Giancarlo Esposito: ‘I Would Fight to the Death to Play Hannibal Lecter’

The "Better Call Saul" star tells IndieWire that he has Anthony Hopkins' endorsement.
Giancarlo Esposito as Gustavo "Gus" Fring - Better Call Saul _ Season 4, Episode 8 - Photo Credit: Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television
"Better Call Saul."
Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures

When Giancarlo Esposito makes an appearance on a TV show, it’s sometimes the most delightful of surprises — like when Gus Fring returned to the “Breaking Bad” Cinematic Universe on “Better Call Saul,” or the previously-unseen Narrator emerged from the shadows at the end of “Dear White People” Season 2. But the story behind him making a cameo in “Westworld” Season 2 has a connection to a totally different franchise: the Hannibal Lecter-verse.

It’s been known since 2018 that a reason Sir Anthony Hopkins suggested Giancarlo Esposito for “Westworld” Season 2 is the fact that the veteran actor is a “Breaking Bad” fan. But in addition, Esposito recently told IndieWire that before getting the “Westworld” job, “Sir Anthony spoke of me glowingly when he was asked who should take over or would do another version of ‘Silence of the Lambs.’ He immediately mentioned my name and sung my praises.”

And would Esposito play fiction’s most famous serial killer, should the opportunity present itself? “Are you kidding me?” he said. “I would jump all over that — because I feel like [Hopkins] broke new ground with that particular character. He was someone that you really hated, but… in many ways I was intrigued by the way he played that character. I thought, ‘Wow, there’s something very twisted going on, but there’s something you liked about him.’ And so yes, the answer is yes, yes, yes. I would fight to the death to do that.”

Giancarlo Esposito as Gustavo "Gus" Fring - Better Call Saul _ Season 4, Episode 2 - Photo Credit: Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television
“Better Call Saul.”Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Plus, in this modern era, Esposito noted, “People are opening their minds to think about characters in different ways. Years ago I would think, ‘Hannibal Lecter, man, I’m not even the same color as him.’ I feel like meritocracy rules in my world.”

It’s a major difference from early days in his career, when he would go in for auditions and producers and casting agents, having only heard his name [pronounced “John Carlo”] would assume that he was white, and not a person of color. “We’re in a different world now and for me, I think you want to pick the best choice in the most complicated actor to play the role. And I certainly think that I have that facility and I’m thankful and grateful that the industry has opened up in a way where that’s possible,” he said.

Esposito had never met Hopkins before when he arrived on the set of “Westworld” for his episode, “I got a knock on the door and I didn’t even know he was there doing a reshoot. And he bowed down to me and came into my trailer and we spoke for an hour until they were banging on the door saying, ‘We need you both, please.’ And Anthony said, ‘Nope, nope, we’re not done yet.’ So it was a real lovefest in the backstage area before even getting to the camera.” (IndieWire has reached out to Hopkins for comment, as well.)

Giancarlo Esposito in "Westworld"
Giancarlo Esposito in “Westworld”HBO

Esposito’s currently very busy — right now, he’s working on the fifth season of “Better Call Saul,” and his work in the fourth season is eligible for this year’s Emmys. Also, the character of Hannibal Lecter is in on-screen limbo at the moment, following the cancellation of the NBC drama “Hannibal,” which starred Mads Mikkelsen in the title role. But discussions semi-regularly arise about Bryan Fuller reviving his cult favorite adaptation for a fourth season. But hey, it’s 2019 and “Deadwood” got a finale movie. Anything can happen.

In the meantime, Esposito doesn’t at all mind surprising people with his work. “To be the surprise, for me, is an honor, not only because I get to a place where people recognize my work, but also a place where they think outside of the box,” he said. Esposito playing Hannibal Lecter might surprise some people. But, when you consider Esposito’s bone-chilling work as Gus Fring… The characters are very different. But it’s not hard to see how Anthony Hopkins got the idea.

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