Giancarlo Esposito always had leading man credentials. ‘Parish’ just makes it official


NEW YORK — Giancarlo Esposito has long been lauded as a charismatic, scene-stealing thespian and commander of roles who’s worthy of leading man stature. But it might be surprising that for first the time, it’s actually official.

“I say, ‘Ask for what you want.’ So, I wanted this badly,” said the star of “Parish,” who’s also an executive producer of the new crime drama. “When you ask for what you want, normally you will get it if you believe and if you can endure. So, almost eight years is a long time to endure.”

That’s how long it took to bring the series into fruition after being shopped and bounced around before landing at AMC. “Parish,” based on the BBC One series “The Driver,” follows Gracian “Gray” Parish, a New Orleans-based former getaway driver-turned successful law-abiding taxi entrepreneur whose life unravels after his son’s murder. Facing financial hardships, he entangles himself with a local Zimbabwe gang that deals in human trafficking and ending that working relationship won’t be easy.

The 65-year-old Esposito, a six-decade acting veteran who was first introduced to wide audiences through his work in Spike Lee Joints, is most recognized for his villainous, sinister roles like the iconic drug kingpin Gustavo Fring from “Breaking Bad” and its spinoff, “Better Call Saul.” More recently, he’s appeared in popular series like “The Mandalorian,” “Godfather of Harlem,” “The Boys,” “Kaleidoscope” and “The Gentlemen.”

Despite how long it’s taken for him to reach the top of the call sheet, Esposito doesn’t fixate on whether he receives the professional respect many believe he’s owed.

”I’ve let go of wanting to have more respect than is due me, more respect than what comes to me. People come up to me and they say, ‘You’re a highly underrated actor.’ So, I never know when that’s said to me if I should feel awful or feel great,” said the five-time Emmy nominated actor — four for supporting actor and one for guest actor. “It’s an honor to have my own show. In this ecosystem of Hollywood, there’s more that I have to do… I’m ready to bust out on a new journey, and ‘Parish’ is the beginning of that.”

The AP spoke with Esposito about leading his own series, roles he has yet to play and if there’s anything left to explore with Gus Fring.

Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Esposito: I was a man up against the wall 10, 15 years ago — completely. Went bankrupt. Lost my house. Divorced, you know, wound up living in a goat barn for a while… Didn’t know if I’d ever get my career back on track. Just didn’t have any sense of hope — that’s where Gray is — until a moment where I thought of some desperate ways to have my family survive.

To say that my life has been rosy and it’s always great — which is sometimes what people want to hear from an actor of my stature — that’s not my truth. And so, to live my organic truth is important to me.

Esposito: It is a very, very daunting responsibility if you see it that way, right? So, I see this project as something that so many people invested… in my journey to become a leader. And so, there’s a lot of pressure behind it.

I realized, ‘Oh, it’s not just about me.’ Sure, the part of my ego that goes, “Wow, I’m No. 1 on the call sheet — it’s about time! Boy, do I love it.” There’s an enjoyment to it, and there’s a wonder to it because I put so much of myself into this story. But it’s also… a wonderful thing to learn, to learn from those I’m working with.

Esposito: In the last five years, I’ve given myself an assignment, and that assignment is to make it personal. And so, I find some link to who I am personally. I had a great realization that when I was young, I was bullied: I was bullied by my father, I was bullied by my brother. And I realized that part of that Gustavo personality (from “Breaking Bad”) is a very gracious bully.

Esposito: Would I continue with a show called “The Rise of Gus?” I most certainly will — I would love to.

I feel like there’s a part of Gus you don’t know, and the agreement and the understanding is that what you don’t know about Gus made him interesting. You wanted to know more: Does he have a family? Is he gay? Is he straight?… I know the audience wants more of Gustavo to know more of who he is, and if there were an opportunity one day, I’d love to explore that because I have these ideas.

Esposito: After playing such intense characters for so long, people oftentimes assume that that’s who I am… but I want to do a rom-com, and I want to do a comedy… Taurus is my sign — astrological sign — so, I’m a romanticist, I’m always wanting and inviting romance in my life.

I’d love to tell the story of Haile Selassie. I think that would be a really interesting story: the Ethiopian who was just so profound in his leadership. I’m very interested in King Solomon because I feel like that role model is something we need in our world today.

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Follow Associated Press entertainment journalist Gary Gerard Hamilton at: @GaryGHamilton on all his social media platforms.



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