When you want an immediately iconic villain, better call Giancarlo Esposito. He is Gus Fring in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, Moff Gideon in The Mandalorian, and Stan Edgar in The Boys. He is everywhere, and with good reason. For a long time, Esposito has been a secret weapon, adding gravitas, menace, or whatever the role called for.
Esposito has that magic sauce that adds something totally different from any production. The Maze Runner films are mediocre, but for the 15 minutes he shows up in The Scorch Trials it's almost a movie I want to really enjoy. He also made an early appearance in the classic comedy Trading Places in a non-speaking role as a prison inmate next to Dan Akroyd, but he brings the "no small parts" ethos to even this cameo.
But with his current renaissance of villain roles, he noted at a recent Emmy roundtable that he wants to do more comedy. "I'm so jealous of all of you who are in comedy, because that's where I'd like to go, and experience that feeling," Esposito said. "Because in off-hours, truth be told, I'm lighter than people know me as….I'm actually quite fun after 6 p.m."
Checking his entire filmography, Esposito has actually been in a ton of comedic and supporting roles over the years, but we'll focus on just a few where he really shines through or where he's completely unexpected.
For those who haven't had the pleasure, the Season 3 episode of Community, "Digital Estate Planning" features an amazing turn by Giancarlo Esposito. Pierce Hawthorne's (Chevy Chase) deceased father forces him and his friends to play a custom video game with troubling racial overtones, with the winner of the game inheriting the family business and fortune. As his father's former assistant Gilbert, Esposito joins the game and faces off against the Greendale gang, having mastered the game. He not only wants the fortune, he also wants recognition of the fact that he is, in fact, Pierce's half-brother.
It's hard to overstate just how excellent Esposito is in this role. In 22 minutes, he takes a relatively underwritten character and fills him with life, energy, motivation and brings us along on an incredible character arc. We start off hating him, we end up loving him. That's a huge accomplishment. That's the magic of Giancarlo Esposito.
Did You Know Giancarlo Esposito was on "Sesame Street" and "The Electric Company"?
It's true. For six episodes in 1982, Esposito played Mickey, Big Bird's camp counselor. He helps Big Bird and other kids learn all about camp and get used to being away from home, even dealing with some pretty big feels. It's pure vintage Sesame Street, and he brings the magic, as he always does.
This was fairly early in his career and could be seen as a pretty big break. Esposito also had recorded the theme song for The Electric Company. While he never appeared on screen, he was in the chorus who sang the opening number. It would be decades still before Esposito got cast in the final season of Homicide: Life on the Streets and would become a mainstay of dramatic television, but perhaps somewhere in the multiverse is the version of Giancarlo that became a scion of children's' television. That world is probably a better place for it.
The Best Lex Luthor Ever?
One time, I started a Twitter fight between Michael Rosenbaum, Jon Cryer, Clancy Brown, and their various fans when I proclaimed that the Animated Lex Luthor was the "Lexiest of them All." I stand by that pronouncement, especially now that Esposito has blessed the Harley Quinn animated series with his presence as the genius billionaire supervillain.
What Esposito brings that no one else has is this sense of pure douchiness that has always been under the surface but never quite highlighted in the way he is able to. To be fair, Cryer, Rosenbaum, Hackman, and others have just been too likable. Esposito's Lex is just awful, and by that we mean he is amazing in that we want to constantly kick him in the nuts. Only an actor of his caliber could surface this smarminess and still make him somewhat charming while also bringing the menace and gravitas. He is, after all, Gus Fring. We're a little scared of him always.
"The Princess Bride"
Esposito is really pushing for these comedic roles, showing up in Quibi's recent Princess Bride at Home remake. Taking on the iconic role of the grandfather, we get to see that warmer side of his personality that we never expect from his villain turns. It's a lot of fun, as is most of the rest of the production. While I'm generally loathed to saying nice things about Quibi and most of their programming, this is good, and Esposito's part in it is a highlight even among a cast of incredible luminaries and a who's who of Hollywood and comedy. His comedic chops are equal with everyone else's.
Esposito shines as he plays Andres Pico sporting the most amazing muttonchops you've ever seen. While Seth Weitberg tells the story of the founding of Los Angeles's first police department and the lawlessness of its wild west period, Esposito chews the scenery and fake shoots a dozen different people, yelling "Bang! Bang!" and pantomiming his gun going off. It's classic Drunk History, and Esposito is hilarious.
As with so many of these other roles, Esposito is able to do so much with so little. Pico goes on a strange journey and dare we say there's a bit of a character arc for him to inhabit. It's just the magic he brings to every role he plays, and a reminder he should get to do comedy more often.
We want to see more of Giancarlo Esposito, no matter what he does. Bring on Season 2 of The Boys and The Mandalorian, please and thank you. But we hope the rest of Hollywood pays attention, and as productions return to normal, we get to see more of Esposito in comedic roles.