‘Better Call Saul’s Giancarlo Esposito on His Emmy Noms & ‘The Mandalorian’s Return
Breaking Bad‘s Gustavo Fring has become one of TV’s most recognizable villains. Expertly played by Giancarlo Esposito, the character continues to stir up trouble in AMC’s prequel spinoff Better Call Saul.
The actor is Emmy-nominated once again for playing the Los Pollos Hermanos proprietor, this time for his Season 5 performance. But that’s not the only accolade under the actor’s Emmy belt this year. He’s also nominated in the Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series category for his role as Moff Gideon in Disney+’s hit flagship Star Wars series, The Mandalorian.
The actor, who says he feels as though he’s already won just by being nominated, spoke with TV Insider ahead of the awards show about how he continues to bring versatility from franchise to franchise. Esposito, who will return as Stan Edgar in Season 2 of Amazon Prime Video’s The Boys, also opens up about the impact Gus Fring has had on his career, hopes for Better Call Saul‘s final season, musings on his Mandalorian character Moff Gideon, and much more.
You’ve been nominated for not just one, but two Emmys this year. What was your initial reaction to this news?
Giancarlo Esposito: I totally flipped out. I guess I knew it could be a possibility cause I was in a number of categories, but I jumped five feet in the air and came down with tears in my eyes of gratitude. It’s just really exciting, and for two pretty terrific shows. So to be honored with the nomination is like, I’ve already won. It’s kind of funny. Cause I wasn’t expecting at all to hear on that particular day. I thought the Emmys were announced on [another day]. So I was completely taken by surprise and that’s the best way for it to happen.
The Breaking Bad Universe has become a pop culture phenomenon over the years, and you’ve been playing Gustavo Fring for quite some time. How does it feel being able to play in that world still with Better Call Saul?
It blows me away. It feels great to still be in this world because I still feel like I’m a newbie. I still feel like we don’t know much about who Gus really is. There’s still room for me to be able to interpret and express some of the interior nuances of who Gus really is. Whereas, years ago I thought “Gosh television, you’re going to be sick of it in three or four years because you’re playing the same character over and over again”.
Because I have a character who is made up of mystery and intrigue and what we don’t know about him is as exciting as what we do, I’ve had a really interesting ride with him. To be specific, going back from Breaking Bad to Better Call Saul, it was something I had to think about. How do I recreate this character a different way?
In Better Call Saul, Gus doesn’t shy away from calling the shots or doing jobs himself, whether its burning down his own Los Pollos Hermanos restaurant or calling that hit on Lalo (Tony Dalton). In Breaking Bad he didn’t get his hands dirty until that infamous box-cutter episode. Would you say he’s more ruthless in Better Call Saul than he seemed in Breaking Bad?
It’s a great point that I don’t know if I’ve ever looked at it quite that way, but now I would probably have to agree. I wanted him to be a little more irritated, a little more hotheaded. Whereas in Breaking Bad, Gus really kept all of his chips close to the back. He always masked his feelings and in Better Call Saul I wanted you to see a little bit more of this feeling. I was doing a scene with Mike (Jonathan Banks) outside of Los Pollos Hermanos where I was quite upset about the sacrifices I had to make and I thought my emotion was too high, but I carried that feeling and was speaking to our wonderful ADR consultant, who said “No, I think it’s perfect”.
So he is a little less controlled than Gustavo in Breaking Bad, but he has to get there. And I always remind myself to play a little broader and probably a little more elusive. He’s dealing with Lalo Salamanca, who is just a wild card. They’re playing this really interesting chess match with each other, not only with words, but also with emotions and feelings and physicality. I can’t wait for what happens in Season 6 between Lalo and Gus because we know that Lalo isn’t quite around in Breaking Bad. I’m hoping I get a chance to exact some really horrible thing on him. And I love Tony Dalton, he’s a great actor.
Speaking of Gus and Lalo, do you think there’s a chance that Gus is aware that his assassination attempt wasn’t successful in the Season 5 finale? Has he set up alternate plans despite being told that the job was done?
I don’t think Gus is going to believe that call. We haven’t gotten there yet, but I think Gus is too smart not to have intel in other places that would allow him to know that it didn’t go down the way it was supposed to. I know they set this up so beautifully, the cell service down [in the tunnels] sucks [Laughs]. But I can’t imagine he wouldn’t have an alternate plan if this went awry and there’s too many variables that could go off the rail.
So I can’t wait to see how they figure that out when we start filming the sixth [season]. I think they already have plans. These writers are so brilliant, so astute. They set us up as an audience so beautifully. I went “No. Oh darn. These are professional hit men. All this stuff and it doesn’t work”. I’m like, “Gus is going to be pretty frigging angry now”.
