TV

"I still have the jacket I died in": Giancarlo Esposito talks Gus Fring and 'Breaking Bad'

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Tom Ellen
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Giancarlo Esposito Breaking Bad

Revealing the secrets of playing the ultimate drug dealing kingpin

Hi Giancarlo. Where are you right now?

I’m visiting a friend in the Netherlands, in a little town outside Amsterdam. And, hey, a bunch of butterflies just flew past.

It sounds idyllic. Are the Dutch as Breaking Bad-crazy as the rest of the world?

Oh yeah. I think they’re afraid to use my real name here – the Dutch are so polite they don’t want to mispronounce it – so in the street, people just shout, “Gus!” And then they want to hear their favourite Gus lines: [adopts highly unsettling Gustavo Fring voice] “I will kill your wife, I will kill your son, I will kill your infant daughter.” And people often ask me “What does a man do?” so that I can give them the “A man provides for his family” speech. Smart people love that speech.

The show celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. Did you have any idea how big it would become when you signed on?

You can never predict these things. But I knew the writing was good, and I definitely had a feeling about it. I came in on Season 2, and I think by Season 4 everyone on set could feel that things were heating up, that the show was getting bigger and bigger.

Breaking Bad

What’s been your strangest fan experience in the past decade?

I was doing Comic-Con one year and a gentleman came up to me and lifted his trousers, which I thought was a little freaky – until he twisted his leg around and on his calf was a tattoo of Walter White. I laughed, and said, “OK, so where am I?” A year later, at a different autograph signing, the same guy comes up to me, hikes up his trousers – I’m thinking, “Here’s this freak again” – and shows me the other calf: a tattoo of Gus Fring. That’s got to be the strangest. But it was beautiful work.

Is it true that you used yoga to achieve Gus’s eerily calm demeanour?

Yes. I made a decision early on about Gus: I didn’t want him to be like Tony Montana or one of the Sopranos. I wanted him to be an upstanding guy who was hiding in plain sight. Your next-door neighbour. But I used yoga to give him that intensity.

How so?

By controlling your breathing and allowing yourself space and time, you can control the intensity with which you study someone. And I think that’s what made people uncomfortable with my performance as Gus: the way he studied people. For instance, if you remember the box-cutter scene [where Gus slits his henchman’s throat]: there are no words, just this awful, silent warning to Walt and Jesse.

Did you keep any props from the set?

I like clothes, so I still have the jacket I died in. And I also have the ‘Two-Face’ bust of my head and shoulders they used to make the prosthetic [for when Gus is blown up in Season 4]. I gave that to my eldest daughter because she really liked that episode and she put it in her bedroom. My youngest used to momentarily freak out at it every time she walked in.

Gus Fring Breaking Bad Better Call Saul

Nice. Now, we wouldn’t normally bother asking an American about ‘soccer’, but since you’re half Italian and were born in Denmark, have you been watching the World Cup?

I haven’t kept up with this one. As an Italian, I’d usually root for Italy, but I also really like Brazil. I made a trip to Sao Paulo a while back and got to see the Brazilians play in a beautiful brand new stadium. I really felt that soccer energy.

You’re a stylish chap, Giancarlo. What fashion item should no man be without?

For me, it would be a hat. I’m a hat guy. I have them made by a man in Oregon – Penman Hats. He makes them by hand. But if you took my hat away, my second choice would be a handkerchief or pocket scarf. A handkerchief is essential for any gentleman.

Finally, what are your thoughts on Trump? Over here, we’ve been watching the family border separations in disbelief…

It is shocking that this is the political landscape right now. Trump is getting to work out his dream for the world, and I hope that doesn’t continue for too much longer. Hopefully it’s waking people up, but I’m surprised that we’ve allowed what’s happened to happen. At least we’re not living in a country where people hang each other, but we’re moving towards that, which is unfortunate. Honestly, I know things aren’t perfect for you guys – and you have your problems with Trump-like people getting popular over there – but right now I really feel that Europe is the place to be. 

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(Images: Rex/AMC)