Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.
The actor: Although Giancarlo Esposito got his first big break at age 8 in the Broadway play Maggie Flynn—a production that also featured Shirley Jones and Irene Cara—he first came to prominence as a film and television actor during the ’80s. He began the decade with small roles in films like Taps and Trading Places, but ended up as a regular in several Spike Lee joints, most notably Do The Right Thing. Since then, Esposito has earned acclaim for his efforts on both big and small screens, including an Outstanding Supporting Actor Emmy nomination for his work as Gus Fring on AMC’s Breaking Bad. Currently, he can be seen playing Tom Neville in NBC’s Revolution, which returns to the network’s schedule March 25 after a four-month hiatus.
Revolution (2012-present)—“Tom Neville”Giancarlo Esposito: I love this guy. He’s a powerful storyteller. And he’s fun. He likes to taunt people, and to torment them into telling the truth. [Laughs.] What I love about him is that he came from a very meek and mild background into a guy who trained himself not only to survive and to be stronger, but to also be a leader and a soldier. He’s propelled into it, more than likely against his wishes, but he saw the world changing and moved with it. So he’s a progressive kind of personality, a strong personality. I like what you find out at the end of the first part of season one, that he has a very powerful and strong wife who’s urging him on. He’s trained his son, but maybe that’s part of his failure, that he’s not to his standard. His son is slowly falling in love with our lead character, Charlie [Tracy Spiridakos], and resents the fact that he’s on the right side of the law and has all the power, and we’re brutally wrecking the rebels’ lives. And I try to tell him from a soldier’s standpoint that we’re at war.
There are many twists and turns coming for Tom Neville, some that I think will be really interesting for the audience. I like that you’ve seen his vulnerability and where he came from, which shows that he’s human. So you can accept his mentality, maybe, on a different level. But now he’ll be in a vulnerable position as he starts to become at odds with [David Lyons’ character] Monroe, which leaves open the fact that he could be promoted once again to commander and be more responsible for his own history and his own future. Which leaves open the whole idea of other worlds. The whole idea of Revolution is that it’s World War III, not just about rebels and Monroe. That’s a place we don’t know about yet. There are a number of places we don’t know about yet, and certainly the possibility that Tom Neville will wind up in one of those places is probably likely.
The A.V. Club: How much of what we’ve seen thus far in Revolution was laid out when you first took on the series? Did they have things established for what they wanted to do with the first season?
GE: I think they’ve thought really far down the road, at least in terms of broad strokes, for a year or two or three, but I think when it comes to specifics… well, I feel blessed to have Eric Kripke and J.J. Abrams as part of the show. Eric is so specific, and such a great creator. But I think when you’re inspired by what goes on with the actors, you start to deepen the level of what you’re doing. All the writers in the writers’ room, I think, have a deep understanding of who these characters are and should be.
I don’t know much of what’s going on down the road. I’ve had people ask me, “At the end of the first season, are you gonna still be around?” And I say to them, “I imagine so, but I really don’t know.” I think you’re gonna be shocked at what starts to go down in the second part of the season. I think you’re gonna see that what advances the story is the connection between human beings, the weak ones who don’t survive and the strong ones who do. Which means we’ll have characters who come and go, and probably some of those characters will be characters who are thought of as series regulars who’ll always be around. I think it’s gonna be shocking.
[The writers] want to answer the questions about science; they don’t want to hold it over the audience for two or three seasons before the answers are told. They also want the world to be organically truthful and real. Remember in the old movies? The heroes never, ever died. [Laughs.] Very unrealistic. You’re like, “How many bullets were in that gun?” Stuff like that. That won’t be the case with Revolution. And that might prove to be more interesting—painfully interesting—for the audience.