Meet Giancarlo Giuseppe Alessandro Esposito, the ‘Italian black’ making headway in film and Broadway

by Duke Magazine
Giancarlo Esposito (Instagram / Giancarlo Esposito)

Giancarlo Giuseppe Alessandro Esposito became a household face with a credit to his character as Gustavo “Gus” Fring on the AMC TV series Breaking Bad. The dreaded drug kingpin he acted calculated the violent exclusion from the world of those who displeased him after giving a cold stare.

His brilliant handling of the role enabled him become one of the greatest villains in TV history, but Esposito, who considers himself “an Italian black” first cut his teeth on Broadway as a child star with a notably clear singing voice.

Esposito was born in Denmark to an Italian stage carpenter and an African-American opera singer from Alabama. The two met while working in Italy. His mother played an active role in Giancarlo’s drama training. While growing up, Esposito spent his childhood in Copenhagen and various cities in Europe before his family finally settled in New York.

He was faced with racial segregation and prejudice in the early days of his life. His ill-treatment experience was taken aback about casting directors who refused to give him an acting role even after stating his Italian name. But, as he grew up on the stage, screen, and television industry between the 1970s and ‘80s, he crafted out his skills on stage to avoid being given a Street thug role.

He enjoys playing characters that resolve minority and immigrant issues.

Esposito and his older brother Vincent came in as debutants on Broadway in 1968 in the musical Maggie Flynn with Shirley Jones and Jack Cassidy. Throughout the 1970s he starred mostly in musicals, including The Me Nobody Knows, Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along,and Michael Bennett’s Seesaw.

Within the short space of his acting career, Esposito won the Obie Award and Theatre World Award in 1980 for his role as a predatory criminal in the Negro Ensemble Company production Zooman and the Sign

He met Spike Lee at this very time, and starred in Lee’s School Daze becoming a popular name for the character Buggin’ Out in Do The Right Thing.

The man born on April 26, 1958, attended Elizabeth Seton College in New York and received a two-year degree in radio and television communications.

Esposito’s film career began in 1979 when he played a Puerto Rican teenager in the film Running. His other film credits include Trading Places (1983) and Maximum Overdrive (1986). His acting career have spanned across 60 films.

His breakthrough role actually came in 1988, when he appeared in the Spike Lee film School Daze, when he played Julian “Dean Big Brother Almighty” Evans. Esposito won his second Obie for Distant Fires for the Off-Broadway Atlantic Theater Company in 1991.

Notable amongst other Spike Lee projects he featured in were Mo’ Better Blues (1990), and Malcom X (1992). He also appeared in the films Night on Earth (1991), Fresh (1994), Waiting to Exhale (1995), and Nothing to Lose (1997). In 2006 Esposito starred in Last Holiday as Senator Dillings alongside Queen Latifah.

Esposito has also been made guest appearance in different TV since his debut as Jamie in the 1981 television movie The Gentleman Bandit. His TV features include Sesame Street, The Guiding Light, Miami Vice, Spenser: For Hire, and The Equalizer in the 1980s. There was a spike in his television appearances in the 1990s, and this included Homicide: Life on the Street, Chicago Hope, NYPD Blue, Law & Order, The Practice, and New York Undercover.

His major role on Broadway came in 2008, when he appeared as Gooper in Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer prize-winning drama, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which was directed by Debbie Allen and starred James Earl Jones, Phylicia Rashad, Anika Noni Rose, and Terrence Howard.

“From 2009 to 2011, Esposito appeared in the AMC drama series Breaking Bad as Gus Fring, the head of an Albuquerque, New Mexico-based methamphetamine drug ring. In that regard, Esposito won the 2012 the Drama Award in the category of the Best Supporting Actor at the Critics’ Choice Television Awards, and was also nominated for an Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series award at the 2012 Primetime Emmy Awards.”

In 2016, Esposito made an intriguing appearance on the Netflix original series The Get Down, produced by rapper Nas.

Outside the acting life, Esposito reaches out to college campuses and prisons as part of his motivational speaking network talking about racism, color-blind casting, and human empowerment.

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