Giancarlo Esposito is a bit more talkative that Gustavo Fring. Well, actually a lot more. He spent part of last week chatting with On the Air in anticipation of the season four finale of AMC’s stellar drama “Breaking Bad.”
The actor talked about the preparation it takes in being Gus, the character’s evolution, the genius of Vince Gilligan and where the actor goes from here.
(Note: This Q&A includes spoilers, so don’t read until you’ve seen the final episode.)
Q: Does it feel like Gus had been a career-changing character for you?
GE: You know it actually does. I love the integrity and passion with which this show has been put together. I had not anticipated that I would do more than a guest spot or two. I was inspired by the material from the very beginning and showed them something they probably didn’t quite bank on, thus inspiring them in return to write more, investigate more, and prove who Gustavo Fring really is. This is a very different energy that I’ve developed for Gus and I think that Vince said that he didn’t realize I was this kind of actor.
Q: Have you and Vince worked together before?
GE: No. I had never worked with him and I don’t know if Vince was really convinced that I had this kind of danger inside of me, but, after all, I am an actor. With “Breaking Bad” and Gustavo Fring, it has come together in a different way, which is why people are talking about it and enjoying it. I’m ecstatic. It seems like a game changer.
Q: Was there a lot of discussion with the way you saw Gus and the way Vince saw him?
GE: No, there wasn’t. It was a guest spot, so you get in there and you’re catching up, trying to get up to speed on a show that has the some of the best writing and the actors of any TV show in history. I gave myself a homework assignment: What is my intention of playing the character and what would be one thing that I can enhance and add to my tool kit by playing the character? All I had in the beginning was that he owns a restaurant. I wanted him to be very cordial, polite and almost aristocratic and hold himself with a certain demeanor. I found it fascinating that you could just mistake him for somebody that worked there. He owned not only this place but 17 other restaurants, and he chooses to work. That to me is a statement on who Gus is as a human being and I liked it. The other part that works is the chemistry that started to happen between myself and Bryan Cranston, who I think is a master actor and has great ease in which he falls into his characters. I felt in step with him and some fireworks started to happen between us.
Q: Aaron’s character, Jesse, was supposed to be killed off in season one but Vince didn’t want to do it. Sometimes characters can develop that nobody can anticipate.
GE: No, you really can’t. That’s why I never asked what was going to happen to Gus. I knew as much as the audience knew and that’s really great because it allows me to be completely present. I didn’t know if Gus was going to last from one episode to the next and didn’t really care as long as long as I got the opportunity to cultivate the character.
Q: Gus is such a stealth character. Is that something you think about before camera rolls?
GE: That was part of my exercise, to become calm and relaxed. Certainly the menacing part is somewhere inside of me. I wanted people to be almost afraid to approach him. I wanted them to formulate their words before they walked up to Gustavo. I wanted them to be thoughtful. That’s something I wanted, something I worked on. Does it come easy to me? No. I play larger characters from time to time and like to have a little bit more fun, but this is the most fun I’ve ever had in this quiet way. That was all attributed to the fact that I thought the guy should be very calm. I draw on my yoga practice to do that and I just breathe deeply. There’s a certain pacing of time that I allow myself and it allows me to not be nervous. I never come in on somebody else’s line, or on the heel of their line. I’m always listening to that beat or two after they have spoken and sizing them up. The one thing I love about what Gustavo does is have the ability to take everything in about a human being. Every move they make. Not only listening to their words, but when their eyes don’t meet mine, when their hand goes in their pocket, when they scratch the back of their head. You know Gus is looking. He sees all of that.
Q: Yes, he’s always very aware of his surroundings.
GE: A great example is when Gus goes to the parking lot to his car. He just has a sense that something is not right. That teaches you to listen to the voice inside of you, which I think many of us in our real lives have forgotten to do.
Q: Did it seem odd to you that some viewers were rooting for you more than Walt?
GE: Absolutely, and I liked that. Gus becomes someone you understand more, especially after the episode when you see the relationship between him and his chemist and the pain that Gus went through over that at the hands of Salamanca. You understand him more and you’re more on his side.
Q: What was your reaction when you read the final script of the season?
GE: I was really flabbergasted. I had known since episode three when Vince asked me. I just wanted to die a good death. I wanted it for Gus. I certainly embraced his death and really loved the way Vince did it. I never asked but I could have never imagined Gus getting shot through the head or the Mafia-style stuff. I could not have imagined a more beautiful way to go out.
Q: Was adjusting the tie something you suggested, or was that Vince?
GE: I must give credit to where credit is due. I’m always adjusting my tie, but it’s a Vince thing. He knows that Gus adjust his clothes. I love that you’re working with the masters and they’re very observant. Yeah, Vince came up with that and it’s a brilliant moment.
Q: And is there a chance you might be back?
GE: I certainly was a little more surprised when I told Vince, “It has been great” and he said, “There is no has been.” He started laughing and said, “There’s always flashbacks.”
Q: So you’re doing “Once Upon a Time” now?
GE: Yeah, up in Vancouver. I’m doing a series of guest spots but it could be recurring. I’m playing the man in the magic mirror who is put there by the evil queen in a fairy tale world. It’s fun to jump into that show with some very creative human beings.
Q: Yeah, Adam (Horowitz) and Eddie (Kitsis) from “Lost.”
GE: Adam and Eddie are really great people. They’re so enthusiastic, and very bright. I’m hoping to be joining another wonderful TV family but I’m most excited about doing a show that my kids can see.