Gustavo Fring, from the popular Breaking Bad series, was a man of honor and power. A criminal yes, but his movements were subtle, smooth and delivered major impact.
“He was frightening. He was someone who could kill to protect, ” Giancarlo Esposito, who portrayed the villainous character, analyzes.
The role was one that instantly became a fan favorite and once again, displayed the layers of talent that Esposito has exhibited since his face became familiar in classics such as Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, School Daze, Mo’ Better Blues and most recently Netflix’s The Get Down, to name a few respectfully.
We’ve been familiar with the star for years and his numerous accolades – from theater, film and TV – further prove that Esposito has always been a needed presence and voice in arts, culture and entertainment. But as many know, in Hollywood, there’s that one role that breaks you into mainstream vision. For Esposito, it was AMC’s Breaking Bad.
Esposito joined the series in 2004 as Gus Fring, the head of a New-Mexico based methaphetamine drug ring. He moonlighted as the co-founder and proprietor of a fast-food family restaurant chain called Los Pollos Hermanos. The restaurant chain and a laundry facility were used as fronts for his drug operation. But, his reign came to an end when he died in season four.
Now, we know that everybody has a past and in, Better Call Saul, a prequel spin-off to the series, Fring and some of our favorite characters are back.
The series follows the trials and tribulations of criminal lawyer, Jimmy McGill and the time leading up to his trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico where lines cross with chemist-turned-meth dealer Walter Whitman (Breaking Bad) and becomes his ace attorney.
During a recent TCA panel, Esposito confirmed his involvement in season three and the reprisal of his character, Gus Fring.
“I had to remind myself in coming back to be really present with the character, and that in this time, he’s more immature. He’s still finding his way… So I’m excited to be back. Certainly, Vince has described to me a situation where Gus is a very cagey character…he was a guy who wanted revenge, a guy who wanted to create a business, but he was also a guy who was very caring with his people. So I want to see where we go with it, and sometimes it’s more exciting to have a character who’s more mysterious.”
— Giancarlo Esposito (@quiethandfilms) January 11, 2017
Below, EBONY caught up with Giancarlo Esposito months ahead of his series announcement to discuss his prominent career, roles that scared him and what he’s most excited about at this time.
EBONY: Have you portrayed a character that scared you? So much so, it further forced you to take on the project?
Giancarlo Esposito: Absolutely! I think Gustavo from Breaking Bad is one of those characters – very quiet but very intense. He said less. Less is always more. He was guiding a family of businessmen and he wanted out of his business but he took care of his family first. He dealt drugs but could have been dealing toothpaste. He was someone who was very smart. Very frightening character. He was someone who could kill to protect his own.
I played a character a few years ago with the Negro Ensemble on Broadway called Zooman and the Sign by a Pulitzer Prize winner writer named Charles Fuller. He’s a wonderful writer from Philadelphia who also wrote A Soldiers Story. The character was a street kid – early in a gang before we really had gangs as organized as they are now. Zooman, for me, was a triumph. I won the Oobie Award in New York for that. I would do this play and have to sit in my dressing room for 30 to 45 minutes afterward just to calm down from that character who felt himself justified in accidentally killing a little girl in front of someone’s home. That character frightened me. One night they said I couldn’t come out because there was a woman in the lobby who was a social worker, she’s hysterical and wants to kill you. She really thought it was real. She eventually calmed down. She works for people who had died at the hands of a Zooman-like personality for many years and wanted to take her revenge. That was a frightening role to play and it was a precursor now for what we have with the crips and bloods. It was a character I didn’t want to walk around and be in my daily life.
EBONY: You once noted that Sidney Poitier is someone whom you admire. What have you learned/observed from him that you carry throughout your career?
Giancarlo Esposito: Sidney Poitier was a great idol of mine as a young man. I came from Italy at a very young age – from an African American father and Italian mother- and it was very rare that we got a chance to see an African American actor star in movies and Sidney always had an incredible grace in regard to his performances and he didn’t choose roles because of color. He always exemplified himself as someone with a great amount of respect and was always someone who had a great amount of pride. Yet, to me, seeing his movies he didn’t only represent African Americans or Black people, he represented the best of human beings and I felt that his work and personal life exemplified that. He’s been a great idol of mine for many years. Four years ago, I actually got to meet him at the Oscars and was able to tell him how much I respect him and what he’s done for humanity. It was a great moment in time. Besides that, he’s just a great actor! He was the kind of actor I always wanted to be – someone who stood up for what’s right in all of his performances but had great respect for human beings.
EBONY: You mentioned humanity. It seems like attention is being turned toward stories that aren’t solely defined by race but stories that are inclusive of the overall human experience. Is that something that you look for now, even more than before, in your career?
Giancarlo Esposito: We’re living in a time where we want to be entertained but I think part of what people are looking for, that they don’t even know they’re looking for is to be uplifted in many ways. As human beings, when we’re young, we’re not jaded. As we grow older, we begin to take on ideas of our parents, family of origins and that changes us. We become less fluid sometimes. So for me, I look for roles that are uplifting in many ways – no matter what the race or color of the role is. I want to go beyond that and try to share what I think my gift is and that is we all have this gift of choice. We just don’t sometimes realize we have that choice. I always look for roles who express something of the brightness and the strength of the human spirit. That makes a difference in the roles I choose.
EBONY: I know that you’re also very in-tuned with your spirituality and practices of meditation. How does that help with the balance of your character(s) and the man, Giancarlo?
Giancarlo Esposito: Ah! Very good question. I learned in acting school from one of my acting teachers who said “take the best and leave the rest.” I kept thinking what does that mean? I realized that if I’m successful as an actor in one project and that people like what, I, Giancarlo is doing, I don’t want to lose complete sight of my likeness or my spirituality or even – with the gift I’ve been given, I want to channel part of me because that’s part of that gift. However, many times – especially when I’m playing an historical character – I want to be really on target with how I create that character and really nuanced with who that human being might be. But I don’t want to lose the likeness of me or the depth of my own personality. So meditation and my spirituality has helped me to realize that, yes, I want to get out of the way but I also want the ability to hold on to what the audience likes of what they see of me. I’m naturally a graceful human being. So meditation helps me stay grounded. When we’re silent for a moment, it helps us to hear the hum of the universe. Hear the message or what the universe is trying to tell you. It’s your inner voice and instinct. If you’re hearing that, then you’re in the flow of things. It takes years to try and trust that.
EBONY: What comes as a challenge to you now and how would you describe this time in your life?
Giancarlo Esposito: This time in my life is a really special one. I finished my second feature film, which is called, This is Your Death, it’s a social-comment about the unflinching look at reality television and where we are today. I’m hoping we’ll be in the film festivals and able to show that film.
It’s also a time for creation. We live in a world of creative beauty – the grand architect of the universe. God has planted something for us – a playground to play in if we choose to look at it that way and understand it. So, this time for me, is really a time to create. I’m developing a TV show right now. It’s the best time of my life right now because I’m creating stuff without fear. I couldn’t be happier about where I’ve come to in my career. I also just finished a movie Hukja, with a Korean master filmmaker who wrote the bootleg subtitles for Do The Right Thing when he was in college in the Soviet Union. My objective is to move through the world and work around the world with some great masters of creativity through cinema, theater and TV and be able to now enjoy it more than ever.
Better Call Saul season 3 returns to AMC, April 10 10/9c.
LaToya “Toi” Cross is the Senior Editor of Entertainment and Culture for EBONY’s Print and Digital brand. You can catch this laughing creative sharing work, art and capturing life via her handle of @ToizStory on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.