It seems you can't channel-surf these days without coming face-to-face with Giancarlo Esposito.
After his explosive departure as Gus Fring, the New Mexico druglord who hid in plain sight as a fast-food chain manager in Breaking Bad, the prolific actor played Storybrooke's newspaper editor Sydney Glass/Magic Mirror in ABC's Once Upon a Time.
He then landed a recurring role on Community, an acclaimed NBC comedy series, and plays Monroe militia captain Tom Neville in Revolution, a post-apocalyptic drama series shooting in North Carolina.
Now the Emmy nominee can be spotted around Victoria. He just joined the cast of Poker Night, Greg Francis's crime thriller starring Beau Mirchoff as Det. Stan Jeter, a rookie cop who relies on wisdom from his mentors to outwit a serial killer.
Produced by Victoria native Corey Large, the film co-stars Titus Welliver, Ron Perlman, Ron Eldard and Michael Eklund.
"I liked the script and thought it had a very interesting structure," said Esposito, 54, who plays veteran cop Det. A.J. Bernard.
With Revolution on hiatus, and having just wrapped Jon Favreau's teaser-trailer in Los Angeles for a new video game that Esposito can only say will be "a huge deal," he had a small window.
"Jon is becoming a mentor for me as a director," notes Esposito, who got to know Favreau when he helmed Revolution's pilot.
"He's very natural, approachable and wise, very smart and articulate."
The versatile Connecticut-based actor could be describing himself.
Although exhausted after two days of travel and a 14-hour day on Favreau's L.A. shoot, Esposito is graciously accommodating in the rec room of a modest Saanich rancher with a 1970s vibe. Posters for Atari and the Who's Tommy adorn the wall, and a green 1979 muscle car is parked outside.
It's posing as a home in Memphis for a flashback where Jeter interrogates a murder suspect (Kieran Large).
The Copenhagen-born son of an Italian stage technician and an African-American opera singer, Esposito has appeared in scores of movies, TV shows and plays since making his Broadway debut at age 10 opposite Shirley Jones in Maggie Flynn in 1968.
Although best known for his collaboration with Spike Lee on School Daze, Do the Right Thing, Mo' Better Blues and Malcolm X, the stage-trained actor's memorable roles include his work as cadet J.C. Pierce in Taps, opposite Harvey Keitel in Wayne Wang's Smoke, Cassius Clay Sr. in Ali, muckraker Bugs Raplin in Bob Roberts and drug dealers in Fresh and King of New York.
With Poker Night, he's on familiar ground, having played his share of lawmen such as FBI agent Jack Baer in The Usual Suspects.
"I've played a few," he says with a smile, recalling his role as FBI agent Mike Giardello in NBC's gritty Baltimore police procedural TV crime drama Homicide: Life on the Street.
"I love the brilliance of [producers] Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson," he said. "The combination of those two guys was powerful, and it was off-the-grid, which I also enjoyed."
It's his characters on the wrong side of the law - one in particular - that have put Esposito back in the spotlight recently. There has been speculation about whether Gus Fring might resurface in another realm in Breaking Bad's fifth season.
"My desire was to haunt Walt [Bryan Cranston's character] in his dreams," he admits, adding with a laugh that his character's demise goes with the territory. "Probably no one will survive Breaking Bad by the time it's finished."
Although he says he'd work with creator Vince Gilligan again in a heartbeat, he said as time passed he began to feel like he did after playing hothead activist Buggin' Out in Do the Right Thing. He declined when Spike Lee invited him to revive that iconic character for Red Hook Summer.
"I felt it was a beautiful piece of work, so I didn't want to go back and diminish it."
Besides, he's busy with Revolution, which imagines the social and political chaos in a world suddenly without power.
"It's really a foreboding and a very interesting alignment," he says, reflecting on parallels with super-storm Sandy.
"Obviously, we have a world struggling to stay powered up, whether through electricity, oil or gas. [Creator] Eric Kripke took that and ran with it.
Combining that challenge with the mythology he writes from, I think, is very interesting. Underneath, he writes about families trying to reunite across this vast wasteland of what was America."
Appearing in TV shows such as Once Upon a Time and Breaking Bad with such different demographics, doing theatre such as his off-Broadway appearance in John Patrick Shanley's Storefront Church with David Mamet's and William H. Macy's Atlantic Theater Company, and branching out into directing account for his longevity, he theorizes.
"It's because I love what I do," says Esposito, who is particularly proud of Gospel Hill, his 2008 directorial debut about race relations in South Carolina. He co-stars with Samuel L. Jackson, Angela Bassett, Adam Baldwin, Taylor Kitsch and Julia Stiles.
"I've come to realize the importance of choice," he says softly. "You can't just do everything for a dollar. If you've cultivated a respectable career and do that, you will rake over it. Integrity, for me, is everything."
It's why he chose to play a priest in Peter Askin's upcoming comedy-drama Certainty and plans to produce and direct a film about white abolitionist John Brown based on Evan Carton's Patriotic Treason.
He's also developing another timely project titled This Is Your Death.
"It's a very dark satirical comedy about reality TV," he says. "I really want it to be an unflinching look at where we're at in that world. I really feel the dumbing down of America is continuing in the entertainment world, but I also have to realize many people have their TV on for company and look to it for cheap entertainment, not for education or dramatic entertainment."
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