You’d think that one would discover an actor’s talent in their best film. Well, I remember becoming a follower of Giancarlo Esposito’s work when I watched the Jennifer Lopez produced film, “Feel the Noise.”
To this day, I’m not really sure what prompted me to rent the film, but I did, and I became a supporter of Giancarlo’s acting. He took that role, disassembled it, and then assembled it.
Fast forward to today, and he has gained much critical acclaim for his role as Gustavo “Gus” Fring on AMC’s award winning, and critically acclaimed, “Breaking Bad.” He won a Critics Choice award for the role this year, and he was also nominated for an Emmy Award.
Although he did not go on to win the Emmy award, he left the world with a taste of his ability.
I equate his acting to that of a surgeon. He takes what is given, and he uses delicate incisions to create an appreciated outcome.
He began acting in 1966, and he has never looked back.
Last week, Shadow and Act had the privilege of talking with him while he took a break on NBC’s “Revolution.”
He talks to us about his acting, directing, and his philosophies about race, and career longevity.
Shadow and Act: This year you’ve won a Critic Choice award and were nominated for an Emmy. How does it feel?
Giancarlo Esposito: It feels pretty fantastic to have the work. It feels amazing to work with writers that write really well. I love that I was able to dive deep into the role of Gustavo Fring. It was amazing to be nominated by the Academy who saw fit for me to be nominated for best supporting actor. The Critic’s choice award was wonderful. I’m on cloud nine.
Shadow and Act: Let’s talk about AMC’s “Breaking Bad”. How did that role come about?
GE: When I first started, they asked me to do a guest spot on season two. So, when I finished that episode and flew back home, they asked me to come back and do one more episode. I told them that I would love to work with a family of filmmakers, but the only way that I would do the role was if there were future plans for the character.
SA: Can you tell us how you developed the role of Gustavo Fring?
GE: The role was written as what seemed to be a manager of a chicken restaurant. But the character was carrying a big secret. So, I went down to play that role as written. I wanted to carry the character as something more than a glorified waiter. I wanted to create someone that really cared about the food that he was making.
I wanted to have Gus in a place in life that was really relaxed, really dropped. So, I looked to my yoga practice and my deep breathing to allow him to be someone who is a very good listener. I wanted to create a man that observed people’s personalities, their behavior, and their body language. I also wanted to have Gus be someone that saw the best in people. In other words, he saw their potential, and he would nurture it. For an example in season three he got to a point where he developed relationships with Chemists. Who could then (after he paid for their college education), come back and work for them, because chemistry is was what they loved.
He was a gentleman who was very meticulous, and very good at helping people become their best selves. Those were some of the particulars that helped me model Gus, and allowed him to be a person that had an incredible past hiding in plain sight, and someone who was very much in control of this very big methamphetamine business behind a chicken joint.
Shadow and Act: That’s interesting that you incorporate Yoga into your acting; can you tell us about that?
GE: I practice yoga every day. The practice calms my spirit, and allows me to be present. And actors that are present listen better. We pay attention to our surroundings, and live more in the moment of time. So for me, listening to my breath in between the lines, allows me to be in deep connection to my spirit. When I listen to my scene partners and listen to their breathing allows me to be connected to them in scenes. I am not trying to multi task, not trying to talk on the phone, but in my character. Yoga has allowed me to bring my complete spirit together, which allows me to do less, which is more.
Shadow and Act: Was Gus Fring your most memorable role to date?
GE: I don’t have one favorite, but that role sticks out to me. The stars lined up well enough, to allow me to relax in that character, and we had some wonderful guest actors come onto that show. We also had some master actors ( Bryan Cranston, and Aaron Paul). So when you have great acting partners, you hope that your reaction to them is propels you deeper into your own character.
S&A: Let’s change topics a bit, I want your opinion. I watched a clip of a July interview with Morgan Freeman. He was a guest on the Tavis Smiley show, and he made a statement that professionally he was not a black actor. What are your thoughts on his statement?
GE: I feel that we have come a long way as American people, and we have to start looking at ourselves as human beings. I love that Morgan said that, because when you become an actor, you become a part of a new family. And that new family asks that actors be able to play white or black.
I have to say it’s a very touchy subject. I feel that if you can transcend the color of your skin, with your talent, why carry that as a badge or a label? I feel that sometimes, holding yourself as black, saying that is your sole identity, can sometimes stand in your way of being a member of the humanity of man, being a member of the family of the divine.
