Raúl Eduardo Esparza (born October 24, 1970) is an American stage and television actor, singer, and voice artist, best known for his role as New York Assistant District Attorney (ADA) Rafael Barba in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. He has received Tony nominations for his role as Philip Salon in the Boy George musical Taboo in 2004; Robert, an empty man devoid of connection in the musical comedy Company in 2006; a lazy and snarky man in Harold Pinter's The Homecoming; and an aggressive volatile movie producer in David Mamet's Speed the Plow. He played the role of Riff Raff on Broadway in the revival of The Rocky Horror Show and the role of Caractacus Potts in the Broadway musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Esparza has been nominated in all Tony categories for which an actor is eligible. He is widely regarded for his versatility on stage, having performed musicals by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Stephen Sondheim, Kander and Ebb, Boy George, and the Sherman Brothers and plays by Mamet, Pinter, William Shakespeare, Tom Stoppard, and more. His film work includes Sidney Lumet's Find Me Guilty and Wes Craven's My Soul to Take and his television credits include roles on The Path, Medium, Hannibal, Pushing Daisies, and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. He narrated the audiobook for Stephen King's Under the Dome, as well as several others, and sings in concerts all over the country.
Born in Wilmington, Delaware, to Cuban parents, and raised in Miami, Florida, Esparza graduated from Belen Jesuit in 1988 and won a Silver Knight Award in Drama that same year. In 1992, Esparza received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drama and a Bachelor's degree in English from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.
Esparza first drew attention with his performance in the 2000 Broadway revival of The Rocky Horror Show, which won him the Theatre World Award. Additional Broadway credits include Cabaret (2001), Taboo (2003), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (2005) and Sondheim's Company (2006). He received a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Musical and a Drama Desk Award for his performance in the musical Taboo. His performance in Company earned him a second Tony nomination, this time for Best Actor in a Musical, as well as his second Drama Desk award. Beginning in November 2007, he appeared in Harold Pinter's play The Homecoming and was Tony-nominated for Best Featured Actor in a Play. In 2008, he played Charlie Fox in the revival of David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow co-starring Jeremy Piven and Elisabeth Moss on Broadway. His performance in Speed-the-Plow earned him a Tony nomination for Best Actor in a Play, making him the second performer (after Boyd Gaines) to be nominated in all four acting categories a performer is eligible for at the Tonys, although he has yet to win one.
Esparza appeared on Broadway in a limited-engagement revival of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia, which began previews at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on February 25, 2011 and opened on March 17, 2011.
Esparza appeared in the musical Leap of Faith in the role of the "Reverend" Jonas Nightingale. He was involved in the workshop in 2008, the out-of-town tryout at the Ahmanson Theatre (Los Angeles) in 2010, and the Broadway production in 2012, for which he received a 2012 Drama Desk Award nomination for Outstanding Actor in a Musical.
In 1999, Esparza portrayed Che in the national tour of Evita, opposite Natalie Toro. The tour was intended to open on Broadway, but failed to do so. In 2001, he appeared Off-Broadway in tick, tick... BOOM! by Jonathan Larson, garnering a Drama Desk Award nomination as Outstanding Actor in a Musical. He appeared in two Stephen Sondheim musicals, Sunday in the Park with George and Merrily We Roll Along at the 2002 Kennedy Center Sondheim Celebration. He also appeared as The Arbiter in the Actors Fund of America concert of Sir Tim Rice's Chess in September 2003.
In 2009, Esparza starred in a production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night at the Delacorte Theater (New York) with Anne Hathaway, from June 25 through July 12. He starred as Hapgood in the City Center Encores! staged concert production of Anyone Can Whistlefrom April 8 to 11, 2010, opposite Sutton Foster as Fay and Donna Murphy as the Mayoress.
In 2007, Esparza had a recurring role on the TV show Pushing Daisies as traveling salesman Alfredo Aldarisio, a role originally given to Paul Reubens. In 2009, he recorded the audiobook Under the Dome by Stephen King. He has done previous narration for The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer, and The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark. In January 2010, Esparza performed opposite Lucie Arnaz, Desi Arnaz Jr. and Valarie Pettiford at the 92Y's Lyrics and Lyricist event honoring Desi Arnaz and his Orchestra, "Babalu: The American Songbook Goes Latin". In 2010, Esparza appeared as Abel Plenkov in Wes Craven's My Soul to Take.
From 2013 to 2015, Esparza appeared in the recurring role of Dr. Frederick Chilton in Hannibal. He appeared in the 2016 film Custody, written and directed by James Lapine, as an Administration for Children's Services agent.
Law & Order: SVU
In 2012, Esparza became a recurring actor on the long-running NBC drama series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit as Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Rafael Barba, starting in the third episode of the show's 14th season, "Twenty-Five Acts". He appeared in 11 episodes of the show's 14th season. On July 17, 2013, he was upgraded to series regular for the show's 15th season. His character became the first series regular ADA since Stephanie March in the 11th season and the first regular male ADA in series history. His role on SVU was not his first Law & Order role, however, as he had previously portrayed an ADA in a 2009 episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and a suspect in a 2010 episode of the original Law & Order. On February 7, 2018, Esparza left the series after six seasons in the episode "The Undiscovered Country".