Viewers have certainly underestimated Lalo as a character, but do you think Lalo underestimates Gus as a rival?
I think Lalo respects Gus, but in a way that he knows that Gus is a thinker. I don’t think he really realizes how much of a warrior Gus is yet. Lalo is so deliciously and wonderfully played by Tony Dalton. He’s a scary guy. You don’t know what he’ll do or what to expect from him. But he probably doesn’t realize yet how much Gus really hates his family because Gus is a classy guy. I think when Lalo sees that, he thinks Gus thinks he’s more sophisticated. He doesn’t realize that Gus can be brutal. I couldn’t see it in the hands of any other actor. It’s brilliant, he doesn’t fear anything, he doesn’t care. I think it’s going to be quite the fireworks between these two guys.
You’re also nominated for your role as Moff Gideon in The Mandalorian, what was it like getting to step into the Star Wars Universe and can you tease anything for Season 2?
Yeah, Season 2 is coming out sooner than you know. I love playing in the world of Mando because it’s playing in the world with myths. The power of myth and mythology plays a big part in this live action space western, The Mandalorian, and we’ve never been able to tune in every week and see a show quite like this. So I love that it exemplifies the hero’s journey, that’s what Mando’s journey is. What does he have to give up to protect the child? Why does he protect the child? What does he get from that? I love that he’s coupled with this Baby Yoda that he has to be in service to.
I get a chance to wear a Cape and have a black lightsaber. This is a dynamic world, that I’ve ventured into, and like so many before me, I feel honored. I feel even better that I’m in this world at the hands of Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau who are elevating this storytelling in a new way. It seems like it’s a real Western. It’s made with this technology that we’ve never seen before to create the world around us that is very, very specific and has a depth and quality to it that is futuristic. So I feel like this has been a great gift to be in this world with such great partnerships with such great actors.
You’ll also be appearing in Season 2 of Amazon Prime Video’s The Boys as Vought head Stan Edgar. Is there anything you can tease about Stan’s return?
I really loved this show and I loved the connection between Stan Edgar and Vought and what Vought really stands for. He goes back many, many years, and so I can tease that you might be surprised at the origins of this company. I love the relationship that starts to take place between Homelander (Antony Starr) and Stan. Homelander is a powerful character who thinks he owns it all, but Stan finds his weakness. I think you’ll find that he’s very gracious in pointing that weakness out.
But the elements of the show that I really love are that he has superheroes who have these powers, but where’d they come from? Were they born with those powers or is it something else? And what makes these superheroes so great is it they’re having a human experience in a super hero body and they come at odds with each other and at odds with Stan.
He has to take care of all these zoo animals and make sure they’re okay and make sure they’re doing what he needs them to do. But also there’s the show element of it that reflects what our world has become. A world of politics. So The Boys is ahead of the game in how it depicts the world that it lives in, but also reflects the world that we’re in.
Viewers have come to know you as a great TV villain or “bad guy,” would you say that playing Gus Fring has opened doors for roles like Moff Gideon and Stan Edgar?
Well, I could only imagine that my success has allowed more access for [producers, writers and directors] to see me and go “Oh”, and they think they want [a performance like Gus]. And that’s okay for me because when I read their script, I realized, oh, they think they want that, but they really don’t [and I’ll give them something different]. I think that’s why Eric Kripke loves me so much because I could just do that. Although I want to say no to your question, I’m going to say yes, because once people directly ask for that and then I showed them something else, they go, “oh!”
Stan Edgar wouldn’t get violent. He doesn’t need to get violent, he’s way above that. If Gus is in a position where he’s dealing with the cartel in a certain way he shows that he can take care of his own business and do it by his own hands. And boy, did I love Episode 401 of Breaking Bad — “Box Cutter” — where he showed that. Moff Gideon’s a samurai going into battle. He’s ready right there, he’s not going to come back later and send a hit man to kill you. He’s going to chop off your head with his lightsaber.
I always feel like if I’m doing my gig, I’m inspiring the writer, and if they’re doing their gig, they’re inspiring me. They see things that I do in my performance and they allow that to be a part of the character. So it’s given me the exposure to play some pretty firm and scary characters, but with all their nuance and differences. I love that I’ve had a chance to experiment and play in the playground of these characters and to find out who they are. Each one of us speaks differently.
Better Call Saul, Season 6, TBA, AMC
The Mandalorian, Season 2, TBA, Disney+
The Boys, Season 2 Premiere, Friday, September 4, Amazon Prime Video