I feel that our stories are cross culturally irrelevant, and I’m a member if a larger community of people who have no boundaries in terms of color or in terms of how I look at other people and their stories.
Some Projects will be ethnically relevant, that’s why I did Gospel Hill. But, I will have to agree with Morgan. We should not only tell our stories, but we should aim to be more expansive with how we tell our stories as actors and actresses.
Shadow and Act: You made your directorial debut with Gospel Hill. What inspired you to make it?
GE: The inspiration was the Civil rights movement, and how people still carry that (movement) with them today. I shot the project in North Carolina. I felt like the story of the Civil Rights movement was not told from a point of compassion and grace. I wanted to create a project that would create a healing.
Shadow and Act: In NBC’s Revolution, you play Captain Tom Neville. Can you tell us about this project, and your character?
GE: The show is an action packed show that has a dramatic and character driven undertone. It has a scientific flair to it. It takes place in an era when the world’s power goes out. It flashes back to the day when the power goes out, and it the shows the characters going through the power outage to the present. In the show, what used to be America is now run partially by rebels, and then partially by the Monroe republic. Everything has changed, and people are looking to find out why the power went out and how to restore it.
I play Tom Neville. He is responsible for protecting people from each other. He is also looking for Miles and Madison, two men who could know something about why the power went out. He wants this information for the militia so they can possibly control the new world.
Shadow and Act: You’ve had the opportunity to play some great characters. Who have you trained with?
GE: I’ve studied very little. My acting teachers have been the directors that I have been with. I can name Spike Lee. He did not really understand the nomenclature of acting. He directed like a baseball coach of a baseball team, but that allowed me to think through my own work and figure out what I needed to show him about how actors prepare. I did take some classes at the Actors Institute. I studied a bit at the Dorothy Maynor School of arts in Harlem, when I was eleven and twelve years old.
I remember this time with a casting director, by the name of Shirley Rich. I went in and auditioned with her for this role in “Taps.” She told me that I needed to go learn how to act. She said you are used to acting for the stage, she said you’ve done fourteen Broadway musicals, and you need to learn how to act for the camera (work on becoming a dramatic actor). So, I then went and did a play called Zooman and the Sign. For that performance I won an Obie award, and I was on my way to become a dramatic actor. I felt good about my acting education.
SA: What is your rule for longevity in the arts and Hollywood?
GE: My rule is simply “love what you do”. That certainly has brought me to the place I where am at right now. It really has been with the work. If I can look at each character that I am given and create them in a different way from the last role, I’m happy. I like to always wash the slate clean, and reinvigorate my spirit to be connected to the characters that I am doing. I am finding new ways to allow myself to soar beyond the parameters of what the writers have written. My key is to commit, and love your character.
SA : Can you tell us about any additional current and upcoming projects?
GE: I have a cameo in Alex Cross. A play a guy that is like a street Google, he is a mastermind criminal gentleman. I love that Tyler Perry is trying to become a deeper and more dramatic actor, and I support his efforts in Alex Cross. I have They Die by Dawn, directed by Jeymes Samuel. We shot a trailer for it. It captures African American heroes in the West. It’s a short film, and he is expanding it. I have my reoccurring role that my children can watch in “Once upon a Time.”
I will be directing two new films. One is about abolitionist John Brown. I would like to make this as a miniseries for cable television. And my second upcoming film is called, “This is your Death.” A film that exposes reality television for what it is and our intentions for watching train wrecks happening on television.
We've already alerted you to his roles in Alex Cross, They Die By Dawn and This Is Your Death; but the film on abolitionist John Brown is new to us.
Long-time readers of S&A will remember that in 2009, prior to Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino revealed his interest in making a film about noted slavery abolitionist, John Brown, but not in the traditional "dreary, solemn, historical" manner biopics usually take form, as he stated, further claiming that Brown is his "favorite American who's ever lived."
As it happened, abolitionist John Brown was unsuccessful in his attempt to start a slave revolt at Harper's Ferry in 1859; however that occurrence helped fuel the movement that started the Civil War.
Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds version would have instead told the story of Brown's successful seizure of an armory, which would subsequently lead directly to the end of slavery, preventing the Civil War. This all came on the heels of his success with Inglorious Basterds.
No John Brown film from Tarantino yet, and we're not sure if we will ever see one, especially now that he's made Django Unchained; but we'll definitely love to see what Giancarlo Esposito does with the material, especially as a mini-series for cable TV!
We thank Mr Esposito very much for his time.