Giancarlo Esposito on Why He Initially Turned Down Reprising Gus Fring on ‘Better Call Saul’

“I don’t like to repeat myself. I try to always be original in my work.” – Giancarlo Esposito

When Breaking Bad prequel series Better Call Saul was first announced, many fans of the critically acclaimed original hoped it would mean that some of Breaking Bad‘s memorable characters would appear on the series. In the case of Giancarlo Esposito, who portrayed Gus Fring on the series, it took a lot of convincing to get him to return to the world of Breaking Bad in Better Call Saul. Speaking with Vulture, Esposito explains why he turned the role down several times before finally accepting and what he has been doing since Breaking Bad ended.

Esposito admits he at first turned down the opportunity to reprise the role, pointing out that he had already played the character in one of the most critically-acclaimed television series ever made. He says, “For me, that was it. I was done. I don’t like to repeat myself. I try to always be original in my work. So to come back and create a character I’d already created was … difficult.”

It wasn’t until Esposito spoke with Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan that he was convinced to change his mind. He explains, “It was a phone call with Vince, because I’d said no to all the other powers that be [laughs], including the head of Sony. I had to speak to Vince because I needed to know: Where does Gus, this iconic character, fit into this whole thing? … The show had definitely been on a year, so maybe close to the second season? He said, ‘I want you to re-create the role that you created.’ I said, ‘Vince, I didn’t create the role. You did.’ He said, ‘No, no, you did!’ I said, ‘Okay, I may have brought my spin to it.’ He said, ‘You made that role work. You made our show be as big as it was.’ Those were his words. I said, ‘Okay. I’ll accept all that. Let’s hear about what you’re thinking.'”

One of the reasons why Esposito was so hesitant was because he has remained busy since Breaking Bad ended, including acting on stage and directing films. He recalls, “I started in New York theater at a very young age. It’s my first love. I still work with the Atlantic Theater Company down on 20th Street, which I love because it feels like home and I also teach there. I often yearn to be back on the stage because it gives you the discipline you need to do this kind of acting. It’s still so interesting to me that Hollywood will spend $40 million to make a movie. I’ve made films for between $3 and $5 million and plays for 40 or 50 grand. It’s such a different exercise.”

When the interviewer points out that he’s obviously facing a different pay scale for smaller, more intimate work, Esposito laughs and responds, “It’s actually not about the pay at all for me. It’s about the attention we collectively pay to these experiences. Hollywood makes so many so-called ‘tentpole’ movies that don’t say much, reflect how we live, or offer up some sort of revelation. They are pure, gratuitous entertainment. To me, art is supposed to reflect our lives and give us something to really think about. But it’s hard to predict what an audience’s appetite will be.”