2024 NAACP Image Awards: Giancarlo Esposito: The Master of Intensity – 5 Unforgettable Performances That Left Us in Awe

The critically acclaimed actor is well known for giving exceptional performances.

When you think of some of the greatest character actors of our time, Giancarlo Esposito should come to mind. The Emmy-nominated star has built a lengthy and distinguished résumé with over 100 acting credits across memorable films and television shows for over four decades. Most notably, he’s known for playing menacing villains and impassioned antagonists, but his potent skills span a range of intense roles that made him a force to be reckoned with onscreen.

Esposito has done it all, from Spike Lee joints and classic blockbusters to some of the most iconic TV series of all time, and he still has more up his sleeve. As we await the seasoned veteran’s next great role, check out five of the acclaimed actor’s unforgettable performances.

  • “School Daze”

    Spike Lee’s “School Daze” — the classic ‘80s musical comedy that offered a heightened look at HBCU life, sororities, and fraternities— starred Esposito in one of his most noteworthy breakout roles as frat-boy tyrant Julian Eaves, aka Big Brother Almighty. The actor played alongside Laurence Fishburne, Tisha Campbell, Jasmine Guy, and Lee in the movie. Esposito seemingly portrayed his character so well that Lee called him back to star in his next cult classic, 1989’s “Do the Right Thing,” in which he also delivered a breakthrough performance.

  • “Breaking Bad”

    By the early 2000s, Esposito had already proven his star power in several films and shows. However, his role as Gustavo Fring in the legendary crime drama “Breaking Bad” forever cemented him as a household name. He played the infamous restaurateur/drug dealer character in three of the show’s five seasons before he reprised it in the equally successful prequel series “Better Call Saul.”

  • “The Get Down”

    Esposito turned the drama up in Netflix and Baz Luhrmann’s ambitious musical series “The Get Down,” in which he starred as a fiery Pentecostal pastor who disapproved of his golden-voiced daughter’s secular music dreams. The virtuous role was a departure from the actor’s usual lane, but nonetheless memorable.

  • “Star Wars: The Mandalorian”

    Esposito entered the sweeping Star Wars franchise in 2019 via Disney+’s “The Mandalorian,” the live-action spinoff series that follows the travels of a lone bounty hunter (played by Pedro Pascal) in a lawless galaxy. Esposito took on the villainous role of galactic warlord Moff Gideon, a big part of the action who’s captivated fans for three seasons and counting.

  • “Godfather of Harlem”

    Esposito’s running list of playing indelible characters grew when he portrayed historical figure Adam Clayton Powell Jr. in “Godfather of Harlem,” inspired by the real-life story of infamous crime boss Bumpy Johnson (Forest Whitaker). Esposito’s outstanding performance as the legendary politician earned him a 2024 NAACP Image Award nomination. 

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