Better Call Saul & The Mandalorian's Giancarlo Esposito Giancarlo Esposito talks about returning to play Gus Fring in Better Call Saul, and meeting Baby Yoda in The Madalorian. Then, he plays an audio quiz identifying celebrity cameos from Sesame Street.

Better Call Saul & The Mandalorian's Giancarlo Esposito

Better Call Saul & The Mandalorian's Giancarlo Esposito

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1006759043/1007864246" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Actor Giancarlo Esposito. Courtesy of the Artist hide caption

toggle caption
Courtesy of the Artist

Actor Giancarlo Esposito.

Courtesy of the Artist

Better Call Saul and The Mandalorian star Giancarlo Esposito's on-screen interests include running a drug empire and hunting Baby Yoda. Off-screen, Esposito's interests include playing the saxophone and designing hats. In this interview, Esposito talks about his initial reluctance to take on the role of Gus Fring in Breaking Bad and its prequel, Better Call Saul. Then, he talks about his first meeting with Baby Yoda, aka The Child, aka Grogu, from shaking "its little hand" to petting "its little furry, big ears." He also briefly revisits one of his first TV gigs — playing Big Bird's camp counselor on Sesame Street — and plays a game about other celebrities who appeared on the beloved show.

Heard on 'Hacks,' Giancarlo Esposito, Donwill & Bethany Van Delft.

OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:

It's time to welcome our special guest. He plays drug king Gus Fring in "Breaking Bad" and its prequel "Better Call Saul." And he currently stars in a ton of other shows, including Amazon's "The Boys" and Disney+'s "Star Wars" show "The Mandalorian." Giancarlo Esposito, welcome to ASK ME ANOTHER.

GIANCARLO ESPOSITO: Pleasure to be here. I'm so happy to be with you and all of your fans on ASK ME ANOTHER.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Yes. Giancarlo, I understand that you are Zooming in from New Mexico, a - somewhere in New Mexico because you are on set. You're on location.

ESPOSITO: I'm on location on "Better Call Saul," the final sixth and fantastic season that we're shooting now.

EISENBERG: Yes. And how is it in New Mexico?

ESPOSITO: You know, it's a beautiful day. We've had a couple of very beautiful days. This is a very monsoon kind of type of year, season.

EISENBERG: OK.

ESPOSITO: It's coming a little early. So we get some rain...

EISENBERG: Yeah.

ESPOSITO: ...Dropping down from the mountains. But it's beautiful. Yeah, I'm happy to be here.

EISENBERG: Is that affecting shooting, or are you all inside anyways?

ESPOSITO: You know, by August at 3 in the afternoon, it pours rain no matter where you are in Albuquerque.

EISENBERG: Right.

(LAUGHTER)

ESPOSITO: And it does it for about an hour and goes away. So it hasn't affected us yet, but it will. We're ready for it.

EISENBERG: So, you know, before we have a celebrity on our show, we try to do some research as to, you know, what they are into outside of, obviously, their career. And am I right in saying - you get to tell me if this is correct. We read on tvguide.com that you play the saxophone? Is that correct?

ESPOSITO: I'm a student of the saxophone.

EISENBERG: Oh, yeah?

ESPOSITO: Yeah. You know, I can probably play a few bars of "Summertime," maybe get through the whole piece, a tune that my mother sang years ago when she was an up-and-coming artist and singer. So I do love musical instruments.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

ESPOSITO: But the saxophone is one of my favorites. I haven't mastered it, sadly. But I do love to play.

EISENBERG: How long have you been playing?

ESPOSITO: I've been playing around with it for about 10 years.

EISENBERG: OK.

JONATHAN COULTON, BYLINE: Oh, wow. All right. And are you learning to improvise and solo over chords and that sort of thing?

ESPOSITO: Well, so I started improvising on the jazz piano years ago. It's a music that I love because it held a lot of self-expression that wasn't defined by, you know, a title, like bebop or classical music or a certain cool jazz. It was really coming from someone's improvisational skill but soul, more of a soulful expression to me.

COULTON: Yeah. And so you've got the jazz in your head; you just need to get it under your fingers for the saxophone, right? That's the challenge, right?

ESPOSITO: That's correct. It's, you know, matching the fingers and the breath.

COULTON: Right.

ESPOSITO: And so I do some yoga, which helps to understand the breath. And I'm always curious about a cat, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, who could play two saxophones at a time. And I can't even play one. So...

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: And then am I also right in saying that you make your own hats?

ESPOSITO: Well, I have a hand in designing some of the hats that I wear.

EISENBERG: Yeah?

ESPOSITO: I have a long history of love for hats and love for hat-makers because I just feel like it's a skill that's been lost.

EISENBERG: Actually, I worked for a milliner right out - after college. I got a job at a hat store, and she was also a milliner. And her theory was, hey, everyone has a head; you can sell hats to everyone.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: That's true. Everyone does have a head.

