Actor Mark Margolis plays Hector “Tio” Salamanca, on AMC’s Breaking Bad. In this exclusive interview, he talks about why he was terrified of Giancarlo Esposito the first time they met and how he came up with Tio’s signature twitch.
Q: Tell me about the scene at Don Eladio’s house in Episode 8, “Hermanos.” It must have been somewhat of a reunion: You acted with Steven Bauer in Scarface, and Giancarlo Esposito said the three of you had been in a play together.
A: Yeah, we were all in a gorgeous production of Balm in Gilead, around 1984 at a theater in Greenwich Village. And it was directed by John Malkovitch, and had people like Gary Sinise in it and Laurie Metcalf and on and on. At that time Giancarlo Esposito was a very young actor — I’d never seen him in my life. He played this street kid that hung out in this alleyway that my character had to pass through, and he would come at me with a real knife. He scared the s–t out of me because I couldn’t tell whether this was a terrific actor, or some crazy who they put in the play.
Q: What was it like being reunited with Steven Bauer?
A: When I came out to New Mexico to do the episode they said they had a surprise for me — it turned out to be Steven Bauer. He did some great things on set. All the lines were in Spanish but he stuck in the words when he said something about methamphetamines. He said that’s the stuff that’s used by “Heelbeeelies and Bikers.” Instead of Spanish, he stuck in the English, which was very witty.
Q: Do you speak Spanish? Tio has a pretty believable accent.
A: Well you know, I grew up in Philadelphia and I didn’t learn much grammar. The teacher used to always give me a B even though my grammar was terrible. I was the only kid in the class who could do the accent well. Everyone else was doing the accent with a Philadelphia accent, which is about the worst accent in America. Once I get into it I can think a little bit in Spanish. For Breaking Bad, they had this woman from Colombia who was a marvelous tutor and was incredibly gorgeous, so we all paid attention to her.
Q: Peeing into Don Eladio’s pool was a pretty striking symbol of gangster swagger.
A: [Laughs] Or just possibly a situation in which a guy needs a bigger area to pee in than a urinal.
Q: Tell me a little bit about that moment on set. Did you really pee?
A: It’s called a pee rig. It kind of looks like the equivalent of a hot water bottle that fits in your right armpit and has a hose coming down from it that goes down into your groin area. The device has a valve so that when I pull it out and press with my arm in my armpit, it forces this whole stream of water to shoot out over the pool. They refill it with a giant plastic syringe into the device that’s coming out of my fly. They just wanted a nice big arc, so we did a few takes. This is what I studied in acting school [Laughs].
Q: Where did you pick up Tio’s distinct mannerisms from?
A: There’s a thing that I do with my mouth where one side of it moves in a weird way, which I stole from my mother-in-law, who was in a nursing home for many years in Florida. She used to do this weird thing with her mouth when you went to visit her.
Q: Which do you enjoying playing more Tio when he was young, or Tio as an old man?
A: I like the flashback scenes a lot, because then I’m a whole other guy who moves around. They do all this weird makeup — they have this elastic thing that pulls your skin tight. It’s a band that goes around your head and they tape it on to the side of your forehead on both sides and then they tighten it. It’s cheaper than plastic surgery. Of course those scenes scare me a little bit, because of course that means I have to start speaking Spanish.
Q: What did you think about all the speculation about Tio and Gus on the message boards during the last few episodes of the season?
A: They keep saying, “The whole season is going to end with Gus killing Tio, Gus is going to strangle Tio, Gus is going to stab Tio, etc.” It was funny!
Click here to read an interview with Giancarlo Esposito, who plays Tio’s nemesis, Gus Fring