The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Giancarlo Esposito (“Revolution”)

It’s a matter of public record that I’ve interviewed a huge-ass number of people over the years, but given that most of those interviews tend to be on the phone, it never fails to give me a warm feeling inside when someone actually remembers me from an in-person encounter. Then again, one presumes that the cast of “Breaking Bad” doesn’t sit down and break bread with journalists on their home turf of Albuquerque all that often, so maybe that makes it a little easier to remember such an occasion.

Either way, it was still nice to see the warm glow of recognition in Giancarlo Esposito’s eyes when I came up to him at the Television Critics Association press tour this summer. I mean, it’s certainly better to see that than the steely anger we came to expect from him in his final appearances as Gustavo Fring, right? Sadly, it was a short chat, so we didn’t even get a chance to talk about Gus’s last days (except in passing reference) or even his Best Supporting Actor Emmy nod, but you can still look back at the far lengthier conversation we had a few years ago to get a bit more insight into his feelings about Gus and his career as it stood prior to “Breaking Bad.” For now, though, Esposito is all about looking forward…really, really intensely.

Giancarlo Esposito: Hi, Will! Oh, my goodness, I remember that evening in Albuquerque. I totally remember that evening!

Bullz-Eye: I’m glad I’m not the only one!

GE: How are you? It’s good to see you again.

BE: It’s mutual, of course. So I’m curious: with “Revolution,” you’ve taken on another supporting role. Not that you don’t do them well, but do you have an active desire to kick it up to leading-man status, or do you just enjoy the challenge of making the most out of a smaller part.

GE: You know what? I always have a desire to make it to the big time. [Laughs.] But the more I’m able to put my heart and soul into a role and the fuller that character that is, then the more screen time it has, and for me that’s a plus. But I love doing what I do as a character actor, and I think that’s also important, because that enables me to strengthen my craft. And in this case, that supporting role is with some of the best folks in television. So to me, it’s a journey. I feel like there is a moment in time when there’ll be that moment to step up into films where I’m doing the lead and carrying everything, but right now I think that all is well.

I’m coming off this time with “Breaking Bad” and that’s been very special for me, and it’s a nice way to decompress and play a character that’s a heavy but probably a little more of a loose cannon, a little more psychotic. He’d love to think he’s always in control, but he does lose it. And he’s a guy who’s a little bit different than the last guy, but…audiences just love the bad guy! [Laughs.] And they love the character actor that can play him in a fuller way. So I’m all in. I’m all in with this “Revolution.” I think the show itself is about evolution of human beings, and on a grand scale. I mean, this is an epic show. I don’t know what people expect, but some seem to think that they may be seeing something they’ve seen before. They’re not. It’s a big show to do, a big show to produce…it’s a big, wide canvas of a show, but I think it’s not only a grand action/adventure series but it’s also a very dramatic, character-driven show as well.

BE: When I talked with Billy (Burke) earlier today, he said that he’d effectively said “yes” to “Revolution” before he’d even read the script, just based on who was affiliated with the show. Was that more or less the case for you as well?

GE: Well, I did actually read the script. [Laughs.] I’m always very interested in what the whole thing says. I’ve always loved Jon Favreau, and I’m fascinated with the way J.J. Abrams runs his family of filmmakers. I think he’s quite brilliant at that. Also, I hear about him from my children all the time, with “Super 8” and all that. They just love his work. But also there’s Eric Kripke, who I did not know but who I find to be a sharp mind and a really engaging writer. Smart. And to me, that’s high on the list. Did I want to be involved in something that was a little more commercial across the board? I didn’t think I did. But I realized once I said “yes” and we started working that I absolutely did. I want to work with people at the top of their game. Because, after all, I don’t want to do many more TV shows. I want this one to run a long time, and then I want to some major work…some more major work, because I’ve done some already…in feature films. But I want to be at home, I want to feel at home, and this is the right place to accomplish that.

BE: The last time I talked to you, you’d already made your directorial debut with “Gospel Hill,” but you were looking toward directing another film. Has that moved forward at all?

GE: Ah, I always think I’m moving forward. But sometimes I feel like I’m treading water. Or doing the moonwalk. [Laughs.] Unfortunately. Yes, it’s still alive, with two other projects I’d like to do, but…it’s funny: my career has changed, I’m at the precipice of a new day in my work, and I’m looking at everything in a new way. So the possibility that I would be cleaning the slate now truly exists, because new things are coming my way that are just of a higher caliber…and it breaks my heart. I want to tell films that are consciously driven, but I’m waking up to realize that a message has to be somewhat hidden for people to find rather than overt, and I feel as if there’s new projects coming my way, and I’m being encouraged to look at them seriously. The other part of it is, how do you get a film made today as somewhat of a neophyte director? I’ve directed one film. I hate that word to be in the same sentence with me, but I’ve gotta be humble, you know? I’ve been acting 47 years, and I’ve only directed one film, and that was three years ago. I used all of my acting ability to inform my directing, but I’m a newer director, which now…when I accept it, it excites me.

I looked at Jon Favreau today, and I said, “Favreau, I want you to talk to me. I think maybe I’d like you to be my mentor as a filmmaker.” Because I feel like I have that ability to be on his level as a filmmaker, of films that are big, monster films that people get a great amount of enjoyment out of. And there is some mythology in those films, too. And he looked at me and winked and said, “We will talk. It would be my honor.” So everything is new now. And redefined. Because people…I may have a little access than I had before. Am I still committed to doing socially driven films that have some kind of message? Absolutely. But here I am at “Revolution,” which has that message tailor-made in it while also being great entertainment. Does it have a lot of sword fighting and shooting and violence and all that? Yes. But for a reason. So if I just let go and surrender, I realize that I’ve been in the right place for awhile now. I’m just blown away that it could all come around like this.