Parish Q&A — Giancarlo Esposito’s Cathartic Ride Through Parish

On AMC’s Parish Giancarlo Esposito plays Gray Parish, a father and family man who is haunted by the violent, unsolved murder of his son. In his search for closure, he finds himself swept back into the high-octane criminal underworld of New Orleans that he left behind years earlier. We spoke to Esposito about the emotional release of taking on this character, why Gray resonated so deeply with him, and how Gray’s internal darkness could give way to light.
Let’s talk about how you became involved with the show—you’ve mentioned in other interviews that the show took about 8 years to get to the screen. Can you talk a bit about the early days of getting all the pieces together? 
Josh Kesselman, who was my manager for many years but is my producing partner now, gave me a call telling me he had a script for a project called The Driver that had been made in the UK. There was interest in making it in the US. He asked me if I was interested in reading it, I read it, I watched the British version, and I was immediately hooked. It dropped us into the life of an everyman, a guy who just couldn't make ends meet and was really struggling. The collapse of his emotional life due to trauma, the death of his son, and the disconnection from his remaining child and wife was just overwhelming to me. He had a business, so he was resourceful in a certain way, which gave him a little bit of an edge. He was a thinker and a guy who could try to figure out how to run a business, but that was failing as well. We were dropped into the life of a very desperate human being.
Somewhere inside me, I recognized that person. I've been through some trauma in my life. I’ve gone through bankruptcy, which was a really tough time. This character was suffering, and he was surrounded by shame. I recognized that. I went, "Oh, that's so painful. When did feel that?" Because I know I’ve felt that shame too. For me, I could never talk about what I went through in those brutal years in Connecticut when I lost my home and my marriage fell apart. I had to really try to recreate myself and start all over again. So, I recognized that pain and I wondered if I still carried it. Is that the reason why I was so galvanized by this show?
So, this character really resonated with you!  
Oh, absolutely. I also saw a man who was hiding something. Gray Parish has hidden a past that he's put behind him. So, I started looking a little closer. I thought, "Oh, so he doesn't know yet if he's a good man." And I thought, “Am I a good man?” That was another theme that really struck me. I asked myself that a lot in my own life, because I have four daughters and I was always wondering, am I raising them right?
Gray has lost a child. What preceded that? What led up to that? What was their relationship like before that? He was lost to the world first and then lost his life thereafter. All of these elements were just stirring around inside me. The idea with a US version of the show was to place it in New Orleans and to change it completely. It's nothing like the original, but we wanted to use the original sort of as mile markers.
Using the original as a jumping off point to delve into other places?
Yes, and to really go deep into certain places. The original stirred up something else inside of me because our lead stops and thinks he sees his son. I thought, "Oh, that's the ghost. That's the ghost of a family member, and that kind of trauma never leaves you." What really appealed to me was the idea of this ghost of the former Gray, of who he used to be haunting him, because he hasn't come clean with his family about his past. We find out that in this past life he did something really well. And boy, he's really missing that in his current life. When he closes his eyes does he dream about the day when he was a contender, when he was somebody? So, what happened? He wants that again! He feels pushed around by the world and he feels broken.
We would joke that Gray is just shy of being able to get the medication he needs to put a cap on his depression and that was the last straw for me. The depression part of it was something that I could taste — that was palpable for me. When things don't go right, they always crash. You get into a place where you expect that, and that's depression. Your outlook on life is it's never going to get any better and you're always going to have to fight for something. When you're in survival mode, you're not thriving. Survival mode is fear. I felt that.
It seems like the experience of taking on this character was cathartic for you in many ways.
Yes! Part of this journey of working on this show for me has been, in a way, a healing. It’s been an exorcism of the demon that's always been on my shoulder saying, "You got to keep fighting because no one's going to give it to you." So, this catalyzed my willingness to show myself, really show myself. I’ve played characters who were ugly, mean, reprehensible, and that take control of the chaos. This guy can't take control of the chaos. He can't do it, and he's lost. Parish has been a gift. It's a gift to me.
When we meet Gray, he’s a man who’s still deeply grieving for the loss of his son. He can’t seem to wrap his mind around the fact that his wife and daughter have managed to carry on in a way that he has not. Can you talk a bit about Gray’s mental state at the top of the series—he’s doing his best to be present for his family, but it seems that his mind and his heart are really elsewhere. 
Gray's looking for an answer. It’s hard to let go of a tragedy or trauma when you don't have an answer. I think many of us are really attached to getting an answer. Sometimes there is no answer and we have to figure out a way to move on. So, there's anger, there's fear, there's resentment that his wife and daughter are ready to move on, he’s like, "How can you move on?" They don’t know what’s happened to his son, he’s just gone. There’s no closure.
Gray isn’t able to find a place for himself where he can give himself any semblance of closure. That's one of the many pieces that leads to the whole house falling down. One of the bricks that’s fallen off the house already is his business not doing well, so he's got the pressure of having to put his house up for sale, and all of these things — the pressure of life — he can't deal with it all anymore because he's so consumed with grief. So this is why he goes in that one very clear direction. He’s going to get a job with a guy that he thinks is okay… in the beginning. Until he realizes he's not. He quickly realizes "I'm in trouble. My moral integrity is waning, but that's not who I am anymore. That’s not who I want to be anymore." He’s also so fixated on, "Oh, if I could only find out what happened to my boy. If I do this, I could find out." But then the frightening part of it is, "If I find out then what am I going to do with that?"
Yes! What will he do with that information… that’s absolutely the frightening part.  
Exactly. So, I feel like we've really layered a very complicated character within Gray Parish. That was necessary I thought, partly because it was what I felt the guy had to be so that we could explore and challenge his violent nature. I mean, it's violent, not gratuitous, but it's violent under the circumstances of what happens within our story. All of that comes out of the violence that's going on in Gray's heart, his soul, and his brain. Something violent happened to him. He was stripped of someone that he loved deeply, and he starts questioning his own role in that. His own methods, his own inherent violence. He's old school. He starts thinking about his past behavior, like "Did I hit my son? I don't remember. I didn't slap him, did I? Did I hit him? Did he not listen to me, and did I lose my temper?"
It reminded me of my parents back in the day. They used to say, "Do as I say do, not as I do." Wow! Just think about that, right? I grew up in Chicago, my father was very Italian, very, very strict and would say, "You shut up now. You shut up and you listen to me. You don't say nothing." It's an order. You had no choice. I grew up in that era of corporal punishment. So a person who's lived through that and turned out okay has a hard time dealing with their children because we're in a world where people want to discuss things and talk about them. Gray, he has no measure for that. He's too pressed. But I feel like we can see inside Gray's soul, and we can see there's something good in there, but there's also something very dark. The light's not going to come out until all that darkness is eradicated.

Parish airs on Sundays at 9/8c on AMC. Episodes are available to stream on (with a cable provider login), and the AMC apps for mobile and devices. You can also watch episodes via AMC+ at or through the new AMC+ app available on iPhone, iPad, Android, Fire TV, Apple TV, and Roku plus Samsung and Vizio smart TVs. AMC+ can also be streamed through a variety of providers, including AppleTV, Prime Video Channels, DirectTV, Dish, Roku Channel, Sling, and Xfinity. Sign up for AMC+ now.