Emmy Nominee Giancarlo Esposito’s Advice: ‘Never Go Out the Door Half-Assed’

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“In the Envelope: The Actor’s Podcast” features in-depth conversations with today’s most noteworthy actors and creators. Join host and Awards Editor Jack Smart for this guide on how to live the creative life from those who are doing it every day. This episode is brought to you by HBO.

“I can look back at what my strategy’s been,” says Giancarlo Esposito of his journey through show business. “It’s just been: Do everything that means something to you...and then don’t be exclusive.”

As first a child actor doing musical theater, then a voiceover and radio artist (Backstage magazine in hand), then as an award-winning scene-stealer onscreen, Esposito has pursued every role with the kind of passion required to persevere in such a fickle industry. “Your intention is proved out over time,” he tells his fellow artists in his deep-dive of an “In the Envelope” interview. “If you feel like you’re connected to that gift, then pursue that, whatever that is.”

Born in Copenhagen and raised in Manhattan, Esposito spent his teenage years in Broadway musicals, then turned a radio and television communications degree at Elizabeth Seton College into a screen career. His Hollywood breakout came courtesy of Spike Lee in “School Daze,” then “Do the Right Thing,” “Mo’ Better Blues,” and “Malcolm X,” as well as “Taps,” “The Usual Suspects,” “Ali,” “Once Upon a Time,” “Revolution,” “Okja,” and last year’s “Unpregnant” and “Star Girl.” He’s recently dominated prestige TV, earning five Emmy Award nominations—including this year as Moff Gideon on Disney+’s “The Mandalorian” and, most famously, as Gus Fring on AMC’s “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” from Vince Gilligan—and has appeared on Netflix’s “Dear White People,” Cinemax’s “Jett,” Epix’s “Godfather of Harlem,” and Amazon’s “The Boys.”

Is there an acting technique that ties all those roles together? “I prefer to be called [by] my character name on set,” Esposito says, detailing his typical character-building process. His background in singing and radio make the voice a crucial ingredient; once Gus Fring’s stillness or the rhythm of Moff Gideon’s imperious speech has sunk in enough, he’s ready to play on camera. “You’re embodied physically, molecularly,” he says. “The more I do it, the more I realize not to forget about the musicality of it. But then when I’m shooting it, I remind myself to forget it then, because then it doesn’t matter. Because after that, it’s in you.”

Esposito learned of his 2021 Emmy nomination on the set of Season 6 of “Better Call Saul,” (possibly) the last time he’ll step into the terrifying Mr. Fring’s shoes. “As we get closer to ‘Breaking Bad,’ the circumstance gets more serious,” he teases. “So look for a wild ride in this last and final season. I’ve been honored to play this character for so very long.”

When it comes to acting auditions and the inevitability of rejection, Esposito has advice aplenty. Recounting both successful and horrific auditions, he remembers an early career moment of deciding to change his philosophy: “After struggling with the ego, because it plays into all that, [I] made a decision that auditioning was an opportunity to create that day. So when I changed the wording in my brain and spirit, it was an opportunity for me to do my craft, to practice! It became something other than the approval of someone else.”

It’s the pure passion for exploring and building upon a craft that continues to drive Esposito forward as an actor, director, and producer. “Ultimately, we’re channels for information and heart,” he says. “To be able to be a part of that, you’re part of a bigger structure of things, and to be able to shine within that parameter is like being a jazz musician with the metronome. Careers are like that, in many ways.”

And, of course, preparing for every possible opportunity and working at your highest possible standard are crucial values. “I never go out the door half-assed,” says Esposito. “I have to have thought about things thoroughly and to allow myself to be free within the margin of that metronome.” To hear more, tune into the podcast at any of the platforms below. 

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