Prolific film and television actor Giancarlo Esposito made an appearance at Wizard World St. Louis Comic Con over the weekend, where on Sunday he participated in a funny, insightful, and often inspiring discussion of his work. Esposito has been in the business since the late 1970s and has appeared in films such as “Taps”, “School Daze”, and “Do the Right Thing”, but recently he has achieved new levels of fame thanks to his role as the sinister Gus Fring on “Breaking Bad”, in addition to appearances on shows like “Once Upon a Time” and “Revolution”.
When asked about how he was able to relate to playing such a terrible person as Gus, Esposito said, “Well at least I try to justify them because I believe people are intrinsically good. I believe we jump off the rails sometimes and we do some bad things. I never like to classify them that way…I think even if we are able to see the humanity in the bad guy then we are able to wrap ourselves around being human.”
Playing Gus has still, perhaps, changed the way people look at him. When asked if he intimidates people, he said, “I think now I do especially after ‘Breaking Bad’. People are a little afraid to stand up and be who they are because they feel like they are in the presence of a legend but…I don’t want to act with people who are afraid of me, I want to act with people who are willing to put on the gloves.”
Esposito did say that at the beginning of his career he was the one who was intimidated by others. “I worked with George C. Scott at fifteen years old and he was a powerhouse of an actor, very intimidating….I remember George C. Scott having a three page monologue in ‘Taps’ and he would walk off and go back to his chess match and I couldn’t believe he wasn’t looking at his lines and every take was exactly the same…whatever it was in three pages exactly the same every time. He had an impeccable mind and brain and he had probably a photographic memory of what he was doing. When I was onscreen with him I was always intimidated.”
Esposito also said that he doesn’t watch a lot of his films. “Sometimes not until years later. I had a moment last week where I had a scene with James Franco and I thought after I finished it—it was a physical thing—‘Oh, I should have done this.’ You can’t second guess yourself, do what’s in your heart at the moment. Sometimes I think if I had done this it might have been better but that’s my busy mind going all is not perfect when in reality all is well.” He says he is very critical though. “A film like ‘Last Holiday’ I watched half of the movie, I didn’t really want to watch myself. A film like ‘Waiting to Exhale’ I’ve never seen…it was my first time playing a gay husband, I didn’t want to watch it, I didn’t know if I was doing it right. I remember seeing ‘School Daze’ for the first time and I had to leave the theater, I loved the movie but when my face was just larger than life in that movie…I had to leave.”
A lot of people tend to see Esposito as an actor who primarily plays bad guys thanks to “Breaking Bad”, but Esposito says that isn’t necessarily the case. “I play a lot of good guys, probably more bad than good from what you’ve seen,” he says. “This year you’ll see me in some roles that are forceful but not bad.” He added that he plays a police captain in the upcoming film “Money Monster”, directed by Jodie Foster and starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts, and that he has a comedy coming out called “Brothers-in-Law”. “I’m trying to make the balance,” he says. “I like roles that are full, whether they’re good or bad, that allow me the opportunity to do my best and fullest work….I want to play roles that allow us to see more of our humanity in each other, and for me those roles are starting to come.”
One of those roles is that of Jorge in the second “Maze Runner” movie, titled “The Scorch Trials”, which comes out this September. Esposito expressed a lot of enthusiasm for the series, and when it was mentioned that he wasn’t to be seen in the recently released trailer for the film, he said, “I believe that they want me to be a surprise, which is a good thing. My fourteen-year-old daughter had read all the novels and they’re all really great books. The key is to always get an element of the book into the movie and the first one is a good film, it’s a great setup….James [Dashner, the author of the books] has really reached deep into the apocalyptic world they live in but he’s avoided being too sci-fi about it but having more humanity about it. So I feel like these novels are really great and they allow young people into a world where they can use their imagination….Of course with all of it…many young people want to know that the film will be as good as the book or that it will be in line with the way the book was written. And I feel like this second film ‘Scorch Trials’ is that. I think it has a lot more action and it’s a lot more exciting that the first film because with the first film you have to do the setup. And now we know the story we can jump right in.”
I believe that they want me to be a surprise. Which is a good thing. My 14 year old daughter had read al lthe novels and theyr’e really great books. The key is to always get an element of ht ebook itno the movie and the first one is a good film, it’s a great setup….so james has really reached dep in to the apocalyptic world they live in but he’s avoided being too sci-fi about it but having more humanity abou tit. So I fell like this novels are really great and they allow young opeople into aworld first where they can use there imagination. Of course with all of it with may young people as well they want to know tha the film will be as good as the book or that it will be in line with the way the book was written. And I feel like this second film Scorth trials is that. I think it has a lot more action and it’s a lot more exciting thatn the first film because with the first fiml you have to do the setup. AND now we know the sory we can jump right in.”
Esposito also talked about the ambiguity of his character in the film. “I think the audience’s expectation is that I’m going to be a bad guy,” he said. “I believe they would like it to be a surprise because they would like you to figure out whether or not Jorge is a bad guy.” He did say, “The penultimate bad guy in ‘Maze Runner’ is the guy I wanted to play…maybe it’s because I think the bad guys in movies excite people. But interestingly enough in this film that’s’ not what I do which I think is a lot better for my message.”
Esposito also talked about a film he just wrapped on called “The Long Home”, directed by James Franco and based on the book by William Gay (incidentally, fellow Wizard World St. Louis attendee Robin Lord Taylor also has a part in that film). Esposito called the story “a very heavy heavy novel but it’s a part of our American culture. It’s a really great book but to do it in film in nineteen days and for me my part as the narrator of the movie, William Tell Oliver, I had to believe it.” Esposito described the process of having to go straight from a plane to getting into the character and the 1940s setting. “Acting is believing…if you think it and desire it and you want it then putting that idea into the universe is going to start to cultivate it and then you have to do something after that. You’ve got to follow through….I looked in the mirror and started talking to myself and I believed it. People will tell you you look great but it’s how do you feel inside and that’s what we have to judge for ourselves every day of our lives.”
Esposito talked more about “The Long Home” when asked what his favorite role he’s played was. “The one I’m doing now. That’s my pat answer,” he replied. “I got on set with James Franco and he had emailed me in the middle of the night and said you’ve got to be in my movie…but he kept looking at me like fans look at me like he’s trying to figure it out…he finally had to come over and say to me, he said, ‘Man, like you’re a chameleon, there’s no trace of Gus,’ and I said, ‘Well that’s kind of what I do.’ I say it because I have favorites…I love every role that I do because I have to relate to it and find the love in it. However actors, we can be very insecure people and we’re only good until our next role and if we’re not working now we always feel like when will we ever work again because not all actors in the world have the chance to exercise their craft.”
“Whenever I audition for something I say thank you for allowing me to work today and exercise my craft,” Esposito said. “Because I still love what I do. That’s the connection. If you love what you do you never work a day in your life…because if you have the passion and love and desire for what you’re putting your heart and your soul’s effort into there can only be greatness that comes out of it…what matters is that you really put yourself into it and that gives you the juice that’s worth living for, and that’s really important.”
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