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How Giancarlo Esposito's suicidal thoughts led him to direct a movie

by Darby Maloney and Paola Mardo | The Frame

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Giancarlo Esposito on the set of "The Show." LIONSGATE

These days, Giancarlo Esposito is best known for portraying Gustavo "Gus" Fring, the iconic drug lord, fast food chain proprietor and villain in the groundbreaking television shows  "Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul." But Esposito has a long career as a character actor in which he's put his own stamp on roles such as Buggin' Out in Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing" and the narrator in Justin Simien's "Dear White People" series on Netflix.

In the new film "The Show," Esposito plays the role of not just actor but producer and director. The movie stars Josh Duhamel as the host of a reality show called "This Is Your Death" where people win money for their survivors by committing suicide on live television. Esposito plays Mason, a janitor whose tempted to participate in the series in order to help his family. 

Esposito tells The Frame that when he first came across the script ten years ago, he was in a similar situation as the character Mason. "All he wanted to do was work. He was unable to provide for his family and I related to that character so much that I knew that one day I would make this film."

"The Show" (formerly titled "This Is Your Death") premiered at SXSW in March where it was criticized for doing the very thing Esposito wants to avoid. Now as it gets released in select theaters and on-demand on September 15 he tells The Frame,"I know that my film will get mixed reviews. People will say that I possibly am glorifying exactly what I'm against. I feel like truth is the teacher and this is a journey that I'm taking. I have no agenda but for people to see a piece of art."

To hear the entire conversation with Giancarlo Esposito click the play button at the top of this page. 

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

On finding the script at a particularly dark period in his life:

I got a hold of this material when I lived in Connecticut. I was completely bankrupt and losing my home. My office was in my living room. I couldn't get a job. I had my fourth daughter, my fourth child, and I was completely shattered. The week I got this script a few days before I received it I got a book that was called "Who Moved My Cheese" from a friend. A thin book about a mouse who was the provided of his family and it was about recreating yourself. I was at my wit's end thinking that the only way out was to take my life for the insurance money, so that my children would have a life.

It was about nine years ago. And I couldn't believe that I was really thinking about this. But I was and it was a serious thought. And so I got this book from a dear friend. It changed my outlook, it gave me a little bit of hope but it didn't give me a job and there was no one else to borrow money from. And I got this script and it changed my life. It wasn't the script that we shot but it certainly had all of the elements of film that I wanted to make. I particularly related to the character of Mason who really was an earnest person. All he wanted to do was work. And he was unable to provide for his family and I related to that character so much that I knew that one day I would make this film. Not only to show people in desperate situations what their choices might be -- because when you're desperate you don't think you have any choices -- but also to show how, in many ways, we have to believe not only in who we are but we create in our mind's eye, in our spirit, we create a space for opportunity to take place and for us to change our lives at any given moment. It is a choice.

Actor, director and producer Giancarlo Esposito on "The Show."
Actor, director and producer Giancarlo Esposito on "The Show." LIONSGATE

On the professional issues he faced when he came upon the script for "The Show":

One of the major things that happened about nine, ten years ago in our business in Hollywood, in film and television, is that we have tentpole movies which pay one star quite a bit of their budget. And so it was around the time that many of our great actors were getting 10, 15, 20 million dollars a picture. And so the character actor was left behind. If you didn't take scale plus ten -- very low payment for your work -- then you wouldn't work. And if you are an actor who was in between those places, known as a character actor, known for good work, then you'd have to bite the bullet and work for nothing in various different venues. So that's what was going on in the business and I certainly wanted to not only make my mark but I do what I do because I love it. I don't do it for the money. I don't do it for the glory, now that I've slain a bit of my ego, although it's healthy to keep some part of that ego going, I do it out of love of creation. And sometimes when you operate that way, you forget that there's a value on what you do especially and specifically if you have a family to raise.

Giancarlo Esposito on the set of "The Show."
Giancarlo Esposito on the set of "The Show." LIONSGATE

On the reaction he anticipates from critics:

I will be called on the carpet for making a political statement, a human statement. And maybe being insensitive to certain parts of our society of human beings who, like me, felt like there was no other way to go and I have to get out of this life. Not understanding within that moment that life is precious. I know now if I go all the way down and have nothing I will be in service in whatever way I can to other human beings because that's the juice. It's not the bank account. It's not my notoriety. It's not the glory. I realize that it is to fulfill our earthly obligation and to do it in a way that puts a smile on our face. That is truly the way to live life.

To hear John Horn's full interview with Giancarlo Esposito, click on the player above. To get more content like this, subscribe to The Frame podcast on iTunes.

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