Giancarlo Esposito is known and loved by millions thanks to the extensive and varied work of his 6-decade career. In the 1980s and ’90s, he starred in multiple high-profile films and gained critical acclaim for his stage work. More recently, he’s achieved a new level of success with his role as drug kingpin Gus Fring in the hugely popular AMC shows, Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. With new projects such as The Mandalorian and Harley Quinn in the works, now’s never been a better time to find out 20 things you didn’t know about Giancarlo Esposito.
1. He’s Danish by birth
Giancarlo Esposito (or to give him his full name, Giancarlo Giuseppe Alessandro Esposito) was born April 26th, 1958 in Copenhagen, Denmark to father Giovanni Esposito, an Italian carpenter/stagehand, and mother Elizabeth Foster, an African-American opera singer from Alabama. Esposito was raised in Copenhagen (along with his older brother, Vincent) until the age of six. At that point, his parents decided to abandon Denmark for the Big Apple, and Esposito spent the remainder of his formative years in Manhattan, New York.
2. His mother performed alongside Josephine Baker
According to IMDB, Esposito’s mother, Elizabeth, was gigging at a nightclub with legendary entertainer, Josephine Baker, around the time of his birth. The naturalized French singer, dancer and actress was celebrated in her homeland for her risquÃ© performances and signature costume of a girdle of artificial bananas. Along with her skills as a performer, Baker was also known for her contributions to the war effort: her work with the French Renaissance was rewarded with a Croix de Guerre by the French Military, while her title of Chevalier of the LÃ©gion d’Honneur was awarded by French President General Charles de Gaulle.
3. He was a child actor
Esposito comes from a talented family. His both parents are from the entertainment business, so it’s no surprise that Esposito decided on a career in the industry. His stage career began when he was a child when he appeared opposite Shirley Jones as an orphan in the 1968 Broadway production of Maggie Flynn. He then followed up the appearance a few years later with a role in the children’s chorus of The Electric Company, an early 1970’s education show that had a goal to teach kids using songs, animation, and live-action sketches.
4. He was inspired by audience applause
Esposito’s decision to follow a career in acting came after an appearance in Seesaw at the age of 13. Esposito says that it was leaving the stage and hearing the sound of the audience’s applause that ignited his passion:- “I came offstage and heard the applause of the theater audience and felt a sense of accomplishment” the actor has revealed.
5. His childhood hero was Burt Lancaster
As a child, Esposito’s hero was Burt Lancaster, the legendary actor who won worldwide acclaim (and multiple Academy and Golden Globe nominations) for his appearances in such classics as Elmer Gantry, Atlantic City and Zulu Dawn. The young Esposito didn’t just admire Lancaster for his acting chops, however: during the 1950’s, Lancaster made a series of widely acclaimed films (including Sweet Smell of Success (1957) and Separate Tables (1958) with his production company Hect-Hill-Lancaster, proving himself to be just as much a success behind the camera as in front of it. It was this entrepreneurial spirit that so appealed to Esposito, who notes: “He was one of the first actors in Hollywood to start his own production company, and I respected him because he created something he believed in”.
6. His first success was as a stage actor
Before the siren call of TV came beckoning, Esposito was carving out a successful career as a stage actor. Despite since making his name as an acclaimed film and TV star, Esposito hasn’t turned his back on the theater. To this day, he continues to be an active member of the Atlantic Theater Company, an off-Broadway, non-profit theater whose mission is ” to empower simple and honest storytelling that fosters greater understanding of our shared world.” The company was founded in 1985 by playwright, David Mamet, fellow actor and Shameless star, William H Macy, and 30 students from New York University.
7. He has a degree in Radio and Television
His decision to pursue a career in acting has clearly paid off, but as a teenager, Esposito had some doubts. Worried that his acting ambitions would fail to deliver the goods, he made sure to have the education to fall back on. As a result, he can now boast a two-year degree in radio and television from the Elizabeth Seton College in Yonkers, New York. Of his decision, Esposito says, “I figured if I never made It as an actor, I could go to Alaska, be a cameraman, and collect a paycheck. It would be something to fall back on, but something I still enjoyed.”
8. He’s collaborated on 4 movies with Spike Lee
Esposito first worked with acclaimed director, Spike Lee, on the filmmaker’s 2nd feature film, School Daze. The 1988 musical comedy-drama, which also starred Laurence Fishburne and Tisha Campbell-Martin, gave a snapshot of the relationships and racial tensions in one of the nation’s historically black colleges. The director and actor clearly enjoyed a mutual admiration, and over the next four years, they collaborated on 3 further projects: 1989’s Do the Right Thing, an account of racial tensions in Brooklyn, Mo’ Better Blues, Lee’s 1990’s musical drama, and Malcolm X, the epic biographical drama about black activist Malcolm X.
9. He’s a yoga devotee
All work and no play may have made Jack a dull boy, but Esposito is in no danger of following suit. In between projects, Esposito makes sure to take plenty of time out to enjoy some much-needed R&R. Some of his favorite activities include practicing his downward dog at yoga class, belting out a tune on his trusty saxophone, and picking up some LA sunshine as he cruises around town on his motorbike.
