Interview: Esai Morales Talks ‘Fairly Legal’ And His Character’s Influence This Season

Fairly Legal - Season 2 - Esai Morales
On last week’s season premiere of Fairly Legal, we were introduced to a brand new character, D.A. Aaron Davidson, played wonderfully by Esai Morales, who will be Justin’s “arch nemesis” this season on the show.

During our set visit a few weeks ago, Esai Morales took some time to talk to TV Equals and other reporters there as well about his character and what we can expect this season on Fairly Legal.

Fairly Legal airs on Fridays at 9pm on USA, so don’t miss it tonight, but for now enjoy the interview.

On what can we expect from D.A. Aaron Davidson this season

Esai Morales: Uh, dastardly-ness. I am a politician, district attorney. I am a bit of a quintessential, slimeball. Sleazebag is how I’ve been described, which is kind of interesting.

On whether he likes being the villain

Esai Morales: Well, yes, I was the good guy in Caprica, with kind of an ambiguous moral compass. And on this one, it’s an arc, he’s not a regular, but the more I do it, the more regular he feels. And, it feels nice to not have to dumb myself down too much. Or play this guy or that guy and the thug and I bemoan the fact that oftentimes people of my background don’t have opportunities to show any intellect, to show any heroics. It’s the four h’s of Hispanic Hollywood that I refer to. We’re either overly humble, “please senor, we’re a poor people. Please senor gringo, please helping to us.” Or overly hormonal. “Oh, you are so beautiful. Come with me to the casbah.” Overly hysterical. “Lucy! Oh! [speaking spanish].” Or overly hostile, “what you looking at sucka?” But outside of that you don’t really see much of our folk in mainstream, just regular people. It’s always like, oh yes, let’s add him on, we’ll add spice to the story.

On whether he thinks him playing D.A. Aaron Davidson will change what types of roles latinos get

Esai Morales: Well yes, I will change television history. Absolutely, I’m glad you noticed. [laughs] No, I think it’ll give people a chance to see that we don’t always have to have somebody who looks like their name. I have a friend who’s Swedish and Haitian, his name is James Erickson. And he looks Dominican. [laugh] We’re kind of conditioned by television to expect certain types of faces attached to certain types of storylines or people or names. So, I like that you know, Emilio Estevez is Martin Sheen’s son. We live in that kind of world so, unfortunately what happens is that you’ll have people playing Latinos that have nothing to do with and not bringing real flavor, but [are] more marketable looking. What I bemoan is that we almost always play the zero and almost never play the hero. So I’d like to see that change, but you chip away at that. You can’t say, hey everybody change overnight. But if you do good work, if you make people like what you do, I think, racial politics are secondary. And that’s what I’m hoping to do.

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On how many episodes of Fairly Legal he will appear in this season.

Esai Morales: I’m not sure if it’s like five or six. It might add it up to six but it might just be five. It was gonna be four and I like that it’s more. It’s a good sign.

On whether there is anything likable about his character.

Esai Morales: I think he’s wonderful. I think he’s in the right most of the time, because you got to play people that. I think he’s a realist. I call him sleazy because I think either slimeball or sleazy, is what Michael [Trucco]’s character called me yesterday. [laughs] Because I walk into the office, I go “nice hail mary you threw in there today,” and you know, about the hijinx in court where he actually attacks his own witness, which takes the thunder away from the opposition. So I go there to tell him some information and oh look, who’s there. [Lauren Reed] steps up for him. And I say to her, “oh, aren’t you two cozy, lately? How’s your stepdaughter feel about that? First her father now her ex-husband.” And he’s like, oh, “you’re such a sleazeball” [laughs] And I go, “mea culpa. So it’s your lucky day the defense wants to do a deal. Alright take it.”

At one point I was a little afraid that every episode it would be me being evil and one of the ladies getting the oh drats, you got me again. But I think they’re kind of mixing it up a little and these are smart folks writing this and re-writing and re-writing because everything is re-writing. I think it’s already good and oh no they’ve got new pages, oh, okay.

On whether there is a warm, fuzzy side to his character

Esai Morales: I don’t think that will suit this show’s purposes for now. Although I’d like to add in a little bit of vulnerability here and there. Because I don’t play him as just a bad guy, I play him as self-justified. But you mess with him, you know what? You picked the wrong guy to mess with.

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On how much the stakes get raised

Esai Morales: Well I think the stakes slowly get raised more and more as I try to maneuver around this fact that he is charming and he has that beginner’s luck appeal. And he’s green, he’s wet behind the ears and he’s a handsome guy and in his poster he looks real. And I say yes to him and he goes “it’s about the people who elected you.” I go, “oh the people. Oh yeah, then well they may pretend to care about doing what’s right for all of San Francisco” which is his motto, you know? And I just said, they want somebody they can count on to do what’s right for them. So that’s what my character realizes.

On whether he observed any political figures to find inspiration for his character

Esai Morales: Yeah, well, you know, for me it’s not a specific political figure but I do have a little bit of Villaraigosa in there, who’s the mayor of LA. He’s just such a cosmopolitician, but he’s also, he’s an earnest guy. I noticed that they call him Mr. Photo Op, right? And Villaraigosa gets that rap as well. But the thing is if you don’t get out and you don’t press the flesh, the flesh doesn’t know you’re there. So he is a shrewd politician who does what he has to do. Not only to do his job, but to thrive and to climb higher and higher. The job defines you sometimes, you know? When you go from working on the floor to being manager, it changes you. And I believe that the position of district attorney has changed him from his young days a green, “oh I want to save the people,” which he sees in Justin. Justin Justice, you know? I’m not gonna let him steal the work I’ve put my whole life into. Here he comes because he’s Mr. Goody Two Shoes. He thinks he knows that game and system better than me? No way. I see him as a bit of Willie Brown, the political figure in San Francisco.

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On whether he has plans to produce and/or direct

Esai Morales: I am actually in the process of looking at scripts, looking at material to just champion. I executive produced this wonderful film last year called, Gun Hill Road which was a real labor of love. I played an ex-con coming out of jail. I didn’t mind playing that because the guy had a real life, he had dimensions. He was someone you can actually care about in spite of his socio-economic background. He comes out of prison to find his only son is no longer in the mood to be a boy. He wants to be a girl and for a guy from that background, and from surviving prison attacks on himself, and maybe having been raped, which we don’t really show but we infer, this is possibly the worst thing you could come home to. And the wife is having a relationship now, she’s got a friend. So, it’s a combination between my character’s coming home and finding a challenge to my manhood. Not just in prison, but back at home. When you think you’re free, all of a sudden, your son and your wife are going against the established norms. And I try to fix my son in less than artful ways. This movie could have gone, I think for the long haul but, the combination of being a transgender issue with a real life transgender actor that became an actress by the end of our filming.

On developing his own TV show

Esai Morales: I’ll tell you guys secretly, I sent a script to Mr. Moore. I said, hey listen, take a look at this, you know, and, tell me what you think. It’s a smart show called Breaker. And it’s a female cop. And she’s got to be a mother and a cop and the way she shifts, but she’s not the best mother. At the end of the-of the episode, she breaks down and she’s heartbroken, it’s very good. I just found it dripping with humanity and really well written, but then again a writer’s idea of well-written is not the same as someone like myself. I look at it from an emotional standpoint, they look at other minutiae and details that they know how to judge good writing better than I. I know how to feel it.

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