EISENBERG: So yeah. And she was very into just reshaping hats. She would take people's - like, you know, any kind of felt hat people had, and they said, it doesn't fit right, and she would go through a whole process of reshaping it for them.

ESPOSITO: Well, it's something you start to have knowledge about if you have interest, like anything else in life.

EISENBERG: Yeah. Yeah.

ESPOSITO: And I have interest in so many things. But then when I first learned that I wasn't a round oval, but I was a long oval...

EISENBERG: (Laughter) Yes.

ESPOSITO: ...It changed the game.

COULTON: Changed everything.

ESPOSITO: And I should've known, looking at my profile. I got a football head. You know, that's - each of y'all (ph) is laughing.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: You know, obviously, we just mentioned that you are working on the sixth and final season of "Better Call Saul." And just to give context, this show is a prequel to "Breaking Bad." You play Gus Fring on both the shows, and Gus is a drug kingpin who owns and operates a chain of very respectable fried chicken restaurants - but that you were reluctant to bring Gus back for "Better Call Saul." Why was that?

ESPOSITO: I was resistant to "Breaking Bad" because I - look; I read a story about these two young Utah boys who were, you know, peddling religion and went down and turned out and - got turned out and then were peddling meth. And I went, oh, man, do I want to be within this story that tells it as it is, truthfully, but do I want to be the guy who's producing the product that's corrupting people? And so I knew way back, 10 years ago, with "Breaking Bad," that I had to be aware and responsible for that if I took that part. I said, I don't want to do anything. I don't want to be the stereotypical dude who's the bad guy selling the drugs; I want to be a guy who has other, deeper reasons for pursuing the road that he's pursuing. So then coming back to "Saul," it was like, oh, shoot, I did that. Like, what else is there to do?

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Right. Right. You had closure with it, to a certain extent.

ESPOSITO: To - a part of me. Like, part of me still wanted to explore the world of Gus. There were - it's six years or so earlier than "Breaking Bad."

EISENBERG: Right.

ESPOSITO: And I thought - the opportunity to make bookends intrigued me...

COULTON: Yeah.

ESPOSITO: ...In television.

COULTON: Right, right.

EISENBERG: Yeah. And you play another bad guy on the "Star Wars" series "The Mandalorian" - Moff Gideon. He's chasing Baby Yoda, aka The Child or Grogu.

ESPOSITO: Yeah.

EISENBERG: And so - but, of course, you know, as somebody who's watched it, I'm aware that that is a puppet that you are playing against.

COULTON: (Laughter).

ESPOSITO: I have to say, it's hard to keep that awareness once you meet Grogu.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

ESPOSITO: Whew (ph). You know? And I'm looking at, you know, something that looks so very real, and it's looking at you, begging you to love it and pay attention to it.

COULTON: (Laughter).

ESPOSITO: It's as simple as that. And how do you do that? And then once someone starts to manipulate the baby, it becomes even more adorable.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

ESPOSITO: So we had that initial meeting and shook its little hand and petted its little furry, big ears and...

(LAUGHTER)

ESPOSITO: ...Realized that you have to honor this. This is the goal, The Child. So even Moff Gideon has to come to it with reverence.

EISENBERG: So - and, you know, I was thinking. So that is - as you describe that, I am also just thinking of this parallel that one of your first roles in your 20s was on "Sesame Street." You were part of four episodes of "Sesame Street" in the early '80s. And you played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey.

ESPOSITO: I sure did. I loved my time on "Sesame Street."

EISENBERG: Yeah?

ESPOSITO: I love education. I love learning. And so I knew "Sesame Street" was going to be a gig that was going to be very special.

EISENBERG: So we love "Sesame Street" here, too, and so we have a game for you about "Sesame Street." Are you ready for your ASK ME ANOTHER challenge?

ESPOSITO: Absolutely.

EISENBERG: OK. We know that a lot of famous people, like yourself, have appeared on the show, so here's what we're going to do. We're going to play you an audio clip of a famous person on "Sesame Street," and you just have to tell us who you're hearing. Here we go.

ESPOSITO: OK.

EISENBERG: So this person has been on "Sesame Street" many, many times to promote healthy eating.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SESAME STREET")

ERIC JACOBSON: (As Grover) What are you doing here on Sesame Street?

MICHELLE OBAMA: (As herself) I'm about to have this nice, healthy breakfast.

JACOBSON: (As Grover) Breakfast, you say?

OBAMA: (As herself) Yeah, breakfast - you know, the very first meal of the day.

ESPOSITO: Michelle Obama.

EISENBERG: Yes, Michelle Obama.

COULTON: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: Yeah.

ESPOSITO: Love it.

EISENBERG: Only Grover could start a conversation with Michelle Obama and say, what are you doing here? Like, only...

