10:30am PT by Liz Shannon Miller
'Better Call Saul's' Giancarlo Esposito Stayed at Work Despite a Broken Ankle
It's not a secret that during the making of Better Call Saul's fourth season, Giancarlo Esposito broke his ankle. It's also not much discussed — because the production team managed to film around it flawlessly.
"I have to be very grateful and thankful to the family of Better Call Saul for their support and their love," Esposito told The Hollywood Reporter. "We were four episodes to the end. I came back and did everything with my knee bent behind me on a box. I would rotate my body on the box to be able to make it look like I just stepped into the shot."
It wasn't the only trick the production team used to make it seem like Esposito's Gus Fring had two working ankles, including using stand-ins and other tricks. "I did four episodes in four days of all of the stuff that I had missed, and it's seamless. I called [co-creator] Vince Gilligan and Vince was like, 'Oh my gosh, it looks great. No one ever will know.' So I was happy to be supported in that way," he said.
"The problem for me was to be able to heal enough to not be thinking about my ankle and be thinking about what the scene is about," he added. "For me, that's the all-important thing. I get on the set, I'm very, very focused. I don't like to kibitz and talk about other roles I've done because I have a lot of fans, even on the set. I don't like to talk about baseball or football. I like to think about what is Gus thinking now and what is his next move."
So despite the complications his injury involved, ultimately, Esposito's hope was: "I don't believe anyone will ever know. And so don't tell them too much."
What mattered to Esposito was getting right back to work — after finishing up season four, Esposito moved onto the film Live, an action thriller starring Aaron Eckhart that began shooting a month and a half after his injury. While he'd been worried he'd have to drop out, the producers told him "Absolutely not. We'll take any way you can come."
With help from one of his daughters, who came to the set in Alabama to assist him, "I was able to do that movie as well, and you would never know that I had that injury at all. So it was seamless. I think the universe was looking out for me. I have a great amount of integrity. I don't take any chances on anything when I'm working because that's my meditation. That's what I do, that's what I love."
From there, he moved onto the Cinemax crime drama Jett, which stars Carla Gugino and is set to premiere June 14. "I kept going and maybe that's the way to do it. At least it was for me in this situation," he said.
All these projects continue to add to Esposito's ever-growing series of memorable performances — which help ensure that people see him as a versatile performer. "And that to me is very important, after having done a role like Gus in Breaking Bad and reprising it for Better Call Saul, Buggin Out in Do the Right Thing — when I think about it, I'm overwhelmed. How did I get so lucky? Is it in my choice? Is it luck, or is it that I'm finally coming into my own as a human being, which allows me to relax more into my characters?"
He's gotten to play a rich variety of characters, but one thing he'll never do — just show up and say his lines. "I just can't do it. ... When something comes in where I go 'I could do this in my sleep,' I then shift my brain and I go, 'Well, why are you doing this? Do you like the whole story?' As a young actor, I'd read and flip through the pages and go, 'How many scenes am I in?' Now I read every word of the script, whether I'm a primary character in it or not, because I want to know what it's saying. What's the message here? What is it saying?"
Thus, "invariably when I feel like I want to walk through it, that means I'm not moved by the message. That means I say no, period. I just can't find that energy to do that, you know? And it's something that my former wife told me years ago when we were locked in struggle to keep our house and had two daughters at the time, She says, 'Never do anything for the money.' I said, 'But, Joy, I don't.' She says, 'I know you don't, but I know you're considering it,' because we were up against the wall.
"I said, 'Well, survival is key and very important.' She said, 'Nope, what you do is different. Your integrity, you hold yourself to a high standard. Don't ever think that. We'll beg, borrow and steal. But you've got to keep doing what you do and the way you do it because it's different than others.'"
He continued, "And that reinforced what I've always felt in my heart. I always knew eventually I'd wind up with all of the right people and to be reminded in that way by someone who is the mother of my children and who is still a dear friend, was really sweet and special. I said, 'Thank you,' to her, and luckily I listened to that advice and I followed my heart and I'm able to have it all work for everyone."
In the end, he said, "I'm more interested in maintaining my integrity and my relationships. And that to me is important. And because I've worked with so many people, I realized I only want to work with people I like, I want to work with people on the same level of integrity that I am. I want to work with directors and producers who really have a vision. I don't want to just do this to make money. That's never why I did it."
Season five of Better Call Saul is set to premiere in 2020.