Q & A: Giancarlo Esposito
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Ridgefield-based actor Giancarlo Esposito, 52, currently stars as Gustavo “Gus” Fring in the AMC series “Breaking Bad.” He recently took the time to chat with us.
We’re still getting acquainted with Gus in “Breaking Bad.” What is your take on him?
I love what Vince Gilligan has written so far for this character. In a way, the show is so interesting because we don’t reveal too much—but I think Gus is a very upstanding member of the community. In the writing, it’s inferred that Walter White is very much like him. Yet there are big differences in their personalities and the way they deal with their businesses. Gus is a guy who owns maybe 17 chicken restaurants, from Albuquerque to California, and he has very high moral standards. I love the character because he is written in such a way that you can imagine him being the quintessential family man—the kind of guy who really wants to return America to its core, central values—yet you can also imagine him doing things in a business manner that are the antithesis of all the rest.
He’s a pretty scary guy, more in what he doesn’t do than what he does. He has a kind of silence around him . . .
He does. He’s very contained, very close to the vest, and I would imagine he doesn’t have many friends. And he has some trust issues. [laughs]
This is sort of like a game of telephone—you don’t want to tell viewers too many things, because it gets misconstrued and the story line changes, anyway. I think he’s very, very specific about his life and who he is. He really is compartmentalized, and I think that adds to his frightening image.
As you say, he comes across as someone who’s upstanding and gentlemanly, but when you think about what he’s doing, it cancels all that out.
It does; but we’ve come to this place in America—through politicians and big business—where you can imagine he’s probably like many people who run big corporations. Who, on the one hand, turn away from the camera and tell their aides one thing, and then turn back with this huge, charismatic smile that suggests they’re worthy to lead us. As I say, I just give incredible kudos to Vince Gilligan, because he really hit the nail on the head with this character.
Why were you attracted to playing him?
Because the show is just so well-rounded and so good. Really, for me, it’s been all about the material. I’d really felt that because of the scripts coming across my desk, and what I was seeing in the media, that we’d gotten away from good storytelling. I have great admiration not only for Vince but also for Sony, for doing this show, and AMC, for moving us forward and helping us realize that story does matter and you can tell a good story and have it be entertaining.
AMC seems to have carved a niche for itself that no other basic cable channel is filling. It’s kind of like HBO or Showtime, but you don’t have to pay extra for it.
It is; it’s changing the face of how we view story and watch television. For “Breaking Bad” we have 1.3 million viewers, and they’re not mindlessly watching. They’re making the connection between what they’re seeing and what they’re living, and that to me is what television should do. It really should inspire us and help us to look at how we live our lives; how we’re led in our communities and by government.
For me, the draw too was to be around a community of egoless actors, beginning with Bryan Cranston, who I feel is absolutely a brilliant actor. When I met him, it was instant chemistry because I admire him as a human being. And when you’re able to be with a group of actors who aren’t trying to top each other, or looking through a script to see how much they’re in it—that’s a sign you’ve joined a family of well-heeled, cultivated, intelligent people. I stepped in for an episode and I felt as if I was home, as if I was with the group of actors I work with in New York, in the Atlantic Theater Co. I can be away from them for months, then I get together with them for a play and it’s like I never left. It’s a beautiful sort of ensemble.
I’m grateful, because I really felt I was just going to direct my next feature film—which I hope to begin in June—and move forward in that regard, make films that I really feel are about consciousness. I directed my first feature film in 2007-08, called Gospel Hill. That’s what I want to do, and I never thought I’d step into a TV show and be acting again. I’ve acted for 47 years. So it’s really great to be reinvigorated and enthused.