(LAUGHTER)

ESPOSITO: Yeah. Love it.

COULTON: Yeah.

EISENBERG: There are certain things that Muppets can do that, obviously, people cannot.

COULTON: All right, in this clip, Snuffleupagus is starring in a movie called "The Summer Of Snuffy," directed by somebody that you have worked with.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SESAME STREET")

SPIKE LEE: (As himself) Please act - set. You're killing me.

MARTIN P ROBINSON: (As Mr. Snuffleupagus) OK, I'll pretend.

ESPOSITO: (Laughter) You're killing me - Spike Lee.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SESAME STREET")

LEE: (As himself) Can we do this?

ROBINSON: (As Mr. Snuffleupagus) Yes, we can.

ESPOSITO: You know - oh, my goodness. Now, I've got to call him. I didn't know he even did that. You surprised me. I love it.

COULTON: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: And he sounds intense. I mean, it's...

ESPOSITO: He really does.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

ESPOSITO: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: OK, so before he voiced Darth Vader and Mufasa, this guy was the very first guest ever to appear on "Sesame Street."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SESAME STREET")

JAMES EARL JONES: (As himself) A, B, C, D, E...

ESPOSITO: Come on.

COULTON: (Laughter).

ESPOSITO: James Earl Jones.

EISENBERG: Yes.

COULTON: (Laughter).

ESPOSITO: Yeah, I...

EISENBERG: Talk about someone's voice that you could listen to...

COULTON: I know. I know.

ESPOSITO: Oh, how do you ever...

COULTON: Geez.

ESPOSITO: You know, so it's - you can listen to him forever. I know he's read the Bible and everything else. And he's just one of my heroes and champions. Wow.

COULTON: All right, this musician entertained Oscar the Grouch with the song "Nasty Dan."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SESAME STREET")

JOHNNY CASH: (As himself, singing) Now, Nasty Dan was a nasty man the whole day long.

ESPOSITO: Johnny Cash.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: Yeah, that's right.

ESPOSITO: Man in black, yes, indeed.

COULTON: Yep. That was from the 1970s. That was from Cash's 1975 children's album that he made, actually.

ESPOSITO: Wow, I didn't know that, either.

COULTON: Yeah.

ESPOSITO: I'm such a Johnny Cash fan.

COULTON: I didn't know he had a kids' album. I got to check it out.

EISENBERG: All right, and this is the final one. This musician performed a cover of Ernie's ode to his favorite bath toy.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SESAME STREET")

LITTLE RICHARD: (As himself, singing) Rubber Duckie, you're the one. You make bath time lots of fun. Rubber Duckie, I'm awfully fond of you.

ESPOSITO: I can see his face, and I can't come up with his name.

EISENBERG: What if I said...

ESPOSITO: Oh, wait - I want a clue.

EISENBERG: OK, what if I said "Tutti Frutti"?

ESPOSITO: Yeah, that's the dude.

(LAUGHTER)

ESPOSITO: Yeah. Yeah, you're not helping me here.

EISENBERG: All right, what if I said...

ESPOSITO: Little Richard.

EISENBERG: Yes, exactly.

COULTON: Yeah, Little Richard.

ESPOSITO: Yes.

COULTON: You got it. It was in there.

(LAUGHTER)

ESPOSITO: So I'm seeing his body, you know?

(LAUGHTER)

ESPOSITO: That's - and I - and the hair. And so I was trying to go, like, oh - you know, 'cause he was so long.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) OK.

ESPOSITO: And his body kind of curled.

COULTON: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

ESPOSITO: Anyway, I'm sorry. You got me being silly now.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: You did it. You got them all correct. You know your "Sesame Street" superstars, which, of course, you are one of them. So...

(LAUGHTER)

ESPOSITO: Thank you. Thank you so very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

EISENBERG: Giancarlo Esposito currently stars in the Disney+ "Star Wars" series "The Mandalorian." Season 2 is available now. Thank you so much for joining us (laughter).

ESPOSITO: Pleasure. Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

EISENBERG: That's our show. ASK ME ANOTHER's house musician is Jonathan Coulton.

COULTON: Hey. My name anagrams to thou jolt a cannon.

EISENBERG: Our games were written by our staff, along with Emily Winter and senior writer Karen Lurie with additional material by Cara Weinberger. ASK ME ANOTHER is produced by Nancy Saechao, James Farber and Rommel Wood, with Gianna Capadona and our intern Zach St. Clair. Our senior producer is Travis Larchuk. Our senior supervising producer is Rachel Neel, and our bosses' bosses are Steve Nelson and Anya Grundmann. Thanks to our production partner WNYC. I'm her ripe begonias.

COULTON: Ophira Eisenberg.

EISENBERG: And this was ASK ME ANOTHER from NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.