10. He’s a philanthropist
These days, it’s not enough for an actor to simply make good films. If they want the respect of their peers and the love of their fans, they have to do good “works” as well. More and more actors are dipping their toes into the pool of philanthropy, and Esposito is no different. Over the years, he’s lent his name, face, and money to various charitable organizations, most of which have had some affiliation with the environment, the arts and education. In recent years, the Waterkeeper Alliance, an environmental organization that aims to protect water resources, Kids for Peace, a non-profit youth organization that supports and empowers the next generation, and World Merit USA, an organization that improves the prospects of the young by enhancing social mobility, have all benefited from the actor’s benevolence.
11. He has a Net Worth of $8 Million
Esposito has an impressive career that spans nearly 6 decades in film, TV, and stage credits (not forgetting his many nominations and award nods, which include a Critics’ Choice Television Award for Best Supporting Actor in 2012 and a National Board of Review Award in 1995). So, it’s no surprise that he has a net worth of $8 million.
Thanks to the groundbreaking success of Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Mandalorian, and now Kaleidoscope, the talented actor isn’t short of a cent or two. According to CNW, Esposito was taking home an estimated $65 thousand per episode when he filmed Better Call Saul. Add this to what he makes from other projects (especially the latest successes like Mandalorian and Kaleidoscope), and we’re looking at a very respectable net worth of $8 million.
12. He appeared on the Muppets
Fans flicking through Esposito’s back catalog may be surprised by one past credit in particular. In 1982, the actor took on the role of Mickey, Big Bird’s camp counselor, in 4 episodes of everyone’s favorite kid’s TV show, Sesame Street. Of course, Esposito isn’t only the big name to have graced the show over the years. Since its inception in 1969, multiple stars have lent their talents to the production, including Amy Adams, Alec Baldwin, Garth Brooks, Cher, and, perhaps most surprisingly of all, former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan.
13. He’s a guest speaker
Fans who can’t get enough of the actor’s famously dulcet tones will be pleased to know Esposito has been known to put in the occasional appearance as a guest speaker. The crowd-pleaser routinely attracts large crowds to his performances, in which he relays his take on the state of race relations, art, entertainment and culture in America. He’s also been known to share behind-the-scenes anecdotes, inspirational tales about his show-biz journey, and more personal stories about his experiences as a bi-racial actor in the industry.
14. He almost missed out on the role of Gustavo Fring
Esposito is known for portraying villainous bosses, but believe it or not, he almost didn’t get the biggest role of his life – Gustavo Fring. Because the Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan didn’t think he could land Esposito, he didn’t even contemplate asking him to do it. But when he later watched Esposito’s previous performances, he was determined to get him for this iconic role.
Another interesting fact is that even though Esposito was cast to play in the show, he wasn’t supposed to be the main antagonist. Instead, Salamanca was supposed to be the main villain. However, Esposito’s performance blew away everyone on set, so they decided to rewrite his character’s story and the rest is history.
15. He landed the role in Mandalorian because of his long association with John Favreau
Esposito and Favreau had previously worked together on the TV show Revolution and the movie The Jungle Book. When Favreau was thinking about who would be good at playing Moff Gideon in Mandalorian, Esposito was the first actor to come to mind. According to him, Esposito was the natural choice for the role.
16. He’s lent his voice to video games
In recent years, Esposito has branched into voice-over work. Gaming fans will know him as the voice of “The Dentist” on Payday 2, the action-packed, four-person shooter video game from Overkill Software. The game was released in 2013 for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. In 2016, he also lent his voice to Akela in Jon Favreau’s Jungle Book. The film was a critical and commercial success, grossing more the $966 million worldwide to become the 42nd highest-grossing film of all time. A sequel is currently underway, although it’s as yet unconfirmed whether Esposito will reprise his role.
17. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Esposito has won much critical acclaim over the course of his career, but perhaps the greatest accolade came on April 26, 2014, when he was awarded the 2,523rd star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The award was announced by Hollywood Chamber of Commerce President Leron Gubler, who stated “We are thrilled to have this triple threat on our Walk of Fame. This talented actor, director, and producer continue to entertain fans, and his talent is a great fit on our sidewalk of immortalized stars.”
18. He owns a production company
Esposito is as equally talented behind the camera as he is in front of it. Under his production company, Quiet Hand Productions, Esposito made his directorial debut with Gospel Hill. The film starred Esposito alongside Danny Glover, Angela Basset, and Samuel. L. Jackson was released to critical acclaim in 2008, scooping a staggering 9 awards at that year’s film festivals. Inspired by the success of Gospel Hill, Esposito has gone on to direct a 2nd feature, The Show, which tells the story of a reality game show in which contestants commit suicide for the entertainment of viewers. The film premiered at the 2017 SXSW Festival and was released in theaters later that year.
19. He’s fluent in Italian and Spanish
Given his European background, it’s perhaps no surprise to learn the talented actor knows a thing or two about languages. As he was raised in Copenhagen, you might be forgiven for thinking he’d be a master of Danish, but no…. Esposito is in fact fluent in Spanish and Italian (although the latter is perhaps less of a surprise, given that his father was Spanish by birth).
20. He’s a member of the DC Extended Universe
While Esposito may not be a physical presence in the DC series of superhero films, he is at least a vocal one. Esposito joined the DC Universe Animated Original Movies series with his casting as Ra’s al Ghul in Son of Batman and Black Spider in Batman: Assault on Arkham. Other notable actors who’ve lent their voices to the series include Rosario Dawson, Rainn Wilson, Christian Slater, and Jennifer Hale.
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