"I loved it because I love this family of filmmakers and I love the ‘Breaking Bad' family and AMC, but a part of me is, ‘Wow, that's my image, you know, that's out there and they're using it to create hype for the next season. It's really strange."
In the end, "I think you give that up. I give that up," he said.
It didn't take last week's Emmy nomination for Esposito to realize that playing Gus had changed something. "People call me sir now," he said. And maybe they did so before, too, "but they didn't say it quite the way they say it now. It's different."
It doesn't seem to even matter that Gus Fring's meticulous life as a drug lord came to an abrupt end last season as Walter White, the teacher-turned-meth-manufacturer played by three-time Emmy winner Bryan Cranston, made his move against the player most likely to take him out before cancer could.
What scares people about his "Breaking Bad" persona is "the iconic nature of what Gus has become," Esposito said.
"I got out of the way. … With Gus, it was about doing nothing, breathing into a comfortable place that allowed me to be so still and sometimes scare myself with the stillness, with the looks I would give people."
Esposito himself remains hard to pigeonhole, partly because he's lately been seen in shows whose audiences don't necessarily overlap much.
"I've had an actor's dream of a year," he said, moving from "Breaking Bad" to the fairy-tale-driven "Once Upon a Time," in which he impressed his four daughters by rubbing elbows with Snow White as both Sidney Glass and the man in the mirror (and at one point, the genie); he also did a turn on NBC's "Community," played a Bronx borough president in a John Patrick Shanley play, "Storefront Church," and was cast as a regular on "Revolution," in which he'll be Captain Neville, a onetime insurance adjuster who acquires a certain amount of power in a new government that springs up in what was once the United States after the country's taken off the grid.
Neville's another heavy, but one who may have more in common with Walter White than Gus Fring.
"He always wanted to be someone who would be feared a little more, respected a little more, have a little more gravitas. Never had the guts or the balls to be this. And when the blackout happened, he had the skill, a certain skill, and he started to cultivate the part of him that dreamed to be stronger, more powerful, more in control, more a leader of men," Esposito said of his role in the show, which has him living temporarily in North Carolina.
Is he still watching "Breaking Bad" now that he's not in it?
"Are you kidding? Ha! You got to ask that? OK, I'm going to tell you a little funny story. I moved out of the Homewood Suites on the day I got nominated for the Emmy. And I was on the phone six hours with the press, I packed up my car and I went and got into an apartment that's unfurnished: got no furniture, no TV. [He set up] a blowup bed and went to bed. I started to panic Thursday. Friday came, I started to get a little more panicked. And I had to work on Friday and I said, ‘Breaking Bad' — what am I going to do?"
His 16-year-old daughter suggested he stream the show, but "I said no, I'm a filmmaker, I got to watch it on a big screen. So you know what I did? I went back to the Homewood Suites and I watched it in the lobby!" Esposito said.
"People are drinking coffee and talking. I said, ‘Excuse me, I got to watch ‘Breaking Bad.' So you ask if I'm watching it? Of course I am."
Contact Ellen Gray at 215-854-5950 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @elgray and read her blog at EllenGray.tv.