PB: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us.
GE: Thank you. Playbill means a lot to me because I started on the Broadway stage at a very young age.
PB: That's why we're here - you are a theater guy with theatre roots.
GE: That's what gave me my training and really where I cut my teeth. How I develop all of my characters is this sort of template that came out of my theatre work.
I think some of the best actors come out of theater because they learned about character. I leaned how to dissect – to find the nuance of character in all of the television and film stuff I do from the work I've done on stage. You learn to leave a little bit more space. TV feels rushed because you have something recording you and it's a different pace of things. But I think part of the success of a number of the TV appearances I've been in is that I've allowed myself some time and some space. The camera has to come to you – it's looking for that nuanced performance that I think a lot of folks in Television miss.
PB: Gus Fring (from Breaking Bad) is a good example of that – every single shot was stillness. What you brought to that character and to those scenes was the element of quiet.
GE: You get a chance to practice on stage. You're doing eight performances a week and no one [show] is ever the same… because there is an audience out there giving you feedback – through a cough, through their non-attention, whatever that is – it teaches you.
For me "Box Cutter", the [Breaking Bad] episode was a gift, because it reminded me of Harold Pinter and his plays. There's just a lot of space. And you can fill that space as an actor – physically do something – or you can let that space just sit and do something smaller that might be so informative of who the character is. And certainly when I did "Box Cutter" I was channeling that Pinteresque energy. How often do we get a chance to say more without any words at all, and hold that intention and that intensity in that way?
I work with the Atlantic Theater Company. I love what they do. I get the chance to do plays there, still (I did Store Front Church a few years ago) and we spend 40,50,60 grand to put up a show and we rehearse for four or five weeks. You spend 40,50,60 million to put up a movie and you don't even rehearse.
PB: And that’s a testament to the two different mediums. What they want on film is different than what you want on stage. You rehearse for four or five weeks to look natural on stage.
GE: That's right. So, what I've learned from theater is to start early, because I like to layer things into any character I play. I've realized, from theater, that the first thing you've got to slay is the lines. You've got to know it inside and out to be able to then lay what you feel and think and want to share about the character on top of that. If you don't know the words, you don't know the intention. If you know the intention and you know the words, then there's room to play.
And I run into so many actors who, on the day [of filming] don't know the words. They're getting paid 40,50,60 grand per episode for 22 episodes. It's an arduous pace – why wouldn't you really want to know it?! I want to nail it and I want to find the nuance and the subtlety. But you can't find the subtlety if you don't have it somewhere inside of you. It's a lot of homework… it's almost more arduous than a play. So you've got to know it and look at it.
I've been lucky to choose things that aren't just always ordinary. I want my work to be extraordinary, because that’s what titillates me. PB: It reminds me of the children's book "The Dot and The Line". These other actors are the Squiggle – unprepared and hoping to get that spark of inspiration in front of the camera. Where the Line studies, works and practices, and then creates much more subtle, defined, and intricate work.
GE: Absolutely. And then you can be more spontaneous and go off book if you need to, because you have the intention of the character. The difference is that you can play in the theater because you have that rehearsal period. You can fail. You can play broad and be really bad or really great and that's an interesting investigation. But you can only do that on your own in film and TV. But I always encourage myself to do it on my own, because it's richer and fuller.
Recently I did a piece called Brothers with Taran Killam from Saturday Night Live, and it's a comedy. And I'm playing a comedic role and I realize: don't make the mistake of relying on your talent to be funny and spontaneous and comedic without knowing who the guy is. Commit to the lines, because comedy has to be played seriously in order for it to be funny. The most wacky characters have to believe and commit to whatever is making them they way they are for it to look and be perceived to be funny on our part.
PB: I have a theory. I think the people who come in costume (cosplay) are actually coming to Comic-Con in character. That this is theater for them.
There is no doubt about it. They're playing out something they couldn't be in their real life. They change when they put their costume on. And it gives them some kind of real joy because they're sensing and feeling the essence of who they really are. That is an outlet and a release and a healing in many ways for people who otherwise would not have that outlet. It's a theater play for them.
You can see guys who walk up – who're big, big guys and they're probably gentle giants and would never venture to cross their arms as Batman or be tough. But here, they've got a mask on and they can be tough and they can be admired for that. People can go, "Wow, you look really great" and they're fed by that. It's empowering and the theater is empowering for both the audience and the actor on stage.
I come here, and I believe, and I realize that all the world is a stage. The longer I live as an actor, the more I realize that I can be joyous, I can be all of who I am in public – I can be loud, I can be fun. We shrink when we think that everyone is going to turn around and look at us, we shrink out of embarrassment of some kind. But this is like the play of consciousness in our universe. This is theater.
PB: You're right, I think it does empower them. I think they are looking for a place that gives them permission – and [the convention] does that. GE: And some people don't even look like Walter White when they come up to me, but you can see that inside they feel that. I had a young girl I just took a photo with and she was the essence of Walter White. She was, like, 13, but she was in it – never took off her sunglasses and had her Heisenberg hat. And I went, "Wow! You got it!" It's a beautiful thing where people can not only intermingle with some of the people they look at and admire on screen, but can come here and actually be them. It's freeing.
I think we're in a world that just embodies creation. This world – man could not make this. Some divine entity created this incredible place that we live in. And if that creation is the essence of what we come from then what should we be doing? We should be asking great questions. Everything we do has the ability to be inspiring. And if we live on that level, we live in a whole different world. But, unfortunately, many of us (including me) we get caught up in our conditioning.
Some people I've talked to would never come here and be brave enough to- I just saw a guy wearing a nurse's suit. He was small, skinny, wearing a whole nurse's suit dressed up like Nurse Betty and he looked fantastic. Where else would we be able to do that and express ourselves in that way? It's a beautiful thing.
PB: Do you have any plans to come back to the stage anytime soon?
GE: I would love to come back to the stage within the next two years. I've got a couple of big film bookings I want to do. I'm producing – on my own – a new television piece that's really gritty. I think it's going to be for cable. It should really be uplifting and inspiring about a "fallen angel" character. Then [come back] right after I do both of those things, which is why I estimate two years.
The stage fills me up and it rejuvenates and renews me. It allows me the patience to be with my craft again. I can come and slow down. I don't have to think about money (because you aren't going to make any). It's about allowing myself to reconnect. And that's something that I keep coming back to honor.
Look what happens when you put a camera up in front of people – they change immediately. For me, I want to be seamless; the stage allows me that. It's ok for me to be myself and let the camera record it. It's ok – whatever you see – goofy, weird, awkward – all of those things are part of who we are as human beings. Instead of being ashamed of all of my awkwardness and strangeness, I just embrace it now. I'm becoming more mature to go, "You know what, there's something about the awkwardness of me that people are going to dig."
PB: We're defined by our imperfections; it's not the things we get right—
GE: It's the things we don't get right.
You know, Playbill has shaped a large part of my life. I go to the theater a lot.
I love when they would hand me the piece [to fill out] that has to say my bio and I go "What do I put in here?" And they always send it back and say, "it's too long" because I've done so much now because I'm a little older. And I go, "Well, just say, 'I'm an actor and this is my first love.'" And they say, "Now, it's too short."
Giancarlo Esposito is an actor, and that is his first love. He was last on Broadway in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and appeared in Atlantic Theater Company's Storefront Church. He was nominated for an Emmy as the iconic Gus Fring on "Breaking Bad", is Oscar Christophe on "Allegiance" and is cast as Pastor Ramon in the upcoming series "The Get Down" You can also see him at movie theaters in the upcoming film, "Money Monster".