From the moment Better Call Saul premiered way back in February 2015, fans have wondered when any characters from Breaking Bad would make cameos or extended appearances on the Bob Odenkirk-led series. It didn’t take long to see old heads like Tio Salamanca, Huell Babineaux, Francesca Liddy and of course, Mike Ehrmantraut whip Jimmy McGill into shape. However, arguably the most memorable and enigmatic character of the Break-verse, Gustavo Fring portrayed by the esteemed Giancarlo Esposito, quietly made his presence known late in season two, and arrived in a calm, measured demeanor for season three.
Now a recurring presence in Better Call Saul, the details of Gus’ rise within the cartel will be thoroughly chronicled in season four, along with his tenuous arrangements with Saul’s leads, namely Ignacio “Nacho” Varga, played by Michael Mando. The pair aren’t even close to a match made in Heaven, as Esposito remarked at San Diego Comic-Con.
“Certainly worlds will collide this season because these two characters have different agendas that each have not known of each other,” Esposito revealed. “The audience may see it coming but more than likely will not. But when those agendas are revealed, obviously action has to be taken. It is something I think will more than likely be inevitable. I will neither confirm nor deny…”
Though season four will descend further into intrigue when it comes to cartel business, Michael Mando was proud of Nacho’s maturation as a person (and partly as a criminal), especially after the Salamancas upended his family’s legitimate livelihood. Furthermore, Mando had nothing but high praise for his co-star – and how effective Esposito was in setting the tone in scenes as Gus Fring.
“Nacho’s storyline really breaks through, kind of comes into focus this season. The arc of the character is very much a redemption story. It’s the story of a son who’s fallen from the good graces of his father. He self sacrifice to redeem himself and hopefully save his father and maybe himself. What’s really interesting is I find whenever we had scenes with Giancarlo, the very first time I had a scene with Giancarlo – I am a huge fan of his – and I remember being at the close point of the scene, looking into his eyes and the first thought that crossed my mind was “This guy’s got people in his basement”. [laughs] I don’t know where that came from, but it gave me chills!”
“To me, I really compare it in this situation as man versus corporate. I feel that Nacho has this romantic idea of being able to walk up a hill and face this corporation that’s operating on a level almost with no beating heart, it’s all pure mental genius.”
“The other element to it that I believe could be expanded on and explored is the father relationship,” Esposito added. “The relationship between Nacho and his father. The disappointment he has and his father has in him, and the relationship to Gus Fring. He might be able to teach Nacho something he doesn’t know, if he can be reined in… which is the big question. Can Nacho be reined in to learn something new and become a different cog in the wheel of the cartel? I’m not sure that’s possible because Nacho has such a very strong personality and has ideas of his own.”
It’s been confirmed by Gilligan and Gould that season four will begin to bleed into the Breaking Bad timeline, so it’s possible this burgeoning “partnership” between Gus and Ignacio could be short-lived, or lead down a path no one outside of the writer’s room could have anticipated. In any case it’s clear both Mando and Esposito will have a choice number of scenes together this year and potentially lay the foundation for Gustavo’s ultimate plan for revenge.
While acquainting himself with these relatively new characters (and familiar faces for the first time timeline-wise), Esposito remarked how he also attempted to find a new slant for Gustavo Fring during filming. Although this secretive figure that successfully managed dual lives may have appeared to be “complete” in Breaking Bad, Fring has many nuances left to explore within his personality due to Saul’s exceptional writing.
When you come into a situation in your life when you’re given a gift… all you can do is be in gratitude. For me, to come back to this show I had great questions about “have I done all I can do with Gus? I don’t want to repeat myself, how will I ever do this?” After having a conversation with Vince [Gilligan], I just… actors are like racehorses who are at the gate and just want to run. I love the concept of the show, I love stories about someone who you would look at as an ‘everyman’. And then be somehow, as you’re looking at that, going “This everyman is going off the rails. He’s changing. That could be me.” We all have that dark and light side of ourselves.
So when I asked just simply to speak to Vince about what will this be, how will this be, and Vince said to me “Well you know, Gus is a mystery. Certainly that mystery remains electric if we see him less than more.” Just what an actor wants to hear! [laughs] But I thought to myself and started to write down what would be the challenges, and why think you’ve done it all. Why not think you haven’t even scratched the surface?
So I started thinking about ways in which I could create a more subtle version of who Gus was back in time. Is there a moment in time where we see how his brutality came to be, how his vengeance came to be. What can I do with this? … In the beginning the reason to come back to such great writing – again it’s the gift that we’re given as actors – by two really great minds who are able to be in service and be inclusive of you as an actor, as well as their other writers.
Vince and Peter [Gould], I’m just so grateful because I realize every time I come to work it’s not work for me, it’s play. And I realize how excited I get inside, whether I had nothing to say and just have to be in the scene with no words or whether I have a lot to say, it is this kind of excitement that really brings us together as audience and actors, as creators and writers. It creates a situation where you feel simply like how I have felt, and that is “I am home”.
The fourth season of Better Call Saul premieres Monday August 6 at 9/8c on AMC!