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Where Else You've Seen Criminal Minds Star Esai Morales

After the tragic death of Erin Strauss (Jayne Atkinson) at the end of "Criminal Minds" Season 8, the command of the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) is turned over to Agent Mateo Cruz (Esai Morales) in Season 9. A former Army vet and Texas Ranger, Cruz actually has a past connection to team member Jennifer "JJ" Jareau (A. J. Cook), as both of them worked together in the Middle East on a highly sensitive intelligence case. Unlike Strauss, the pragmatic Cruz supports and trusts the criminal profilers implicitly from the start. 

After getting captured along with JJ by a terrorist squad in Season 9 episode "200," however, Cruz is tortured and seriously injured. The FBI section chief then leaves the BAU to recover from the incident, with Morales leaving "Criminal Minds," though the actor does guest star in Season 10. "Criminal Minds" fans probably feel certain that they've seen Morales before, and they likely have, as Morales has been performing on screen for nearly four decades. From hit shows like "Ozark" to a famous music biopic, here are some of the highlights of Morales' long career.

Esai Morales' first successes were supporting roles in Bad Boys and La Bamba

Esai Morales' first big-screen role was in the 1983 drama "Bad Boys," not to be confused with the Will Smith cop franchise. He features in the film as Paco Moreno, the ruthless rival of juvenile delinquent Mick O'Brien (Sean Penn), who wants revenge for the death of his brother. The film became a critical success, holding a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but the actor, 21 years old at the time of the movie's release, later felt ambivalent about his villainous role. In 1999, Morales told The Washington Post that Paco is a very human character, yet "when the bad guy is all you get that has any flavor — any color, you start to feel like you're there as hate fodder ... I was a guy that you could hate because he was dark, ethnic, dangerous, violent."

Morales' 1987 role in the biopic "La Bamba" as Bob Morales, rock 'n' roll legend Ritchie Valens' (Lou Diamond Phillips) flawed half-brother, involves a much more complex character. During the film's 30th anniversary, Morales said that he still felt "honored and blessed to have been part of a truly representative and historic piece where we as Latinos are portrayed in a more complete light and manner that Hollywood usually affords us" (via NBC News). Morales had already guest-starred on '80s television fare like "Miami Vice" and "Fame," and the critical and commercial success of "La Bamba" made him even more prolific as a character actor.

He worked steadily in film and television roles over the next decade

The '90s saw Esai Morales appear in a number of popular films and TV series, though he was often cast in supporting roles. This includes films such as the futuristic sci-fi thriller "Freejack," co-starring Mick Jagger and Emilio Estevez, and the 1994 Pauly Shore vehicle "In The Army Now," in which Morales' strict staff sergeant is a foil to Shore's character's bumbling antics.

In 1995, Morales received a major part in "My Family" ("Mi Familia"), an epic drama about multiple generations of the Sanchez clan and their lives in 20th century Los Angeles. Morales received praise from critics such as James Berardinelli for Reelviews for the "fire, energy, and a touch of humor" that he brings to the ill-fated Sanchez son Chucho.

Between films, Morales guest-starred on several genre shows, including "Tales from the Crypt," "The Outer Limits," and "The Hunger." He also appeared in TV movies like "Dying to be Perfect: The Ellen Hart Pena Story" (via IMDb). Yet it wasn't until 2001 that he was cast as a regular on a popular network series.

Morales became a regular on NYPD Blue and cult favorite Caprica

Esai Morales officially joined the groundbreaking cop drama "NYPD Blue" for its eighth season to play the new 15th squad commander, Lieutenant Tony Rodriguez. Rodriguez is dogged by his past thanks to his history on the Narcotics Squad but is also respected by the likes of NYPD Detective Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz). Morales was a regular cast member on "NYPD Blue" from then on, until his character is replaced as commander in the penultimate season of the show.

After his stint on "NYPD Blue," the actor found recurring parts in short-lived cult shows such as "Jericho" and "Caprica." A "Battlestar Galactica" prequel, "Caprica" features Morales in a rare central performance as lawyer Joseph Adama, but unfortunately, the project was canceled after only one season. The actor continued to work in film and television but often in small roles or in projects that didn't last that long, including "Magic City" and the HBO comedy "The Brink." It wasn't until he joined "Criminal Minds" that Morales found substantial professional success again, especially in television.

The actor recently played Deathstroke on Titans

The past six years have seen Morales take on more antagonistic roles, including his regular character Lord Amancio Malvado on Season 2 of "From Dusk Til Dawn: The Series," which is an adaptation of the cult classic 1996 film. The actor is also in the first season of Netflix's crime drama "Ozark" as Camino Del Rio, a Navarro drug cartel lieutenant. 

Morales then got one of his biggest roles yet in 2019 when he signed on to play Deathstroke in Season 2 of the HBO Max series "Titans," an adaptation of the comic book superhero team the Teen Titans. An enhanced assassin who has it out for the Titans, Deathstroke seeks to eliminate them one by one. Jump Cut Online praised Morales for his performance, stating that his character "feels like he's leapt straight from the pages of the comics, into a live-action portrayal for the ages."

Despite his past success, somehow Morales has never gotten a blockbuster role until very recently. He was cast only last year as the villain of the upcoming "Mission Impossible 7," replacing Nicholas Hoult in the role (via Deadline). In an NBC interview, the veteran actor acknowledged that as a Latino, "we are always in demand for playing the bad guy," but thankfully, Morales has also gotten to show his terrific range over the course of his career. "It's more fun playing the bad guy than being one, but the good thing is that I have played the president of the United States in 'The Brink,'" he added.