The 'Revolution' of Giancarlo Esposito

by Jarett Wieselman 1:41 PM PDT, September 21, 2012
Photo: NBC

On Sunday, Giancarlo Esposito will face off against his Breaking Bad brother, Aaron Paul, two Downton dudes (Brendan Coyle, Jim Carter) a dearly departed Mad man (Jared Harris) and last year's winner, Peter Dinklage, in the Best Supporting Actor in a Drama category at the 2012 Primetime Emmy Awards. And odds are on the first-time nominee to also become a first-time winner for his career-making performance as Gus Fring.

But Esposito has more than one reason to celebrate this week as his new series, Revolution, premiered to NBC's best premiere ratings in five years on Monday! ETonline sat down with the 54-year-old actor to find out what winning an Emmy would mean to him, why Gus Fring almost never existed and what you can expect next from Revolution!

ETonline: When you first signed on to Breaking Bad, did you have any idea Gus Fring would become such a major player?
Giancarlo Esposito: No, I thought I would be a glorified waiter for 3 episodes and then I'd be out of there. But I always played him like a guy with a big secret. Acting is all about choices, and I made the choice that I wanted Gus to have a big secret. I didn't tell anybody what the secret was, but I think [the writers] saw that and decided, "Well, we better give him a big secret." [laughs]

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ETonline: What was the conversation when Vince Gillian explained the plan for Gus to you?
Esposito: There was never any conversation. I did the last two episodes of season two, and a week later they called me up asking if I would come back in season three. Of course I wanted to, but I also didn't just want to come back as a guest star, I wanted to be part of a family. After the second episode of season two I realized they saw something in Gus, but they still didn't know the plan. I've since spoken to our wonderful writers and they said I was only slated to come back for 2 episodes in season three. But I was so inspired by what they were giving me, they ended up being inspired by what I was giving them, and this is what came out of that.

ETonline: Well, to bookend that, what was the conversation like when you were told Gus would be killed off?
Esposito: We'd just come back from a very long hiatus to start season four. Towards the end of [episode] 3, Vince asked to see me in his office – and that's never a good call to get. It's like going to the principal’s office. I fully anticipated him telling me it was over. So we talked for a bit and then he got up to close the door. I said, "Hey, Vince, sit down – no need to do that." That happened twice and he got very uncomfortable, because when I said "Sit Down," I said it like Gus. Finally I let him close the door and he told me it was time to take Gus out. It was so respectful because gave me 10 episodes to work with and included me in the process of discussing how to kill him off.

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ETonline: How was the role affected your career?
Esposito: It completely changed my life. There was this renewal of my career. When I went to do Breaking Bad, I had no agent. The perception of me has changed dramatically – people say there's a whole new respect for me. They're looking back and shocked to see I've been working for 47 years.

ETonline: How much extra thought did you put into your follow-up project given the success of Breaking Bad?
Esposito: It's a high expectation to move into Revolution. It was a slightly uncomfortable decision to make because people are now going to look at my name and there's an expectation now. How do I follow up Gus? What if I fall on my ass?

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ETonline: What convinced you Revolution was the right project?
Esposito: I wanted to be on something that spoke to the world we’re moving into, I wanted to be on something that spoke to where we've come from and I wanted to be with the best. Once J.J. Abrams was mentioned, I knew it was getting involved with another visionary. [Eric] Kripke is brilliant and the show deals with human nature, sciences, morals and mythology. I liked all of those things, and the idea we could return to a simpler way of life. I like living in a world of justice and dictatorships, because that means we're talking about politics.

ETonline: What appealed to you about Captain Neville?
Esposito: He is the enforcer of justice, he is the last step before total anarchy, he wants good for people – but essentially he should be a good man who would never shoot anybody. But he also understands that people aren't themselves in this new world, so he has to have the strength to overcome his own self and pull the trigger. I also felt like this was a chance to have fun. When you're doing a grand epic adventure show like this, it's all about character. But I told myself, "Don't forget to have fun" because Neville can enjoy it a little too much.

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ETonline: This Sunday may forever attach the adjective "Emmy Winner" to your name. What would it mean to you to win?
Esposito: It would be a validation that I should always trust my instincts. I never know if I'm doing it right or not, but I do know if it lands. Do I want to win? It would be great to win. That would be another validation that I am worthy. To get rid of that last little piece of insecurity inside me that questions whether or not I belong where I am. I just have to own it, know it and run with it.

ETonline: Any thoughts about your speech?
Esposito: It'll be nice because up until now, I didn't know what to do. When Melissa Leo put out that ad it almost cost her The Oscar, so I wasn't sure if I should campaign or anything [laughs]. I decided to sit quietly and not do anything because you can't even vote for yourself, so I just say thank you. There's a huge amount of love and gratitude for the people who voted for me. I hope they see the depth and layers in my performance and want to vote for me. I'm nervous, but there's nothing I can do besides be who I am. I've spent years doing what I love for the sake of doing what I love, and I have no plan to change that.

Revolution airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on NBC.