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article imageThe double life of 'Breaking Bad' villain Giancarlo Esposito

By Frankie TAGGART (AFP)     Jan 26, 2018 in Entertainment

There is a trick to being able to pass yourself off as a polite, community-spirited fast food entrepreneur by day while transforming into a brutal drug kingpin by night.

"I hide in plain sight," Gus Fring tells Walter White in the third season of AMC's iconic hit series "Breaking Bad," which celebrated the 10th anniversary of its first episode at the weekend.

This Mr. Chips-Scarface duality is something Giancarlo Esposito is increasingly getting used to as he juggles reprising his role as one of the most memorable villains in television history with being an action hero.

The 59-year-old American, currently filming the fourth season of "Breaking Bad" prequel show "Better Call Saul," also plays valiant resistance leader Jorge in the dystopian "Maze Runner" films.

"People everywhere I go stop me and they of course think that I'm Gus, which is why I like to juxtapose characters like Gus with a character like Jorge, who is a lot more fun, a little looser, not as calculating," says Esposito.

The actor had already appeared in more than 40 movies before "Breaking Bad" creator Vince Gilligan called on his talents for a role Esposito says has been his making.

"It changed the nature of my career because people didn't see me that way and they didn't know that there was a depth to not only my acting work, but that I could be that menacing," he tells AFP.

"I'd certainly played menacing characters before but not to the extent of Gus Fring. It has created a new position in the acting world for Giancarlo Esposito."

- 'Wonderful exploration' -

Esposito -- whose big screen credits include "Ali" (2001), "The Usual Suspects" (1995) and a handful of Spike Lee films -- was wary at first about the idea of reprising a character whose arc he considered complete.

"I did Gus Fring from the end of season two in 'Breaking Bad' all the way through season four and that was enough, we got his story. So my concern was that we would do something different," he says.

"The difference is that we are now before 'Breaking Bad' and we are really starting to see what made Gus Fring who he is. For me that has been a wonderful exploration."

Esposito was Emmy-nominated for his nuanced turn as an unconventional bad guy who would dote on family and support charities -- but could order an assassination as easily as one of his fast food chain's chicken dinners.

"I didn't want Gus to be your typical bad guy. I wanted him to be human, and I think people really see that. Somewhere in season four I think people really got it," he says.

"When people really started rooting for Gus as opposed to Walter White I thought, 'I have done my job.'"

That job now takes him back to the big screen for "Maze Runner: The Death Cure," the final chapter in the trilogy based on James Dashner's hellish bestsellers, which hits theaters on Friday.

Part of a wave of franchises based on dystopian young adult novels that gained popularity in the 2010s -- among them "The Hunger Games" and "Divergent" -- Wes Ball's "Maze Runner" films have been solid earners for Fox.

- 'A joy to revisit' -

They tell the story of a group of photogenic teens -- lead by 26-year-old Dylan O'Brien (MTV's "Teen Wolf") -- fighting a totalitarian government that has been using them as guinea pigs in a bid to save civilization from a zombie-like pandemic.

The 2014 original, "The Maze Runner," made a cool $350 million -- 10 times its budget -- at the box office, and while "The Scorch Trials" (2015) wasn't admired by the critics, it took almost as much.

The final chapter -- delayed for nearly a year after O'Brien was badly injured in a vehicle accident during filming -- is poised to topple "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" in the North American box office.

While congenial enough, O'Brien lacks the charismatic screen presence of Jennifer Lawrence in the "Hunger Games" or Shailene Woodley from "Divergent."

But the franchise competes with both those series in terms of its sheer scale, each mind-boggling CGI-laden set piece bolder and more extravagant than the last.

"Certainly this third movie is the biggest of all of them, and the acting has to be quite strong not to feel like that overshadows the point of the movie," Esposito tells AFP.

"This character for me has been a joy to revisit. He loves life, and that's what I like about him."

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