Giancarlo Esposito is the motivational speaker you didn’t know you needed

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      Giancarlo Esposito is extremely good at being bad.

      The American actor—known perhaps most famously for his truly terrifying yet nuanced portrayal of drug lord Gus Fring on Breaking Bad and spin-off Better Call Saul—has made much of his career out of playing the antagonist (stints as Moff Gideon in The Mandalorian and Stan Edgar in The Boys also come to mind). But the man behind some of television’s most delicious villains in recent memory is, in real life, almost comically opposite to his roles.

      “It’s very simple: I’m an asshole underneath it all,” jokes Esposito. He deepens his voice and speaks slowly, sounding instantly menacing: “I love…inflicting…pain. I love…for people…to squirm…under my gaze.”

      Kidding aside, Esposito’s characters are scary, yes—but they’re also layered, complex, even relatable. He asks us to consider what drives a person to bad things, and how does someone’s life, or the unravelling of that life, pushes them into unimaginable situations.

      “I think that the hero is, on one hand, something that I want to be—I think many of us do,” he muses. “But the antihero is simply a fallen hero.”

      He does such an excellent job of becoming his characters that many fans who encounter him in real life are downright spooked.

      “People are afraid of me on the street,” he says, a hint of amusement in his voice. “Some people might think that I’m walking around as that character.” He recalls one time on an airplane when the woman in front of him in the washroom line was so intimidated that she made him go first, calling him “Gus” through deep gasps. (She hadn’t watched all of Breaking Bad, evidently, as the character—spoiler alert—dies in season four.)

      Even when Esposito attends Comicons and Fan Expos, people tend to be timid.

      “Fans sometimes don’t know how to approach me because of some of the very intense characters that I play,” he says. “Many come up to me and say they’re surprised because they’ve never seen me smile.”

      He loves attending fan conventions because they make space for a sense of whimsy, self-expression, and joy that is so often missing from our day-to-day lives.

      “There’s something very magical about it,” he says. “People are able to get out of themselves and play a hero that they’ve seen on film or television. They own their outfit. It’s very playful, and I think that that’s a wonderful thing. We need more of that.”

      Another reason he loves these events is that they allow him the opportunity to explore his true passion: motivating people.

      “I’m posing as an actor; I’m posing as a producer. I’m really about doing simple life coaching through the words that I speak,” says Esposito, referencing his side-hustle as a university guest speaker, as well as the Q&A sessions he does at conventions. “No one knows that.”

      It’s perhaps not the first thing you’d think of from a man famous for being malicious on screen, but there’s something beautiful about that balance: tapping into his dark side as an actor, expanding his light side as a human.

      “I’m tired of talking about me—I want to talk about my journey of me,” he asserts. “The journey of me is, to me, more empowering to human beings than just the actor journey of me.”

      In essence, he’s talking about helping people realize that achieving their dreams is not as far off as they might think.

      “I’m really about that view of the world, in your life, that creates and has your dream come true,” he offers. “How do you do that? That’s everyone’s biggest question, right? Well, you do something every day to achieve that, and you stay in an unjaded place that invites that.”

      Good advice from a good guy. We’re all our own heroes and our own antiheroes—which version of ourselves we put forward each day is entirely up to us.

      Giancarlo Esposito is appearing at Fan Expo Vancouver 2024 on February 17 and 18.