The Interview: Giancarlo Esposito on playing a space fascist, and the psychology of bad guys
It's a common enough experience that actors bare little or no resemblance to the characters they play on screen.
Anthony Hopkins isn't a flesh-eating serial killer, nor is Giancarlo Esposito a space fascist who calmly slices people's necks open when they fail him. Yet, the gulf between his characters and the real Giancarlo Esposito seems particularly large.
Having built up a steady career as a working actor for twenty-odd years, 'Breaking Bad' put Esposito out in front as the taciturn Gus Fring, a role that felt like he was born to play from the very start. Moff Gideon, his character in 'The Mandalorian', appeared in the final episodes of last season and had a brief appearance (so far, anyway) this season and is equally measured in his communications.
Giancarlo, on the other hand, is wildly talkative and holds forth on everything from meditation and yoga, to physicality in acting, being Italian and American, and everything 'Star Wars'. His voice is full of life and passionate, he laughs easily and heartily, and there isn't even a hint of the darkness or violence in his characters.
So where does Moff Gideon come from, then? Not from real-life, that's for sure. "I was careful to do some research but didn't want to over research so that I would copy or have any traits of any other character," Esposito explained.
"I did look back because it was an actor, Peter Cushing, who played a Moff in a very different way than I have from what fans and journalists are telling me he was. He had a very aristocratic sense about him and I knew that because I knew his stature, who he is. I wanted to be more hands on. I wanted to be someone who had the possibility of coming up through the military, who could use all the elements that were that he possessed to get what he needed, but he was also a warrior and a fighter, as well as a leader. Because I believe that if you're not a follower and not a soldier, if you don't follow you can never lead."
While there was a brief hint of some of Moff Gideon's martial abilities in the finale of last season of 'The Mandalorian', it seems all but certain he'll feature more prominently in the remainder of this current season. Indeed, the final moments of the finale of Season 1 saw Gideon slice open his TIE Outland with a very distinctive-looking weapon. Namely, the Darksaber. Of course, for preparing to wield this mighty weapon of untold importance to the Mandalorians, Esposito began training like everyone else - with a broomstick in his living room.
"I like to think, because I'm an old Star Wars fan that there's some undeniable link possibly between he (Moff Gideon) and Darth Vader," Esposito muses.
"I love what James Earl Jones did with it. I love the formidable costume and armor that he had gave him a regal quality and I love that he was in a way anonymous. So for Moff Gideon, the hood has been pulled off. He's not anonymous, we don't quite know what he wants, yet we know he wants The Child, but we don't know what for, and we know he's a take charge kind of guy. He can do it himself, and I like that because it creates a formidable essence and it articulates certain thoughts and feelings that we have behind. Look at his costume. He has this throwback – everything black boots, cape. All of these things that really bring all of his power together visually. And so, that can't be denied. He's not trying to negotiate, although he does when you first see him. He has already negotiated with his own mind all these different possible outcomes. So he's smart and yet physically has a power and cultivated a skill to use all the tools that he has now."
While it may seem as though Esposito is known for playing villains throughout his career, the reality is that it's only in recent years he's been cast in these roles. Prior to 'Breaking Bad', Esposito starred in the likes of David Simon's 'Homicide: Life on the Streets', the precursor to HBO's 'The Wire', as FBI agent Mike Giardello. He played Muhammad Ali's father in Michael Mann's stunning biopic of the boxer's life, and, of course, as Buggin' Out in Spike Lee's 1989 classic, 'Do The Right Thing'.
"I have a relationship to 'Public Enemy', the last scene where James Cagney is up on the balcony, 'Top of the world!'", Esposito booms with a laugh.
"I realised early in my career, from the time I did 'Another World' (Esposito had his first TV role in the daytime soap in 1982) and I played one of my first villainous young people, that people are intrigued by the psychology of someone who might be nefarious or labeled a villain."
"I've had some success in bringing some humanity to some of the villains that I played because I want to show that people are human and they do make mistakes and they do have the light and dark sides of themselves, and I had an idea that if we saw some of that we might be able to get wrapped around that in a way that we weren't able to before."
"You can't just cast off someone when you realise, oh, there's something inside that person that is a hint of something good," Esposito adds. "Why are they doing all this bad and then as TV shows unfold, you sort of get the clue. They were bullied when they were a child. They really seek all power, all of these things. So I found a niche and finding a way to bring some humanity in some ways to villainous persona."