Giancarlo Esposito Talks About Why He’s So Good at Playing Bad

Esposito talks about his latest role in 'Parish,' which showcases the struggle for redemption and the need to take control of one's destiny.

Giancarlo Esposito has played a lot of roles in his 40-plus year career, but as everyone who’s seen him in such unforgettable movies as School Daze, and Malcolm X to shows like Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul knows, Esposito is really good at being bad. He knows it, too.   

“It’s a common question,” the veteran actor, of Italian (dad’s side) and Black (mom) heritage tells when asked why he excels at being the villain. “And my answer is that I think I’m extricating some of the demons of my life. You know, the other part of it is, I think the bad guys are fun.” 

Esposito leans into that tension and sense of play in Parish, a new crime drama from AMC set in New Orleans. In the story, he plays Gracian “Gray” Parish, owner of a luxury car service who’s retired from being the chauffeur and getaway driver for nefarious characters. But after a series of setbacks that include money problems and the devastating murder of his son, Gray is unwittingly sucked back into the life he thought he left behind, only this time on a much higher-stakes collision course with an organized crime syndicate that won’t let him retreat from this world as easily as he did before. Gray is a man who isn’t a “bad guy” for bad’s sake, but a man who finds himself on the wrong side of the law because he’s run out of choices––a meaty conundrum that Esposito says drew him to the role. 

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

“It interested me that he’s a man who was lost, trying to find his way,” he says. “He appears to be a loser. He's lost the respect of his family, he's dealing with a deep loss. He can't move on. So that appealed to me, because I've been in a position before that has equaled some of the traumatic experiences that he is going through.” 

Another facet of Gray’s life that Esposito leaned on for Parish is the heart-pounding stunt driving. In the first installment of the six-episode first season, viewers see Gray pull off some eye-popping, pulse-quickening moves: dodging cops at high speed, breathtaking swerves through traffic and pedestrians, death-defying U-turns that seem fit for only the most experienced daredevils. As it turns out, Esposito is about that life, too. 

“I did my own stunts,” he reveals, elaborating that, decades ago, in his hometown of New York City, he’d driven cabs, black cars, even a Westchester County school bus. “To be able to do my own driving was a real boon. I had to go prove it, and show that I could,  but the driving that you see [in Parish] is me behind the wheel. It's a shot of adrenaline. But it's all me and it's really special to be able to master that skill.” 

Since Parish takes place in New Orleans, it’s an inherently multi-ethnic story encompassing people from various backgrounds. But the story’s diversity expands beyond the organic melting pot sensibility in that city’s famed swirl of backgrounds to include a family of African gangsters who become Gray’s biggest clients––and biggest problem. 

”Gracian is not able to make ends meet in his own country,” he explains, “and this immigrant comes over and becomes successful; there’s an investigation into that concept in itself. I love the city because it’s a multicultural city that has Indigenous Black Indian people, and it’s a port city; the whole world comes right to that city. It was an exciting city for us to shoot in, because it has a lot of very dark demons.”

Exploring that dark side so well is exactly what’s made Esposito a beloved actor for generations and why nobody could’ve played Gray in Parish but him. He says driving is a not-too-subtle metaphor for what’s happening in the character’s life––and the same tendencies we all struggle with at some point or another. “The symbolism is that every man of the world has to take control of their lives, to get behind the wheel and really drive it,” he says. Many people want to be told what to do; we're used to our routine.” 

Parish, he says, is about being able to make choices that change your trajectory. As a guy who’s learned how to use the dark inside himself to guide him to success, he knows exactly how to navigate change, even with roadblocks in the way, even at the insane speed of life. “I’ve been working my whole life to let some of those [demons] go, where you're not expected to be accepted as a human being––the ideas that you're dangerous, you're angry, you're unpredictable. It's up to you to really come to a place where you can understand all that about yourself, and really start to be you.” 

Parish premieres on AMC March 31s

Latest News

Subscribe for BET Updates

Provide your email address to receive our newsletter.

By clicking Subscribe, you confirm that you have read and agree to our Terms of Use and acknowledge our Privacy Policy. You also agree to receive marketing communications, updates, special offers (including partner offers) and other information from BET and the Paramount family of companies. You understand that you can unsubscribe at any time.