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.
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.
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.
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.