Giancarlo Esposito, who played Gustavo Fring on Breaking Bad, discusses reprising the role on Better Call Saul, how this version of Gus will be different, and just how tasty those Pollos Hermanos’ curly fries really are.
Q: How excited are you to come back into the Breaking Bad world on Better Call Saul?
A: I’m extremely excited. I’m over the moon. I love this family of filmmakers a great deal. I know Better Call Saul is a little bit of a different show than Breaking Bad was and I love the success it’s had. It has such wonderful talent in the show. Bob Odenkirk is just stellar. Obviously the opportunity to tell some of the backstory of Gus and how he rose to power and how he came to be is always something I’ve wanted to explore in a very subtle way in the right venue. For me, it’s a perfect marriage and blend of a show that not only is great dramatically but also has some comedic elements as well.
Q: When Saul was announced, did you know or hope this day would eventually come?
A: To be honest with you, I felt that I had done all that I could do with Gus after Breaking Bad. I know that back in the day when [executive producer Vince Gilligan] was really trying to figure out what to do next, he said it would either be a show possibly about Gus, or a show about Saul. So, I’d been thinking about a “Rise of Gus” show. [But Vince and executive producer Peter Gould] knew more about Saul and had really started to peel the onion in that direction a long time ago, so I never expected that Gus would fit in the Saul world, especially because in the beginning, they were thinking about a comedy and that’s not the kind of thing that would leave room for a Gus Fring. So, I was really surprised when Vince started to speak to me about the possibility of Gus coming to this show.
Q: You’ve spoken a lot about the techniques (yoga, meditation, breathing) you used when you built Gus on Breaking Bad. Did you have to pick those back up?
A: This is a party Gus now — I just go have a bunch of whiskey and I get out there. [Laughs] It’s interesting you ask because when I first came back in September to do an episode, I realized even the folks at Saul behind the scenes have an expectation of what Gus is to be. Gus is so iconic and well-defined in their minds that I had to think about it for a moment because it’s well-defined in my mind, and I feel like I can play Gus in my sleep. I thought, “Don’t fall for that trap. Don’t be a parody of yourself. Take every moment and really deal with it as if you’re creating the character all over again.” Yoga is a very intrinsic part of my life, and I am not doing it the same way I did it before in the same order, but I do get myself to a place of quiet stillness. I do remind myself that I’m not trying to just mimic what I’ve done before but to make it completely new and fresh and alive… and that is the way to discover a whole new entry of playing Gus. So, it is still a big part of how I create the character but I’m allowing myself to be present in what the character is asking for in this particular version.
Q: How different is the Better Call Saul version of Gus versus who we knew and loved in Breaking Bad? What’s it been like to discover new elements of this character?
A: He’s a different guy. He’s a little fresher, a little less jaded. The time period alone takes us to a time where his look may be little bit different. I wanted him to be little more hopeful, a little more energetic, maybe not as definitive in some of his actions because he’s a Gus that we’ve never met before. That’s really what I’ve been focusing on trying to mine. Of course, the moments that are written that Gus is the heavy; Gus has the calm that is just unshakable and remarkably still, but there’s also the Gus that is more eager and just fresher to the scene of this world than he was in Breaking Bad. He is still terrifying, there is no doubt about it. … But I think he has an element of being quietly and smoothly manipulating. Those characteristics are being developed, and I’m doing everything backwards because of what we’ve already seen in Breaking Bad.
Q: Does it impact how you play Gus since you now know the character’s ultimate fate from Breaking Bad?
A: I’m a real optimist and always very hopeful [about] the way things are going in the world and the way I deal with my life. I don’t take yesterday into today. … Knowing the end doesn’t taint me, it allows me [to] have more options. I can choose to take the complete opposite of what you might do in making him just one-note and nefarious. Gus had so many different colors and was so kind and such a community member. Those are the elements of Gus that I’m interested in.
Q: What’s it been like being in Albuquerque and around familiar faces in the crew? Does that help you slide back into character?
A: It really does feel like home. Up until now, I’ve had to be incognito. I get off the plane, pull my hat down and keep going because I made a promise to try to make things as secret as possible. But I love Albuquerque. There’s a great blend of technology and spirituality, there’s great food here and great people. I get inspired immediately when I come to Albuquerque, because there is… a lot of high energy here, so it’s been really wonderful to come back. It’s been inspiring to be back. I think the people here don’t really know the gem that they have in regard to filming here. It’s a very specific look and specific feeling.
Q: Looking over your career, how have things changed since Breaking Bad? How much has playing this character meant to you?
A: I feel blessed to have played this character because it gave me the opportunity to do something that most actors sometimes may forget — to play less [instead of] more, to allow the audience to want to be interested, to bring them to you. How often do we get a chance to say less words but to do better acting because we have to be more subtle? For me to be in the moment of opportunity to create this guy again in a different way with some twists and turns is fascinating. This character has changed my life. It’s allowed me a different view of the way I do my work. I’m a very gregarious person — I gesticulate, I have high energy, I get excited and I’m emotional. To have to hold that all close to the vest and play a character like that once again has given me an opportunity to play it cool. But that being said, it’s also allowed people to know a very different side of me. Whenever I crack a joke now with anyone who is a terrific Breaking Bad fan, they’re really quite shocked to see that I have a great timing and that I’m kind of a fun guy. It’s exciting to fool people with who you really are through the characters that you play.
Q: Do you still hold out hope to someday do a “Rise of Gus” series, or do you think that arc will now be told on Better Call Saul?
A: As much as I’d like to be selfish… this is a show that’s about Saul. It’s not about Gus. If we have an opportunity to explore as much as we can about Gus’s background, that wold be great. But I think there’s always room to explore the underpinnings of his relationships to not only the cartel, but to family and his previous incarnation before he ever got to America. So, I’m very humble in regard to my being on this show and what this show is really about. There’s a whole other story that existed before I got into this, and I am hoping there is the possibility that we could get as deep as we can into Gus and his background, but I know that it’s a show about Saul, and Bob Odenkirk is so wonderful playing that character. We may have to wait a little bit longer to dive in completely and know exactly where we’re coming from in regard to Gus’s life.
Q: What are you most excited for fans to see in Better Call Saul Season 3?
A: I think one of the big excitements of the season is for the fans to see the connections between Mike and Gus. To see how Mike becomes an intrinsic part of the operation and to see a younger and more spry Hector Salamanca, where the hatred for Hector grew and how Gus gained the favor of Juan Bolsa possibly over Hector. I think those are fascinating relationships and elements that the fans will be really excited about because when we get into the whole world of the cartel and the intricate business with which they operate, I think the fans are going to be really excited to see how great a manipulator, and how grateful and stealth a business man Gus is. And they’re going to be really excited to see how he starts to take things over.
Q: Speaking of Gus the businessman, just how tasty are those Pollos Hermanos curly fries?
A: I must tell you that the curly fries are irresistible! They really are. [Laughs] The whole advent of this advertising campaign to try to tease Gus coming back to this particular show… to make a cheesy commercial that’s for family was very exciting for me. It’s great to feel like you’re part of a family of filmmakers. To be able to exercise creativity that goes far and beyond just acting is really awesome.
Better Call Saul Season 3 premieres Monday, April 10 at 10/9c on AMC. Receive show exclusives by signing up for the Insiders Club.