing their own escapist movies. Everybody else does their work for them; all they do is basically party and hang out."

None of this inactivity for Morales, though. The dark, intense 24-year-old actor--and yes, Esai is his real first name--insists on trying to think about his life in terms of his work, and vice versa. "When you're young, you think you have reached the end of it: This is it, this is me, nothing else is going to change. Which also means you are going to learn nothing from those who have more experience and wisdom than you do--meaning practically everybody else. A lot of the time, an open mind and a quiet mouth is a pretty unbeatable combination."

Morales followed his own advice as a teen-ager, when at 15 he ran away from his Brooklyn home and attended New York's High School of the Performing Arts while living as a voluntary ward of New York state.

"Everything can change, the hardest guys in the world change," he says. "That's why you can learn a few things if you don't mouth off and just observe people, nature and change."

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