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Giancarlo Esposito reveals how he creates such instantly iconic villains

'Your parents did it to you, maybe.'

Giancarlo Esposito hosts a fan Q&A at a comic con event.
Photo by Danny Peterson.

By now, Giancarlo Esposito is a household name amongst pop culture fanatics thanks to his roles as some of the past quarter century’s most memorable villains, such as Gus Fring in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul and Moff Gideon in The Mandalorian. Now, the thespian with decades of acting credits to his name is revealing the secret sauce that makes his villains so instantly iconic.

During a recent Rose City Comic Con panel Esposito hosted in Portland, Oregon, a fan asked: “Do you know what makes your characters really eerie or scary?”

Esposito’s response pointed to not so much something he actively does but something he doesn’t do.

“I think it’s my stillness. Again, I relate back to stillness (pauses). Hear that (pauses)? Yeah, that’s really great. No, it’s nothing. When do we go to nothing? If I stop my chatter and the chatter of my mind, I hear the machinery behind the stage. You probably can’t hear that ’cause you’re back over there. But you kind of hear the hum of the universe. And I think what makes my villains a little more progressive and a little frightening is that I leave space, space for nothing.”

Esposito went on to say his secret to making chilling villains also involves heavy eye contact, but not necessarily giving someone the “evil eye,” just an unbroken gaze with a neutral expression.

“Your parents did it to you, maybe, I don’t know how old you are, when you did something wrong, they just look at you. Well that’s what makes my characters terrorizing. Also I take my brain away so I don’t allow you to know what I’m thinking, right. I don’t want you to know what I’m thinking. And that can be frightening. So I think that’s probably really effective for me. I put you on the spot. Also when you look someone directly in the eyes, it’s a little awkward. And you hold that. And if you can’t look back, there’s something wrong with you. […] I think that’s what it is.”

We understand the actor’s point about the terror of silence while recalling one of Esposito’s most memorable scenes as Gus on Breaking Bad, in the episode entitled “Box Cutter,” in which the drug kingpin callously slashes the throat of his own subordinate with the titular blade in front of Bryan Cranston’s Walter White and Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman and routinely washes up afterward without uttering so much as a single word.

When Esposito does talk, it’s also a reason to grab your attention, as he boasts a rather iconic timbre, as well. He explained during that same panel that he developed his voice due to getting his start as an actor on Broadway, at a time when only your own ability to project your voice without the aid of microphones was how people far in the back could even hear what you were saying.

Despite pulling off the “bad guy” role perfectly, there’s little reason to typecast Esposito in such a part. During that same panel, he explained fans have long suggested he take up the superhero role of Professor X from the X-Men, with such petitioning even inspiring him to approach Marvel about playing the part.

Danny Peterson
About the author

Danny Peterson

Danny Peterson covers entertainment news for WGTC and has previously enjoyed writing about housing, homelessness, the coronavirus pandemic, historic 2020 Oregon wildfires, and racial justice protests. Originally from Juneau, Alaska, Danny received his Bachelor's degree in English Literature from the University of Alaska Southeast and a Master's in Multimedia Journalism from the University of Oregon. He has written for The Portland Observer, worked as a digital enterprise reporter at KOIN 6 News, and is the co-producer of the award-winning documentary 'Escape from Eagle Creek.'