Giancarlo Esposito has earned critical acclaim playing some of the worst villains on film and TV, but why exactly is he so good at playing the bad guy? Esposito has been acting for over four decades, but the last decade has seen him cement his reputation as one of the best villainous actors there is. The man himself is as pleasant and affable as they come, so why does he make such a compelling villain?
Esposito first rose to superstardom with the role of Gus Fring on AMC’s Breaking Bad, for which he received widespread critical acclaim. In 2020, he played three major TV villains – reprising the role of Fring for Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul, as well as appearing as Stan Edgar in The Boys, and Moff Gideon in The Mandalorian. Esposito’s reach as a villain has also extended to video games, as he will also appear in the upcoming Far Cry 6 as Antón Castillo, the dictator of a fictional Caribbean island. Esposito’s ability to bring morally questionable characters to life is plain to see for anyone familiar with his work of the past decade.
The main reason for this is that Esposito is a truly impressive actor. He’s been able to bring each of his villains to life by giving them transparently human motivations while still maintaining an almost inhuman air of indifference, making his characters appear to audiences as both complex and simple at the same time. He’s also able to inject occasional comedy into his villains, as evidenced by his cameos in Community, and this again has helped give some of his villains a little extra charisma, which certainly hasn’t hurt their popularity.
One of Esposito’s strengths is in his composure. He stands tall and proud and has the measured class of a successful man, something which the average viewer finds easier to equate to a villain. He’s able to be something both familiar and alien, and the juxtaposition that evokes is fascinatingly unsettling. This was especially evident in the way Esposito’s breakout role on Breaking Bad as meth kingpin Gus Fring was handled. His cold, calculating demeanor in Breaking Bad was unforgettable, but the character was expanded upon in the spin-off, with Better Call Saul humanizing Fring and offering him a more relatable backstory.
This is also evidenced by Esposito’s role on The Boys, in which he appears as Stan Edgar, the enigmatic head of Vought Industries and the boss of most of the show’s superpowered characters. Edgar is another distant, calculating figure, and his clipped tones and impersonal cruelty make for a scarily familiar politician-type figure. Content to sit behind the scenes and pull strings almost anonymously, Edgar is the quintessential evil CEO, a powerful figure with no regard for those he deems beneath him. This is supported by Esposito’s deadpan delivery of even the most unpleasant of lines, making him seem far too emotionless to be entirely human.
This lightly inhuman characterization also follows over into Esposito’s The Mandalorian role of Moff Gideon – a villain with a storied past involving working with the Galactic Empire and committing the most heinous acts in the name of the Emperor. With all of Esposito’s villainous characters, the darkness is always buried under several layers of professional detachment, which rings true for any number of real-life historical villains. There’s always unplumbed depths to Giancarlo Esposito‘s villains, and that’s what makes him such an excellent fit to play the most unpleasant characters.