Giancarlo Esposito on Breaking Bad Finale: Gus Is 'Disturbed,' But Does He Have a Weakness?

Although each of Breaking Bad‘s recent episodes has felt as tension-filled as a season finale, this Sunday at 10/9c is when the acclaimed AMC drama will officially close Season 4. How was big, bad Gus able to cheat death at the parking garage? Has Walt missed out his chance to remove his archenemy from the equation? Does Gus even have a weakness left to exploit?

TVLine welcomed the chance to speak with Giancarlo Esposito about the “Chicken Man’s” mindset entering the season finale and how he tackles the unique challenges of portraying “the baddest motherf—er on TV.”

TVLINE | I first wanted to talk to you about last week’s parking garage scene. I’m curious what the scene direction said in the script.
Everyone’s into that scene! [Laughs] I pay close attention to the scene direction on Breaking Bad, specifically because I fashion Gus to be a character who says very little yet says more, and I think they really caught onto that. Sometimes when young actors start in film they don’t read the scene direction because they limit your performance and tell you what to do and think, but in this case they inform me what the creators and writers are thinking, since I don’t get any information prior. But the scene direction in the parking garage describes the whole scene, that Walt is there on another rooftop although Gus does not know it. I read and understood it completely, and knew that I had to rely on my instincts to tell me what to do. Some people are talking about this “Spidey sense” Gus has — “How did he know?”

TVLINE | Right, the conversation has been, “Is it that he saw something? Or was he simply thinking while looking around, and came to some realization?”
[Arriving at the hospital] my intention is to get Jesse to come back and cook; I don’t think about the car. But when he comes back [to the garage], he realizes he left no one guarding the car, so all of a sudden he looks at his car a little differently. Folks are like, “Did he see something?” No! Gus listens to his inside gut, and something is just off. He can feel a sense that someone is watching him. There’s no glare off of Walt’s glasses, he doesn’t see a f—ing thing! He just knows that there is some presence there. That’s how good this guy is.

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TVLINE | That’s what [series creator] Vince Gilligan told me the other day, that Gus has survived as long as he has because of his smarts and situational awareness.
I had a great lunch with Vince a couple days ago – what a lovely guy – and I believe there are many parts of us that are simpatico. It’s funny you say he said a similar thing about Gus. It all comes from inspiration, and I am inspired by what these guys write. It blows me away that everyone’s talking about a simple little scene like that. I must have done something right with my physicality.

TVLINE | Similarly, in this season’s premiere, you had a scene where you were just silent for… how long was that?
Ten minutes. I love that scene. The beginning and the end [of the season] are so beautifully bookended.

TVLINE | Was the “Box Cutter” sequence thrilling or difficult to pull off as an actor?
Thrilling. It had its challenges, because actors love to perform and emote, and for me the whole thing about creating Gus is that I’ve had the opportunity not to emote, to go the other, “Less is more” way, to be more severely threatening with a smile. That’s real acting, and that was my challenge. [Episode] 401 was the beauty of my whole 47 years as an actor coming together, to do something that is without words and more powerful than it ever could be with words. People have said that Gus is the quintessential villain, but how do you even use that word with him because by [the flashback episode] you love him. You’re like, “Look at what he’s been through!” When people started rooting for Gus, I knew I was doing my job.

TVLINE | Well, let’s talk about that. Actors will often say, “I didn’t go into this role thinking he’s a bad guy. It’s all a matter of the character believing in what he’s doing.” What does Gus believe in?
You know what he believes? The business of blue meth is a business. It could be growing rice, or being the manager of a food-packaging factory…. Gus is a guy who is full of integrity and morals. You’ve got a guy who has a moral compass and the whole thing about “Box Cutter” is he killed Victor because he put the family at risk, and that’s pretty simple. He has a family of people he has to care for, whether they’re packaging peaches, making Pollos Hermanos chicken or making blue meth. He’s a regular Joe who came up through the ranks and who may have had a background in the Pinochet government, and he has more morals than many people I know in terms of the way he deals with his life.

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TVLINE | As we enter the season finale, do you think Gus is nervous?
I want to say no, that he’s still in control. What he is is disturbed. It’s not going the way he wanted it to go. He’s going to kill Walt and get Jesse back into the lab, that’s his ploy. But there in the garage, he doesn’t know where Walt is, and the key element is that Mike (played by Jonathan Banks) is not with him. Gus is a cool, cool cucumber, not because he’s steeped in his ego about being a step ahead of everybody but because he’s been through worse than this. We see in [Episode] 10 where Max, his dearest hermano, was killed in front of his eyes, how that created who he is. Don Eladio drops the hint, “We know who you are” – meaning they can’t kill him.

TVLINE | It’s never been spelled out for us why Don Eladio couldn’t kill Gus, but we’re to infer it’s because Gus is connected…?
Exactly. He probably came out of the Pinochet government, so Don Eladio couldn’t touch him, otherwise his whole organization would go down. As an actor, I hope there’s an opportunity to one day investigate that connection and give insight about what drove Gus to be who he is.

