Family & Companions
Working on stage and screen, Giancarlo Esposito emerged from the indie-film movement of the 1990s to become one of his generation's most respected actors. Raised in Europe by his theatrical, ethnically diverse parents, Esposito was brought to New York at the age of six and first performed on Broadway two years later. More lauded work in various stage productions soon made way for the young Obie Award-winning actor's growing list of film credits, most notably a series of collaborations with filmmaker Spike Lee that began with "School Daze" (1988) and "Do the Right Thing" (1989). Throughout the 1990s, Esposito was an in-demand performer with other independently-minded filmmakers like Jim Jarmusch in "Night on Earth" (1991) and actor-director Tim Robbins for a prominent role in "Bob Roberts" (1992). Looking to distance himself from the street thug roles he was most frequently offered, Esposito became just as well known for portrayals of law enforcement officers in such projects as "The Usual Suspects" (1995) and "Homicide: Life on the Street" (NBC, 1993-99). Later, he lent his prodigious talents to a pair of insightful biopics with "Ali" (2001), opposite star Will Smith and "Piñero" (2001), alongside Benjamin Bratt. Nearly a decade later, the busy actor garnered some of the strongest notices of his career with his nuanced performance of Machiavellian drug kingpin Gus Fring on the acclaimed crime series "Breaking Bad" (AMC, 2008-2012). Equally adept at comedy or high drama, Esposito never failed to bring something unique to each and every role.
Born Giancarlo Giuseppe Alessandro Esposito on April 26, 1958 in Copenhagen, Denmark, his mother was an African-American opera singer and his father was an Italian stage hand and set builder from Napoli. Following the needs of his parents' work schedules, he traveled with them between Rome and Hamburg, Germany for most of his early years until the family moved to Manhattan when he was six. With the theater and a need to perform ingrained in him since birth, Esposito - who attended NYC's Professional Children's School - made his Broadway debut at age eight opposite Shirley Jones in the musical "Maggie Flynn" in 1966. Thrilled by the experience, he later went on to appear in other NYC stage productions, including a 1977 mounting of "Miss Moffatt," starring no less than Bette Davis. Chomping at the bit to begin his career in earnest, the 21-year-old Esposito soon landed his feature film debut with a bit part in the Michael Douglas sports drama "Running" (1979), prior to grabbing more screen time as a young cadet caught up in events beyond his control in "Taps" (1981), a military academy drama that also featured future superstars Sean Penn and Tom Cruise.
Quickly establishing himself as one of the most promising young stage talents, Esposito also won an Obie Award for his performance as the title character of playwright Charles Fuller's "Zooman and the Sign" in 1981. Amongst a steadily growing list of smaller film and TV credits, he followed with a turn opposite Steppenwolf Theater alumni Laurie Metcalf in the award-winning 1984 production of "Balm of Gilead," directed by John Malkovich. Late in the decade, the burgeoning actor began an immensely influential professional relationship with writer-director Spike Lee, who first cast him as charismatic fraternity leader Dean Big Brother Almighty in the collegiate comedy musical "School Daze" (1988). It was a breakout role for Esposito, who immediately re-upped with Lee for the critically-heralded urban drama "Do the Right Thing" (1989), in which he played the highly-combustible character known as Buggin' Out. A decade later, the film, which chronicled the rising racial tensions over the course of a hot summer day in a Brooklyn neighborhood, was added to the select list of films considered "culturally significant" by the U.S. Library of Congress.
Knowing a good thing when he saw it, Esposito immediately signed back on for a supporting role in Lee's next project, "Mo' Better Blues" (1990), a jazz-infused nostalgic drama starring Denzel Washington as a womanizing trumpet player. Lee was not the only independent filmmaker eager to work with the talented actor, who went on to make appearances in Abel Ferrara's brutal, controversial gangster drama, "King of New York" (1990) and Jim Jarmusch's charming collection of taxicab vignettes, "Night on Earth" (1991). Esposito then rejoined Lee and Washington for a turn in the acclaimed biopic of controversial African-American equal rights leader "Malcolm X" (1992), in addition to playing Bugs Raglin, an alternative press reporter trying to expose a corrupt right-wing presidential candidate (Tim Robbins) in "Bob Roberts" (1992), a political satire written and directed by Robbins. Later that year, Esposito returned to the off-Broadway stage for the drama "Distant Fires," delivering a tour de force performance that won him a second Obie Award.
Television gave Esposito a rare opportunity to play a character who shared his dual ethnicity as Sergeant Paul Gigante on the clever but short-lived cop comedy, "Bakersfield P.D." (Fox, 1993-94). After turning in another utterly believable performance as Esteban, the slick drug dealer in writer-director Boaz Yakin's criminally under-seen urban drama "Fresh" (1994), Esposito continued his efforts to play against type when he landed the role of an FBI agent in Bryan Singer's byzantine thriller "The Usual Suspects" (1995). He continued the career transformation with his 1998-99 stint on the acclaimed police procedural "Homicide: Life on the Street" (NBC, 1993-99), playing Mike Giardello, an FBI agent assigned to the Baltimore homicide unit run by his estranged father (Yaphet Kotto). In back-to-back biopics, he played Cassius Clay, Sr., father of the legendary boxing champ (Will Smith) in director Michael Mann's "Ali" (2001), in addition to portraying revered Puerto Rican writer Miguel Algarín in "Piñero" (2001), the story of troubled Nuyorican poet and playwright Miguel Piñero (Benjamin Bratt).
