Undoubtedly, Law & Order alum Benjamin Bratt is best known for his very public romance and breakup with superstar Julia Roberts. Nowadays, the single 37-year-old actor is refocusing on the main reason he exited NBC's New York-based crime drama nearly two years ago: to be closer to his closeknit West Coast brood.

"For me, my priority is the family, [and] my relationships," says Bratt. "An event like September 11th, and certainly the tone of what's going on in the world today, echoes that feeling day after day."

And while the 6'2" looker is content with life in San Francisco — the city he calls his "spiritual home base" — he very much wants to settle down and have kids of his own. "I've always found security in the peace and the balance that comes from being a part of a large family," he says. "And so, most certainly, I want it for myself. As to when that will happen, I can't foretell the future. I can only remain hopeful." (Think any single girls are listening out there, Ben?)

So far, Bratt's having better luck with the other reason he went West, which was to find film work. He portrays the troubled Latino poet-playwright-actor Miguel Piñero in his latest film, Piñero — opening today in L.A. and New York. Usually a clean-cut leading man, Bratt was initially nervous about playing this often grungy and unlikable artist. "All its darkness and all of its rawness was a bit scary," he confesses, "even when considering that as an actor and as a person, I love a challenge. I just didn't think that I had the wherewithal to render what was required for the role."

His worries were assuaged, however, when he met Piñero's (somewhat) approving best friend, Miguel Algarin. "[He] took an old rusty coffee can [from a book shelf]... and he took from the can a pinch of Piñero's ashes," Bratt recalls. "He placed the ashes in my palm and very reverentially said, 'Yes, you have my blessing, but if you [expletive] this up, I will kill you.' That whole experience — the reverence, balanced with the frankness of the street — really gave true coloration as to how Piñero operated in life."