By Nicole Cortese
TRN: The role of Gustavo Fring is very complex, and he is one of the most interesting villain characters on modern television. How did you prepare for this difficult role?
GE: I made some choice decisions. When I read the script, one of the lines that really appealed to me was about a man hiding in plain sight. I started thinking, “How many people do I know who have double lives and are hiding in plain sight?” And I started there. I was really inspired by the writing of him. I had been a waiter for a lot of years, and I love that we assume that he’s just the manager of this chicken restaurant and that really underneath is someone else. I started to layer all of these ideas behind that, hoping that they would catch on. [The producers] were inspired by what I was doing and asked me to come back, and it blew up from there.
TRN: What do you look for when reading a script before accepting a role?
GE: I look for a complete story. As an actor — and many actors — they get a script and they flip through the pages and look to see how much they’re in it. For me, as I grew as an actor, I wanted to see what was being said, what was being represented by the whole film, by the whole project, what was the message? Specifically with Breaking Bad and this journey of Walter White, I really related to it at a time in America when people were floundering and having a hard time feeding their families. There’s one man who is sick and possibly going to die soon, and really has a good intention of trying to leave something behind. It turns into the bad intention of greed, money and drugs. All of the things he gets involved in to capture his good intention go awry. I was fascinated with that particular story and that message. Some of us get lost in pursuing one thing for a good reason, and it turns into something bad.
TRN: It sounds like you do a lot of social commentary in your work. What kind of social commentary do you feel came out of Breaking Bad having to do with the meth distribution industry?
GE: I did the show partly because I had met two young Mormon boys on their journey through the U.S. on their bicycles spreading good and religious news. I read an article — five years after meeting the two boys — about Mormon boys who got lost in the Midwest and got into meth, and I was shocked. These boys eventually were found and sent back home, and then I really started to look into parts of the country where these underground meth labs are, and how people are blowing themselves up trying to home-make meth and do all these things for a drug. Then I started to look at the photographs of people, before and after, and what a short period of time it took for them to devastate their bodies and die. I thought, “This is just wild. How does this happen?” We, in our big cities, don’t know that much about it. So, partly why I took the role was to be a part of that.
The other commentary is about a man who is dying and wants to leave something to his family, i.e. money, and has to “break bad” in order to do that. It made me think about America. In my time, I’ve been through a couple different downturns and been through the mill, and I realized that I have a talent and I have a career. When I went bankrupt, I remember my eighth grade school teacher telling me, “Giancarlo, why did you have so many children? That’s old school, no one has four kids anymore. I fear you’re never going to recover.” I had to think about her words. I had hope and faith and I also said to her, “I’m in a business where it’s feast or famine. I’ve been in famine. Feast will come and I’ll recover. I’ll have to be more careful about how I deal with my money and I’ll have to be more careful about what I’m doing. But if there’s one business that I would find myself in that could have the ability to do that, it’s the one I’m in.” I always realized there is the ability for me to recreate myself as an actor or director, and recover from this. You also have to work for it. It’s really important to realize, like I say, “Do something everyday to realize your goal.” The universe feels that too, and it will come. It is up to us, because we’ve been given the tools for us to find it.
Printed in the 4/2/14 edition