Gus Fring, Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul (2009 – 2023)
Spanning 14 years and two Emmy-winning shows, Gustavo Fring is the role that has turned Giancarlo Esposito into a pop culture icon. First in ‘Breaking Bad’, and then in its prequel ‘Better Call Saul’, Giancarlo found a serene stillness in Gus that has become central to his menace. “I realized something about myself, that’s probably true for many others, that we’re uncomfortable with space so we fill it with a laugh, or whatever it is,” he told Mr Feelgood in our profile interview. “I decided not to do that with Gus, and to fill that awkward space with a breath and an investigation.” The drug kingpin and fried chicken entrepreneur is often deservedly found topping polls of the greatest TV villains of all-time. And although the summer of 2023 marks the end of ‘Better Call Saul’ as its final episodes airs, Giancarlo has been teasing that he hopes showrunner Vince Gilligan creates a Gus-centered new spin-off to the ‘Breaking Bad’ franchise.
Moff Gideon, The Mandalorian (2019 – 2023)
Created by John Favreau for Disney+, in what was the first live action TV spin-off for the ‘Star Wars’ franchise, ‘The Mandalorian’ has succeeded in the difficult mission of winning the hearts of the devoted fans of the original films. Moff Gideon is a fierce warlord who is the main antagonist across the three seasons of the hit show, and has been called the series’ answer to Darth Vader. Although (spoiler alert!) he appears to have been killed off in the season three finale, Giancarlo has left his mark on the ‘Star Wars’ universe forever, and has earned two Emmy nominations for the role.
Narrator / Dr Edward Ruskins, Dear White People (2017 – 2019)
“The writers of this program are depending on my ethnic but non-threatening voice to explain things they are too lazy to set up traditionally,” says Giancarlo, in the opening lines of ‘Dear White People’, a Netflix series about racial unrest at an Ivy League university. Despite primarily being a faceless voice narrating the story, Giancarlo brings a mixture of authority and humor to the role and is the foundation on which the show’s message is built. Later in the series, he also makes an on-screen cameo, as former professor Dr Edward Ruskins.
Buggin’ Out, Do the Right Thing (1989)
Giancarlo shines as the fast-talking Buggin’ Out in ‘Do the Right Thing’, one of four collaborations with director Spike Lee that helped establish him as a talented actor on the rise in the late ’80s and early ’90s. The role is central to film’s commentary about racial tensions in New York, and Giancarlo has since spoken about the emotion that went into filming the climactic riot scene when the themes of oppression and racism were very real to its cast. “The riot stuff at the end was scary” he said. “When you have to get physical, something takes over. There were some intense moments, with people getting in touch with how they really felt.”
Ramón Cruz, The Get Down (2016)
Although Baz Luhrmann’s ambitious musical drama only ran for one season, it packed plenty of high notes into its short life. Giancarlo played Ramón Cruz, a fiery Pentecostal pastor who disapproves of his talented daughter Mylene’s (Herizen Guardiola) pursuit of a secular music career. Giancarlo came from a musical theater background himself, starring in multiple Broadway shows as a schoolboy, and thoroughly enjoyed his collaboration with a visionary known for his modern spin on the genre . “Baz is amazing,” he said. “I want to be him in another incarnation, because he gets all that he wants, has a very big vision, and nothing stops him.”