Interview with Revolution & Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito
With Sky 1’s Revolution season one out on Blu-ray and DVD on 30 September 2013, and the phenomena that is Breaking Bad ending next week, this would seem like the perfect time for a chat with Giancarlo Esposito!
Giancarlo played the drug lord Gus Fring in the hit AMC show, and is currently on screen as Major Tom Neville in NBC’s Revolution, which returns to the UK for a 2nd season in 2014.
Can you give me a sketch of the character you play, Major Tom Neville?
We are 15 years after the blackout. We live in a world that is very disparate, with people trying to reunite what used to be the United States of America. Now we are not allowed to fly the American flag and are not allowed to bear arms and Captain Tom Neville is the enforcer of the Monroe Republic. He’s been sent by Monroe to find two men, Ben and Miles Matheson, in the hope that they hold the key to solving the riddle of why the power went out. Monroe wants this information. Monroe is Tom Neville’s boss and Monroe wants to harness that scientific information to get the power back on so he could maybe rule the world.
And what sort of man is Tom Neville?
Tom Neville is a storyteller in many ways. He has a past life. He is a former insurance adjustor, which gives him the ability to observe body language and to know when people are not telling him the truth. The truth is very important for him in his pursuit of Miles and Ben. It is also important for him to know in keeping his men safe and in collecting the spring taxes and running this new world of the Monroe Republic. He is a soldier and has morals and values; he believes in God and believes very deeply that he is protecting; he is that one step between anarchy and order. His goal is to keep people safe, his men being his first consideration, and fulfilling his mission.
He is tired of it all when we first meet him on screen…
He wants to go back home, he has been in the field for two years, doing his job well, in these nasty heavy boots, in the mud and the dirt and the filth. He is a cultured kind of guy. Why the hell would he want to be away from Philadelphia in search of these two ruffians? He’d really rather be with his wife, Julie, and his son, Jason.
What have been some of the most enjoyable moments for you from the first season of the show?
I enjoyed episode 1.05, because it was very informative for me, to make good on the storyline promise that we would investigate his previous life. I love the moment in 1.05 where he is being called by someone who is not really fully present with him on a Blackberry saying, ‘What was that claim you submitted for that family whose house partially burnt down?’ And he has to explain that he felt that they deserved to collect on that claim and he is fired for it. That moment resounds for me because it shows that he is compassionate and he felt for someone else other than himself.
It’s a pivotal moment in Neville’s relationship with the audience…
He was thinking of something more than himself and he was beat down for it and it changed his life. That segued into a moment where you see him kindly ask his neighbour to turn his music down because it keeps his son awake at night and the neighbour just blows him off. Later on, the lights go out and his neighbour is at home stealing his china and his silver. He’s shocked, he can’t believe it and his neighbour is then beating him to death. But he rises up. The dragon is awakened. The hydra is alive and he literally beats the man to death and we have a newly emerged confident, strong Tom Neville who has committed to learning how to survive in a very dark and challenging world. So that is a very galvanizing moment for me.
J.J Abrams is an executive producer on the show. Do you have much interaction with him?
I do. After we had our first major portion of the first season, J.J. would join us for our publicity work because he is J.J. That gave me the opportunity to talk to him and I felt like I knew him forever and I very much enjoyed that. Obviously, his expertise comes into the show at a lot of levels that we don’t see as actors, because he is interacting with creators and the writing team. He reads everything. He is a part of everything. I think it is probably very easy for an actor to take for granted that he is even there. However, I am very well aware that he is there, that he is commenting and is involved in every part of the show. That’s his job — overlord, overseer, the brilliant and creative J.J. Abrams!
Presumably you interact more with the creator, Eric Kripke?
Exactly. Eric brought the idea to J.J. and J.J. sort of added that special sauce and I love that collaborative effort. But yes, it’s Eric that I am able to call if I have questions or suggestions and he is very available to all of us. And producer John Favreau brings a different feeling to it but is so incredibly astute in terms of his contribution. It’s amazing to me that we have such smart people involved in this.
What sort of feedback have you had from the show’s fans?
The major thing I hear is parents, who come to a Comic-Con event, saying that they watch this show with their children and that they talk about it afterwards. To me, that is us doing our job, because it is one thing to be entertained and another thing to be entertained in a way that you want to engage with the idea in conversation. I love that. I think it is very, very important to have the ability to be moved and entertained in a way that you want to discuss it. ‘What would you do? How would you do that? Why did he do that?’ It is not just a gratuitously violent show. It is coming out of character and the need and survival and a great creativity.
You also worked on Breaking Bad. Did you know from the outset that it would such a special show?
I loved the quality of the show. When I joined it, I came in as a guest star but I didn’t want to be a guest star and I said, ‘No,’ at first. People who loved the show and people who I trust said, ‘You must consider this!’ So I watched an episode and thought, ‘This is a different way of making little movies every week.’ I went there and I was blown away by a couple of things. One is that it was outside of Hollywood and [creator] Vince Gilligan was true to his vision and made a show that he believed in and they allowed me to have a voice within that show. They offered me some guest episodes and I said that I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to be part of the family so I could grow too. And also I was very interested in that character, Gustavo Fring, and how to make him complicated and interesting and very, very different from anything that we had seen before. Then they were so grateful because they said I changed the trajectory and route of their show. They said to me, ‘We wouldn’t be here where we are now in Season Four without you.’ So for me that was a great experience, a great learning experience, a great contributory experience of being part of a great ensemble family and cast which obviously rolled in to this. I love all of the movies I have done, particularly, The Usual Suspects, Night on Earth and I have worked with some really great directors like Spike Lee.
You’ve appeared in a lot of great films — Do the Right Thing, King of New York, The Usual Suspects. You must have some wonderful memories…
I remember with The Usual Suspects I was at Cannes. A British producer gave me a script. He said, ‘I have the money for this film; I have all these great actors, would you read it? Our writer really thinks you are the guy to play this role.’ I read it and I didn’t understand it. Three days later I read it again. I was sitting in my hotel going, ‘Oh, my God. This is the most brilliant thing I have ever read.’ I love the brains of [writer] Chris McQuarrie and Bryan Singer, who directed it, and I thought, ‘Wow. I am in the right place at the right time, playing the right role,’ and I was very thankful. I remember that we were all in a scene together in the first rehearsal, doing the read-through, and Benicio started talking in this mumbling manner and the whole room stopped. Everybody! We thought, ‘This is a brilliant script, with brilliant actors and Benicio is talking like he’s retarded!’ Everybody turned to him but he had the courage to read the whole read-through like that and I finally had the courage to say, ‘Are you really going to talk like that?’ He mumbled, ‘Yeah.’ Everybody was chagrined at the time, but his was an absolutely brilliant choice!
Revolution season one is out on Blu-ray and DVD on 30 September