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10 Quick Questions for Giancarlo Esposito

He plays dark characters, but wants to embrace his lighter side

spinner image giancarlo esposito wearing hat, sitting on backwards chair, holding the back
JSquared Photography/Contour by Getty Images

Giancarlo Esposito, 64, is masterful in his portrayal of the Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul character Gustavo “Gus” Fring, and he has an impressive slate of current acting projects. These include Disney+’s The Mandalorian, Prime Video’s The Boys, Epix’s Godfather of Harlem and the new Netflix series Kaleidoscope — a nonlinear anthology series that tells the story of a heist 25 years in the making.

Your career is booming. Any thoughts on this late-in-life success?

I love what I do, and more and more I don’t take it for granted. I put more energy into my preparation and more care so that my work becomes more subtle, and I understand it on a deeper level, to honor the writer’s intention. And then to allow myself to not feel like I have to shine, but to feel like I’m organically truthful and real. I don’t do anything I don’t feel, and that’s the key. When you start to just do it by rote, because you’re getting accolades or praise, you lose the sense of connection.

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Kaleidoscope is the first nonlinear series that you can watch in any order. This is fun for viewers, but how was it as an actor?

I loved the idea. Most of what we do as actors is we wait for one script to come — and we get the next one and the next one. What’s been wonderful about this is I was given red and yellow [episodes are labeled by colors] to read first, and I was intrigued to be able to read the rest. That all the [episodes] were done was an amazing thing. I could feel like there was an opus there already. I could feel like the character I was trying to render real, truthful and honest was completely there in every element in the eight episodes. So then the trick for me was how to allow all of it to live. It’s a story that has many profound elements in it.

Your character, Leo Pap, is the criminal mastermind of the heist. How did you prepare for it?

I wanted to play an everyman — someone who could disappear and become invisible. To see how stealthy I can be in the part of Leo that is the thief — to take something that’s not yours and to get in and out without hurting anyone, to disarm and neutralize. Those were important parts of creating Leo. I was on my way traveling somewhere in an airport, rolling a bag behind me, and I wanted to see how close I could get to a pedestrian in front of me without them knowing I was there. That was an interesting exercise. I realized I was very good with being silent with my feet. I was really good at blending my personality into the tile, and then when that person dropped something accidentally, I realized, Oh, wow, I can now pick that up and return it to them. They don’t even know how close I am to them. 

 Leo is a criminal, but he’s nowhere near as scary as Gus or the characters you play on The Boys and The Mandalorian. Do you ever just want to do a rom-com?

I do, yes. I do want to do a rom-com. Many people are surprised that when they meet me, I’m a little lighter than what I seem, because they know me from playing Gustavo Fring, which is certainly very intense. I am also looking for a comedy. I’m cultivating some ideas with a couple of different people that have sophisticated ideas in regard to comedy.

I’ve seen that you’ve shown a lighter/more comical side in TV interviews.

It’s good to get a little reputation for that, because I’ve had the antithesis of that experience, with a woman on a plane who hit the wall while waiting for the bathroom when I walked up behind her. She looked at me, and I hadn’t really clocked her look until she froze. I thought she was sick. I thought something was wrong. I was going to help her, and she backed away from me. And I went, Uh-oh. Then I got it in a second. She said, “You can go before me, Gus.”

spinner image jordan mendoza as r j, peter mark kendall as stan loomis, giancarlo esposito as leo pap, jai courtney as bob goodwin, rosaline elbay as judy goodwin, paz vega as ava mercer in a still from kaleidoscope
Esposito stars in the Netflix show, “Kaleidoscope,” an anthology series covering a span of 25 years that shows a crew of thieves planning a jewelry heist.
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So your characters can be scary, but how would you describe yourself?

I’m a communicator and a storyteller. Someone who is loving, compassionate, and kind and observant, and also intense.

Gustavo’s legitimate business was owning a chain of fast-food restaurants in Breaking Bad. What business would you want to own?

Well, it’s funny I was in that business onscreen, because I always wanted to have a restaurant. The great chiropractor [and friend] Dr. Dick Versendaal said, “You should open a restaurant and name it — this is 25 years ago — Giancarlo’s Almost Famous.” I think of Dick a lot [he died in 2014], because maybe now I should open one that says Giancarlo’s Famous Italian. I’m part Neapolitan. My father’s from Naples, my mother’s from Alabama, and I love food. I do love the idea of a restaurant. It’s like being onstage. If you’re the owner of a restaurant, you have to be accommodating, you have to be fun, you have to be lively, you have to cook good food, you have to have some expertise. All those things are the same recipe for what I do.

The Boys is an irreverent take on superheros. Do you have a favorite superhero?

Gosh, I’m so old school. I used to love Superman, because Superman just says it all. He’s just super. He’s so clean cut. His dress was minimal. His leotard was pretty cool. I come from a Broadway musical dance background, and he could just take that leap and fly. Mary Poppins was a superhero to me. She could just open that umbrella and go. She imparted discipline and instilled wonder in all that — and imagination.

If you weren’t acting, what would you be doing?

At this stage in my life, I'd be an archaeologist, because I would want to go back to look forward. I would want to go back to figure out how we preserve this planet.

With such a hectic workload, what do you do to recharge and stay in shape?

I meditate and do yoga to still my brain and allow me some peace. And then I swim. I have water meditation. I’m a runner as well as a cyclist. I do things that are solitary, and I don’t put in earphones because that is always connecting me to an electronic source that I want to get away from. Whether we know it or not, we’re affected by the phone and all of the electronic sources that we’re inundated with daily. For me, I divorce from electronics. I walk in the mountains. I try to be outside in nature, and I try to listen to my spirit.

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