Being Gus Fring (again): Giancarlo Esposito talks Better Call Saul
TV villains have come and gone. Each as nasty or bad as the other, but there have been very few that have burned bright, long after they've left our screens.
One such character is Breaking Bad's Gustavo Fring. A contained and seemingly emotionless soul, who is happy to slit the throat of a lieutenant just to illustrate a point.
Except, he's not gone. He's back in Season three of Better Call Saul: Bad's spin off that takes us back a few years before Walter and his drug making enterprise.
For actor Giancarlo Esposito, the prospect of sliding back into Gus was intriguing.
“It was something I thought would never happen. To be in a show called “Better Call Saul” and recreate my character, Gustavo Fring.
But the stars lined up and I was convinced by Vince Gilligan and the writing team. They would allow me to relive a character that I created before. And maintain the integrity with which I did that. But I had to think of something else, because no matter what, we’d seen what happens to Gus.
We know him quite well, so what would be the reason for me to come back that would line up with my passion for him to be different?
And so, when I spoke to Vince, he gave me his word that they would mine some information that we hadn't learned before. But it would have to be by ‘stealth’. If you remember, Gus says very little, but says so much with his intent and with his eyes and his physical body, so it is an interesting balancing of writing and acting to be able to portray Gus again”.
While keen to not give too much away, Esposito says we may get an idea of how Gus came about and what motivates him.
“I'm hoping that you will see a man who is a little more vulnerable, but has an intention to do a business that can be better than what already exists. He doesn't want to just do it for his ego or the glory, but he wants to do it the best he can, because that's who he is
You'll see someone who knows what he wants, but hasn’t completely sussed out how to get it. Yet, he has put the wheels in motion to manipulate certain people to work toward that end.
And there is a moment in this season that something does happen and you go ‘why did he just do that? Why wouldn’t he just go down this way?” You may even know the answer, when this situation occurs, but I won’t tell you what it is. I’ll wait for you to see for yourself and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about”.
It’s a rare opportunity for an actor to strip back the layers that he created and take the character in a different direction, without changing what drives him to his end.
It was an opportunity Giancarlo was interested in exploring.
“I'm hoping that you do see a younger, I don't know if I'd use the word 'softer', but a guy who is finding his confidence and pulling together all the pieces.
But, I’m constantly reminding myself not to be a parody of Gus. To take every moment and play it with a new and simple freshness. It’s a deconstruction, but you know I’m very careful because this is a dangerous character to play because you go to some very vulnerable and dangerous places in your personality.
And actors have power to completely morph and transform into that character. But I’m careful not to cross the line. I certainly feel this character could take me over in a heartbeat because there are so many things that I have loaned to him, lent him from my life and personality that could certainly spin out of control”.
What makes Esposito’s Fring so very scary is his stillness and his very ordinariness. He could be anyone moving through the crowd at any given time.
“That’s what I wanted!! Vince Gilligan wrote a stage direction in episode one that tantalized my whole being. And from that day on, that stage direction was hiding in plain sight. It planted a seed in my brain and when they saw my work, they were inspired. I was inspired by that line that Vince wrote. He was inspired by how I acted that episode.
And I’ve had that feeling too. I’ve had a creepy feeling about the people on the train next to me or on the bus, or when I pass them on the street and I think ‘that man’s not a Wall Street businessman’ even though he has a briefcase and everything else.
That’s not what that person does. You could feel the vibe. And this is what I wanted for Gus”.
Season Three of Better Caul Saul is now streaming on Stan with new episodes added each Tuesday.