Giancarlo Giuseppe Alessandro Esposito became a popular face thanks to his portrayal of Gustavo “Gus” Fring on the AMC TV series Breaking Bad. The ruthless drug kingpin he portrayed calculated the violent removal from the world of those who displeased him after flashing a cold stare.
His excellent execution 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 pair met while working in Italy. His mother played an active role in Giancarlo’s dramatic training. He spent his childhood in Copenhagen and various cities in Europe before his family finally settled in New York.
He encountered racism and prejudice early on in his life. Casting directors were taken aback when he showed up at a casting call given his Italian name. Often he lost the roles once his face was known, but as he grew up in the stage, screen and TV industry during the 1970s and ’80s, he fought hard to avoid being typecast as a street thug. He enjoys roles that rather explore minority and immigrant issues.
Esposito and his older brother Vincent debuted 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.
Soon enough 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 had already been in five major musicals.
It was during this period that he met Spike Lee and later starred in Lee’s School Daze becoming a household 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). He has appeared in over 60 films so far in his career.
His breakout role 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.
Other Spike Lee projects he featured in include Mo’ Better Blues (1990), and Malcolm 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 also made guest appearances in various TV shows since his debut as Jamie in the 1981 television movie The Gentleman Bandit. His TV credits include Sesame Street, The Guiding Light, Miami Vice, Spenser: For Hire, and The Equalizer in the 1980s. His television appearances increased in the 1990s and included Homicide: Life on the Street, Chicago Hope, NYPD Blue, Law & Order, The Practice, and New York Undercover.
On Broadway, his biggest role 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. For that recurring role, he won the 2012 Best Supporting Actor in Drama award at the Critics’ Choice Television Awards and was nominated for an Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series award at the 2012 Primetime Emmy Awards.”
In 2016 Esposito made an appearance on the Netflix original series The Get Down, produced by rapper Nas. Aside being an actor with close to 180 acting credits, he is also a director.
Beyond movies, Esposito goes to college campuses and prisons as part of a motivational speaking circuit talking about racism, color-blind casting, and human empowerment.
The 45-year acting veteran married Joy McManigal in 1995 having four daughters, Ruby, Shayne, Syrlucia and Kale before divorcing.