TVLINE | And why doesn’t Gus just pull the plug on Tio Salamanca?
Just as he said to Walter, “I will kill your wife, your son, your infant child… I will make you suffer before I kill you,” that’s what he does to Hector. That’s Latin revenge, man! [Chuckles] They do not mess around. They want you to see every one of your people go down, knowing you’re next.

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TVLINE | Coming out of the events at the parking garage, does Gus suspect he has any weakness? Could he have an Achilles heel out there?
He’s human, and he would not be as brilliant as he is if he didn’t suspect there was some weakness he had. My creation of the character is formidable – he’s formidable – but he would not be formidable if he didn’t know that he does have a weakness. His desire for revenge becomes an Achilles heel. Sure, my ego as Giancarlo would say, “This guy’s got no weakness, look at him! He’s the baddest motherf—er on TV!” But in reality, smart men know that each and every one of us has a weakness.

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  1. MAL says:

    I hate that I hate to wait a year for this show to come back on again. lol. Why do the best shows only come on once a year (every summer?). This is one of my favorite seasons yet. It started off sort of slow, and then picked back up. The episode/scene where they killed Don Eladio and his “capos” was one of the best BB moments ever. The writers and actors are brilliant. Gus is a really complicated character-one minute he shows his humanity, and you start to think he’s really a good guy deep down, and you start to like him, but the next he’s back to being a cold-blooded, maniacal killer.

    Can’t wait for the season finale…

  2. macontosh2000 says:

    I went into this season expecting Gus to die at some point, now that the finale is coming up I still have that feeling, but now I am dreading it. I don’t want Gus to be killed!

    For me Gus has become the best TV/Film “villain” since Ben Linus on LOST

  3. Texarican says:

    From Lt. G’s son on Homicide to Gus Fringe on BB, Giancarlo Esposito’s formidable acting skills are to be celebrated.

    When the biopic of Barack Obama is cast, I fully expect Giancarlo to get the lead: he’s the right age, the right build, and he’s got the chops to pull it off.

  4. Laurel says:

    Giancarlo Esposito is a fantastic actor and should win an Emmy for his performance as Gus this Season.
    Gus is one scary dude.

  5. Slchiz says:

    The Emmy should be given to Giancarlo Esposito, NOW!!!

  6. What a great guy. I hope he wins an Emmy next year and that his other show, Once Upon A Time, does well.

  7. Sarabi says:

    I agree, he should definitely win an Emmy, and all the other TV awards, too! This show is the best thing on TV right now!

  8. D'Arcy says:

    What are the difficult cuts you had to make, Matt? I MUST KNOW! Or you could tell us on Sunday after the episode, I suppose.

    • Matt Webb Mitovich says:

      No, nothing storyline/preview-related; just some anecdotes about how he knew Steve Bauer and Mark Margolis long ago, and some redundant stuff. And saving his OUAT scoop for later.

  9. Dani says:

    That scene in ‘Boxcutter’ was a Masterclass in acting and direction. In fact the whole show is easily the best thing out there at the moment thanks to the cast, crew and writers.

    Have a feeling that either Hank or Gus won’t be making it to season 5. Really intrigued to see where Mike’s loyalties lie now too. Saw a shift towards Jesse. Anyway can’t wait for the finale!

  10. Yonofoco says:

    The best villain currently on TV by far. I hope he stays alive for the sake of the show and fans.

  11. Simon Jester says:

    I know exactly where Giancarlo is coming from — it’s impossible to think of Gus as a villain! Now that the Emmys are finally giving proper recognition to cable performers (cf. Margo Martindale), I hope Giancarlo Esposito will be on their radar next year.

  12. John says:

    Can I make a prediction? Neither Gus nor Walt nor Jesse will die this season. I think something really unexpected will happen.

  13. J says:

    Show is amazing..I kind of think he aint gonna die, too valuable

  14. jennrae says:

    If, for example, Gus were to die and Walter took over, it would feel so cheap, and we wouldn’t want him to have it. So no, no way would they kill Gus. And I can’t imagine them killing him before exploring some of his Pinochet background. He must live (for now).

    What will be interesting is Mike’s state of mind when he returns. I don’t know that he has a legitimate gripe with Gus regarding his lack of immediate healthcare in Mexico, being on the payroll and all, but it still must sting a little, no? Or maybe there’s no love lost between them, but Mike simply feels more loyalty towards Jesse. We know from his “half-measures” story that he has a soft spot for women, so maybe that will carry over to Brock.

    I love that this show even gets me thinking, no matter how wrong I am, because usually it’s all cobwebs up there.

  15. liria234 says:

    This guy is so amazing to watch on screen. Can’t wait for the finale. I hope he lives.

  16. Even though Gus died in the finale, I’m sure we’ll see him quite often in the final season. Throughout the whole show, flashbacks have been one of the many, many highlights.