Why Giancarlo Esposito Thinks His Career (and TV Itself) Got Better During the Pandemic

TheWrap Magazine: “Television has become much more personal because we finally learned how to use our remotes the last year,” says Esposito


This story about Giancarlo Esposito first appeared in the Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.

Few actors have had a more crowded pandemic than four-time Emmy nominee Giancarlo Esposito. His role as the fearsome Moff Gideon in “The Mandalorian,” for which he received a guest-actor nomination last year, expanded to a supporting part in Season 2 on Disney+; he played 1960s congressman Adam Clayton Powell in the Epix drama series “Godfather of Harlem,” which filmed its second season during the pandemic, and CEO Stan Edgar in Amazon Prime’s “The Boys,” which did the same; and he’s currently in production on the sixth and final season of FX’s “Better Call Saul,” continuing the role as fried-chicken mogul Gus Fring that began on “Breaking Bad.”

This is supposed to be a time when things have slowed down and production is difficult. But I guess you’ve had a busy pandemic.
I have. I decided the pandemic was the time for me to reacquaint myself with some of the hopes and dreams I had for my creative life outside of being an actor. So I was able to cultivate that and turn that into a podcast that will be coming out weekly. I’ve done a number of books on tape. I’m in development on a couple of different TV shows and one movie. And then when the pandemic was not over, all the unions and the locals figured out how to get production back.

So I was able to go back to “Godfather of Harlem” in November in New York, able to go back to “The Boys” in Toronto, and then able to jump right back into “Better Call Saul” Season 6, and then start to figure out “The Mandalorian” Season 3.

What were the keys for you for the second season of “The Mandalorian”? In the first season, you only had two episodes, and you could basically show up and be the biggest badass on the screen. But for the second season, you have more time to explore the character further.
Well, Moff Gideon drops some clues in the first season, which speak to the fact that he knows everything. He could see and hear and know what people are thinking, what they’re doing, what they want. There’s some superpower that gives him that information. And I always like to hold something back. Maybe there’s the possibility that he wants the best for the Child (Grogu, popularly known as Baby Yoda). Is there a piece of good that he could possibly have in him? We would hope so, but it could be a long shot. But it’s fun to see things unravel.

Looking at the issues you dealt with this season in “Godfather of Harlem” — voter suppression in the inner city, police brutality against Blacks — you can’t help but notice that while it may be a period piece, it couldn’t be much timelier.
I think that’s the magic of “Godfather of Harlem.” I really do. The issues are very similar and we get a chance to say, “Oh, have we changed much? Or are things still the same?” The show is taking history and allowing us to see that what happened then is important to what’s happening now. These are great topics for entertainment and great storylines to see and realize that some things have changed so much, but there are areas where we haven’t grown. We’re still at a place of Black Lives Matter, marching in the streets, young Black people killed every day.

Do you think the connection between television and its audience has changed over the course of the last year?
Television has become much more personal because we finally learned how to use our remotes the last year. (Laughs) We had so much time we could figure out the remote and we could figure out the streaming channels and we could figure out, “Oh, maybe I want this and this, but not that or that.” Of course, now you have to buy everything, and TV used to be free. But you know what your taste is and you can find intelligent, incredible programming — the relationship has changed because you’re able to focus your appetite in a new, delightful way.

You can follow your appetite to go completely into a fantasy world, to a universe that still needs to be tamed. Or you can go into the desert following a guy who had made a decision to be a shyster lawyer to work through his pain. Or you can follow a dysfunctional family who make light of themselves and the world around them, but have an incredible family bond. All these different shows are changing the dynamic of how we’re able to access the things that are appealing to us. People have really discovered that there’s quality going on that is worthy of their time.

Read more from the Race Begins issue here.

EmmyWrap The Race Begins 2021 cover
illustration by Jon Stich for TheWrap