Actor says life’s future in your own hands

As an actor, Giancarlo Esposito takes on the roles of characters to tell stories, and Sunday he took the stage at Penn State Altoona to urge the students envision their own stories of their lives and make the choices that will take them where they want to go.

“What you do today determines your tomorrow,” said Esposito, best known for his role of drug kingpin Gustav “Gus” Fring on AMC’s “Breaking Bad.”

“See what you want and connect the dots to the lines that are going to be your story,” Esposito told the crowd of several hundred people who gathered at the Adler Sports Complex. Esposito, a veteran character actor with feature films, television and Broadway under his belt, reminded the audience that it’s their choice as to how their life will turn out, and shared stories from his life and career while encouraging people to find what they love and do the things that nurture their vision for themselves.

Logan Lott, 20, a sophomore film major, said after Esposito’s talk, part of Penn State Altoona’s Distinguished Speakers Series, that he has admired the actor’s storied career and had wanted to hear what he had to say.

“It was really great,” he said. “A lot of what he talked about is stuff I think about on a daily basis, and it was really nice to hear him put that into words.”

Esposito stressed more than just envisioning one’s life, and pointed out a lot of people don’t live up to their greatest potential because they either don’t have the desire, work ethic or tenacity to pursue their goals in life.

Before taking the floor, Esposito sat down with The Mirror and talked a bit about Hollywood, acting and the power of entertainment.

“I think a lot of young folks who want to get into the entertainment business think it’s easy, that it is play, but it does require skill and talent and sometimes if you don’t have either of those things it can require some tenacity,” Esposito said. “But I do it because I love it.”

Esposito’s work includes several Spike Lee films, such as “Do the Right Thing,” “Malcolm X” and School Daze,” Hollywood films such as “The Usual Suspects” and television work, including “Homicide: Life on the Streets” and most famously “Breaking Bad.”

Also a director, Esposito said he’s hoping to start filming a story about John Brown this summer, a project in which he’ll produce, direct, write and act.

Esposito said entertainment is a big part of people’s lives, and whether they know it or not, people learn from what they see on the screen. He said there’s a potential to tell great stories and go beyond what has already been done.

“We have the big blockbuster stories that are told that pay a large chunk of money to one actor and recycle the stories because that’s what people seem to want right now,” Esposito said of film, adding that television is where many good stories are emerging. “Some good stories are beginning to be told again and unearthed, and so it’s a good time right now in the world of television.”

Esposito said blockbuster films seem to be the only movies getting people to theaters in large numbers. There are still towns across America that support those independent theaters where films of more substance, and even foreign films, have an audience.

Esposito joked that just recently, while traveling, someone he overheard someone talking about him as if he were actually Gus Fring, the calculating and ruthless meth dealer from “Breaking Bad.” It’s the characters that attract him to roles, as well as how the characters fit into the story.

“I make choices based on what the material is, is there something there that is compelling?” Esposito said, noting that he initially turned down the role of Gus Fring because the character was only a guest appearance. The 55-year-old said he wants to take characters deeper, and that isn’t something one can do in a limited appearance.

“Each character I play I look at fresh and new and they’re all very different,” Esposito said, adding that is the way he learned the craft when he started, on the stage on Broadway. “I moved out of that because most, or many, African Americans in the 60s, at that time was their only outlet to make money. They weren’t on television and they weren’t necessary seen in the movies.”

A lot has changed over the years, he said.

“For African Americans, things have grown,” Esposito said. “I think there’s been a much larger pool of character roles for African American actors.”

He cites his current role on “Revolution” as Tom Neville, who was written as a “gentile southern gentleman” but said it was a character he wanted to take beyond a caricature.

“I don’t like to just play the stereotype of what we all believe is the villain or the bad guy,” Esposito said. “You can do that, but that’s the easy route. But to play a more complicated, layered character is just more exciting.”

Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.