Esposito continually showed his range by working in projects on the opposite sides of the thematic scale, exemplified by his turn as a determined cop in the Clive Owen-Jennifer Aniston erotic-thriller "Derailed" (2005), immediately followed by a hilarious turn as a pandering U.S. senator in the Queen Latifah comedy "Last Holiday" (2006). Amidst a multitude of minor film roles and TV guest spots, Esposito somehow found time to produce, direct and appear in the racially-charged drama "Gospel Hill" (2008), starring Danny Glover, Angela Bassett and Julia Stiles. The following year, Esposito took on what would become one of the most memorable roles of the actor's acclaimed career. Late in the second season of the lauded crime drama "Breaking Bad" (AMC, 2008-2012), Esposito first appeared as Gus Fring, the seemingly innocuous and good-natured proprietor of a local chain of fast food restaurants, who also happened to be one of the biggest distributors of methamphetamines in the Southwestern United States. Bespectacled and eerily serene, Esposito's character was just as likely to slit the throat of an enemy as he was to be seen working the register at his chicken restaurant - itself a front for his vast drug operation. Not only did his performance revive interest in his career, but it also earned him an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.
Pulling double-duty with his work on "Breaking Bad," Esposito again proved his ability to effortlessly switch between diverse genres when he accepted another recurring role on a far more family-friendly series, "Once Upon a Time" (ABC, 2011- ). On the highly-rated fantasy, the actor played Sidney Glass, a newspaper reporter for the Daily Mirror in the small town of Storybrooke, Maine. In actuality, Glass was the fabled truth-telling Magic Mirror, enslaved to the power of the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla), a dark beauty posing as the mayor in the small town's alternate reality.
By Bryce Coleman
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Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Made Broadway debut in "Maggie Flynn" at the age of eight
Landed featured role in the Broadway musical "Seesaw"; performed the musical number "Spanglish"
Made film debut in "Running"
Featured in the ensemble drama "Taps"
TV-movie debut, "The Gentleman Bandit" (CBS)
Acted in the short-lived Stephen Sondheim Broadway musical "Merrily We Roll Along"
Cast in regular role on the CBS daytime drama "Guiding Light"
Played a bit part in "Trading Places"; also featured in "Enormous Changes at the Last Minute"
Acted in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Cotton Club"
Portrayed Ernesto in the New York theater production of "Balm in Gilead," directed by John Malkovich
Landed cameo role in the comedy feature "Desperately Seeking Susan" and a memorable guest turn as Adonis Jackson on "Miami Vice" (NBC)
Appeared in the Stephen King drama "Maximum Overdrive"
Acted in the miniseries "Roanoak" (PBS), a chronicle of English explorers' first encounters with Native Americans in the New World
Co-starred in the Broadway musical "Don't Get God Started"
First collaboration with Spike Lee, "School Daze"
Played incendiary neighborhood activist Buggin Out in Spike Lee's acclaimed "Do the Right Thing"
Featured in Abel Ferrara's cult hit "King of New York"
Acted in Lee's "Mo' Better Blues"
Played YoYo in the New York-set segment of Jim Jarmusch's "Night on Earth"
Appeared in the biopic "Malcolm X"; fourth feature with Spike Lee
Co-starred as Bugs Raplin, an investigative journalist with dirt on Senate hopeful "Bob Roberts" in Tim Robbins' comedic pseudo-documentary
Co-starred in "Simple Justice," an installment of PBS "The American Experience" docudrama series examining the groundbreaking Brown vs. the Board of Education ruling
Starred as Sgt. Paul Gigante on the quirky sitcom "Bakersfield P.D." (Fox)
Starred as a drug dealer who takes a streetwise teen under his wing in Boaz Yakin's drama "Fresh"
Appeared in the short-lived Broadway play "Sacrilege"
Co-produced and starred in "The Keeper," playing a corrections officer on a journey of self-discovery
Acted in featured roles in "The Usual Suspects," "Reckless," and "Kla$h" as well as Wayne Wang's "Smoke" and its follow up "Blue in the Face"
Guest starred on episodes of "Chicago Hope," "Nash Bridges" (both CBS), "NYPD Blue" (ABC), and "Living Single" (Fox)
Featured alongside the odd buddy pairing Martin Lawrence and Tim Robbins in the adventure film "Nothing to Lose"
Co-starred as FBI Agent Mike Giardello on NBC's "Homicide: Life on the Street"
Played supporting role in Robert Benton's "Twilight," starring veterans Paul Newman, James Garner, and Gene Hackman
Played a hit man hired to murder an old high school pal in Showtime's "Naked City: Justice With a Bullet"
Reprised role of Special Agent Mike Giardello in "Homicide: The Movie" (NBC)
Starred in the sci-fi adventure "Stardust"; aired on HBO in lieu of theatrical release
Returned to series TV as co-star of the Fox drama "The $treet"
Featured in "Piñero," a biopic of the Latino poet-playwright Miguel Piñero
Landed another television series role on Fox drama "Girls Club"
Cast opposite Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston in the psychological thriller "Derailed"
Played Maggie Gyllenhaal's parole officer in "Sherrybaby"
Joined the cast of AMC's "Breaking Bad" as main antagonist Gustavo 'Gus' Fring; character memorably killed off during fourth season
Cast in supporting role in drama feature "Rabbit Hole," directed by John Cameron Mitchell
Played dual role of Sidney Glass and Magic Mirror on ABC fantasy drama "Once Upon a Time"
Featured in crime thriller "Alex Cross," based on the novel <i>Cross</i> by James Patterson and starring Tyler Perry
Cast as a ruthless Militia officer on NBC's "The Revolution"