Making his Broadway debut at the age of eight alongside Shirley Jones in the musical Maggie Flynn, it was obvious that Giancarlo Esposito was destined for stardom. Although he acted in many films and TV series, including Taps, Miami Vice, The Cotton Club, and even Sesame Street, it was not until his big break in Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing in 1988 that audiences started to take notice.
Appearing in an assortment of movies and television shows, people knew of Esposito but his name did not roll off the tongues of fans very easily. It was not until his breakout role in Breaking Bad as Gus Fring that the name of Giancarlo Esposito became synonymous with other actors like Denzel, Samuel, and Freeman.
Here are the 10 best Giancarlo Esposito’s characters (movies or TV), Ranked:
Mike Giardello – Homicide: Life on the Street
On Homicide: Life on the Street, Esposito plays an FBI agent and the son of Baltimore Police Department’s Lieutenant Al Giardello portrayed by Yaphet Kotto. Some might remember Kotto from James Bond’s Live and Let Die, Alien, and The Running Man with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Gairdello acts as a liaison between the FBI and the Homicide Unit.
Esposito and Kotto’s characters consistently disagree on how the cases are handled and how they are reported to media outlets and superiors. Their onscreen chemistry is undeniable and makes for intriguing dramatic television.
Esposito only appeared on one season of the crime drama. His character resigns from the department after he was enlisted as a hostage negotiator and things go wrong.
Left Hand Lacey – Mo’ Better Blues
In Spike Lee’s 1990 film starring Denzel Washington as a jazz trumpeter who jeopardizes both his career and relationships, Giancarlo Esposito plays his piano player, Left Hand Lacey.
Dressed in a baggy suit, a porkpie hat from the 1930s and a watch chain to match, Esposito is flamboyant and flashy in his zoot suit. The jazz ensemble reprimands him for his braggadocio and his choice of girlfriends in one of the funniest scenes in the film. As one of his group members so eloquently stated, “Do right, Lefty.”
Pastor Ramon Cruz – The Get Down
Based in the disco era of the 1970s and the start of rap, The Get Down is about three young men trying to make it in the Bronx, New York City as rap artists, and the film shows the influences both disco and rap had on the music industry during this time.
Giancarlo Esposito portrays Pastor Ramon Cruz, the father of Mylene Cruz (Herizen F. Guardiola), the girlfriend of one of the three young men, Ezekiel “Books” Figuero (Justice Smith). With a voice like an angel, Mylene inspires to be the next Donna Summer but her strictly religious father wants her voice only for the church.
Congressman Powell – Godfather of Harlem
Esposito plays the brash, eloquent speaking Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. a Baptist pastor and politician who represented Harlem during the time Bumpy Johnson (Forest Whitaker) was running the streets of New York City. As a politician, Powell tells the people what he wants them to hear but always serves his interest first.
Esposito’s performance is flawless. As a Baptist preacher, he is convincing and engaging, but as a politician who has the ear of the Kennedys and the heartbeat of the community, he is even better. Once he closes the door, the authenticity of his character is irrefutable.
Major Tom Neville – Revolution
In this short-lived NBC sci-fi television series (lasting only two seasons), Giancarlo Esposito portrayed Major Tom Neville. Neville was an insurance adjuster before the permanent power blackout on earth (no electricity after 2012). Fifteen years later, he is a Major in the Monroe Militia and later defected to the Georgia Militia trying everything he could do to keep his family alive as a villain who adapted to the harsh realities of the new world to survive.
Esposito stated in an interview with an online newspaper, AV Club, “I love this guy. He’s a powerful storyteller. And he’s fun. He likes to taunt people, and to torment them into telling the truth.”
Although NBC was struggling to hold on to the series, fans loved it and wanted more. But unfortunately, that was not enough to save the show.
Akela – The Jungle Book
Jon Favreau brought Disney’s animated feature The Jungle Book to life in dynamic fashion of awe and bewilderment. All the animals that Disney introduced in 1967 are voiced with an abundant star-studded cast that includes Ben Kinsley, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Idris Elba, and Giancarlo Esposito as Akela.
Akela is the leader of the Seeonee pack of Indian wolfs and the mentor of the jungle boy, Mowgli. He is the powerful elder of the pack. A strong and wise teacher for Mowgli.
Moff Gideon – The Mandalorian
Giancarlo Esposito excels as Moff Gideon with a dead-eyed look and a ruthless demeanor, but he is very astute and kills anyone who gets in his way of restoring order in the galaxy. The leader of the fallen Galactic Empire is trying to capture “Baby Yoda,” affectionately named by the internet. But according to the show, the 50-year old’s real name is “The Child.”
Jon Favreau was spot on in casting this marvelous character. Esposito was only on the show for two episodes making his extraordinary debut in “The Reckoning” but it gave fans something to chew on for the next season of The Mandalorian.
Julian “Big Brother Almighty” Eaves – School Daze
With a unique haircut that includes a part down the middle of his head resembling that of the late 1920s and 30s comedic genius Charlie Chaplin, Giancarlo Esposito portrays Julian “Big Brother Almighty” Eaves in Spike Lee’s School Daze. A film about life at an HBCU (Historical Black College University).
Big Brother Almighty is the Dean of Pledges and Dean of Gamma Phi Gamma, a fictional fraternity that is reminiscent of Omega Psi Phi, “Que Dogs.” He tortures pledgee “Half-Pint” (Spike Lee) on his quest of becoming a Gamma man.
Buggin Out – Do the Right Thing
Giancarlo Esposito’s character, Buggin Out, in Spike Lee’s film Do the Right Thing was exactly what his name implies. He always had something to say about something.
For example, when he is eating in Sal’s Pizzeria, Buggin Out asks “Hey, Sal? How come you don’t have any brothers on the wall?” “Yeah that might be fine Sal, but you own this, but rarely do I see Italians eating in here. All I see is black folks. And since we spend much money in here, we do have some say” as his tosses a piece of trash on the floor.
The New York agitator, self-proclaimed rebel with a speech about the injustices in the neighborhood was the caveat of the film’s controversial ending.
Gus Fring – Breaking Bad
People may not know Giancarlo Esposito by name as they know of Eddie Murphy, Denzel Washington, or Samuel Jackson, but they know his award-winning character and Rolling Stone’s choice of the seventh-best greatest television characters of all-time, Gustavo “Gus” Fring.
The character that breaks into his evil Superman when he takes off his glasses, transforming Gus from the mild-mannered well-respected owner of Los Pollos Hermanos to a ruthless drug lord of a methamphetamine empire. Fring graced the television sets of faithful viewers for two seasons on Breaking Bad, and Esposito continued his portrayal of the character on AMC’s Better Call Saul.