In anticipation of the Breaking Bad series finale on Sunday, September 29th, Rolling Stone will publish an exclusive interview with a new cast member every day, Monday through Friday. Yesterday, Aaron Paul told us he misses Jesse Pinkman terribly. Tomorrow, Betsy Brandt weighs in on Hank and Marie’s sex life, among other topics.
It’s been about two years since you filmed your last scene as Gus Fring. Is he still with you?
Yes, he is. It’s difficult to let Gus go in the way that I have other characters because he’s become so iconic – the public will not allow me to let him go. Many people don’t know my name. Or if they watch Breaking Bad, they can’t quite get “Giancarlo” out of their mouth, but they certainly can get “Gus” out. [Laughs] People call me Gus most every place I go. Some say it with reverence, some with fear, some step out of my way and let me pass, depending on what attitude I’m giving off.
Maybe three or four months after doing my final scene, I was passing the theater district in New York, and someone said, “We love you, Gus.” I was wearing very Gus-like clothing – a suit – and for half a block Gus took over my walk. My posture straightened. I became hyper-vigilant for a moment. I started laughing to myself, and said, “Go away. Leave me alone!”
I always think of Gus as being European. He has an old-world demeanor to him.
Yes. I was born in Copenhagen, and raised in Italy. I have a very European sensibility. When I began to read the description of who Gus was, I wanted to endow him with a great deal of culture, and to have him seem as if he was a world traveler – as a different take on how we think of a drug dealer. And he knew a lot about people, intuitively. He could be kind, and because he knew so much about human nature, he could be the kindest manipulator, to get what he needed.
His Chilean background came up because I felt that a guy with this kind of cultural background would come from Argentina or Chile, where they’re very educated Latinos. When I lived in Miami, I saw that the Argentinians looked down on everyone else in this particular section of town. They were just arrogant. And I wanted to have a bit of that with Gus.
Gus doesn’t frighten people by yelling. He does it by being very quiet.
True. I’m a singer, and came from Broadway musicals, and adjusted my style of acting from the stage to the screen. There’s that famous James Cagney film, where he screams “Top of the world, ma!” I wanted Gus to have a quieter, more deeply frightening persona. That quiet demeanor is more powerful, to me.
Does Gus underestimate Walt?
I don’t think he does. I know what you’re getting at, but maybe Gus knows that everyone is going to get it eventually. He maybe underestimates the timing of the circumstance. Again, that’s probably Gus speaking through me, because in the end, Walt wins. I have to appreciate that he wins the game of one-upsmanship. [Laughs]
Walt has a twisted idea of what it means to be a man. Then Gus gives him a great speech: “A man provides for his family.” Is he manipulating Walt at that moment?
I believe so. I felt so connected to that speech because I have, in my life, experienced the pain of not having the ability to completely provide for my own family. I have four daughters. It’s in our genetic makeup to hunt and forage. That speech was very powerful for me. But beyond that, he’s obviously saying, “No matter what you have to do, no matter how horrible it is, if it is for your family, it’s justified.”
But Gus doesn’t actually care about Walt’s family. He’s just using that logic, because he knows Walt will succumb to it.
And that’s what Gus was so good at. When he spotted your weakness, he was able to press on it, and have you become more and more paranoid about it. Although, he would keep his word, and not touch Walt’s family, if Walt had agreed to do as he was asked.
Part of my ability to render Gus as who I imagined him to be came from my meditation practice and yoga. I didn’t get pushed around by the timing of the set, or the other actors. I always reminded myself to breathe, and to put my attention on my acting partner and to observe. That allowed me to speak with my eyes and with my actions. As Gus, I felt older than I feel as myself, if that makes sense.
Do you root for Walt, or against him?
Oh, that’s such an interesting question. I root for Walt, because I want him to become enlightened. When it doesn’t come, I hate him more. [Laughs] If people survive their journeys, and the challenges that have been placed in front of them, they can be forgiven. So I watch the show hoping Walt will see the light. And when that doesn’t happen, I want him to die. [Laughs] He is, at this point, irredeemable. I hope for some extreme, poetic justice. The ending I want is to see his head on a pike.
You might get your wish. Vince made it clear that he has no sympathy left for Walt.
To hear Vince speak about Walt in this disparaging way makes me sad! [Laughs] I’ve always had this feeling that, as a writer, you love all of your characters. And at some point, I imagine that Vince has turned against Walter, and Vince is going to exact his revenge. There is a horror coming, and let’s hope it’s one that will remind us that this road is not one to be traveled by the faint-hearted.
When I asked Vince how a nice guy such as he is able to create Breaking Bad, he said, “I probably have more Walt in me than I let on.”
This is why I created Gus the way I did. We’re a mixture of good and evil. And I can see a bit of that in Vince as well. Recently, I was at ComicCon, and I came into a photo shoot as the Breaking Bad cast was still there. The first thing I noticed was what Vince was wearing: a jacket that resembled, almost to the tee, what Gustavo Fring was wearing on the day he died. And I had a little jealousy, because I thought, “Oh, there’s the real Vince. He’s part Gustavo and part Walter, and he’s wearing my fucking jacket.” [Laughs]