Rabbit HoleAn Interview with Giancarlo Esposito
by Wilson Morales
December 14, 2010
Having acted on stage, TV, and film for over 30 years, Giancarlo Esposito has had an illustrious career thus far. Whether it’s playing ‘Julian’ in ‘Spike Lee’s ‘School Daze,’ ‘Buggin Out’ in ‘Do The Right Thing,’ winning an Obie and Theatre World Awards for ‘Zooman and the Sign,’ or starring with James Earl Jones and Terrence Howard in Broadway’s ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,’ the Copenhagen, Denmark native is just a thrill to watch.
Coming up next for Esposito is a role opposite Nicole Kidman in the stage-to-screen adaptation of ‘The Rabbit Hole.’
Directed by John Cameron Mitchell, the film also stars Aaron Eckhart, Sandra Oh, Dianne Wiest, Tammy Blanchard, Jon Tenney, and Miles Teller.
‘Rabbit Hole’ is a vivid, hopeful, honest and unexpectedly witty portrait of a family searching for what remains possible in the most impossible of all situations. Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart play Becca and Howie Corbett, who have to find a way to return to their everyday existence in the wake of a shocking, sudden loss.
Blackfilm.com caught up with Esposito as he spoke about his role in the film, his theater work, and his film project, which he will direct.
How would you describe your character?
Giancarlo Esposito: I play a guy who is talked about a lot at the beginning of the film, and its assumed at the beginning of the film that he might be a bad guy cause he’s a pretty loose-loving jazz musician, and jazz cats are known for being with a couple different women. He falls in love with Nicole’s character’s sister, who plays a pivotal role in the film, and they’re having a baby. When you meet him he’s nicer than you think he could ever be, and turns out to be a caring, wonderful kinda guy.
Have you ever been through the position of having to help someone get through a loss or grieve through a process?
GC: Yeah, I have actually. A good buddy of mine lost his brother and father in the same year. It takes a lot of talk and conversation, but even with all that something inside you has to figure out how to carry their spirit with you in a very positive way for the rest of your life even if their not in the same physical plain with you. They’ve been here, they’ve affected you, how do you go on without them? I think the movie is a tribute to life itself, and how we relate all of ourselves throughout our lives, even if there’s suffering and pain involved.
Had you seen the original production?
GC: I had not seen the original play, unfortunately. I had read a bare screenplay of the play, it’s really stellar. I’m really proud to be a part of this piece because the writing is so very good. It’s a credit to the writer that he was able to retain his right to write the screenplay, and to visualize it and bring it to life so beautifully.
You’re working with all these actors who have theater experience. How was working with Tammy, Nicole, and even John Cameron Mitchell?
GC: That’s a tribute to not only Nicole’s wisdom when she said she was going to produce this piece, it needs to be seen, even though I believe it had been set up at a big Hollywood studio and it fell through and they found a great combination of collaborators, and that was John Cameron Mitchell. John is a stage guy as well who made the transition to be a director in film, and also an actor who has starred in ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch.’ I believe he wanted to have the weight of stage actors in this piece so we could feel the emotion without being overwrought. This film is a beautiful example of people’s lives because it’s just smooth and he edited the film so beautifully and you get the feeling you’re inside this family.
You’ve been a theater guy for a long time, how does it feel to make the transition from stage back to film, and have a career that spans TV, theater, and stage?
GC: Theater is the beginning of everything. You learn your craft, the nuance of the craft, you learn how to get the character inside you, keep it inside you, and have it be organic. I work with a theater called The Atlantic Theater Company. It was started by David Mamet. It gives me a chance to get back onstage and reconnect with what I’m doing. That’s the real primary passion for me, the guiding light. When I go and do a television series where you really don’t have a lot of time on the set, I’m able to create that character away from the set without having to do 8 shows a week. I understand the process allowing it to live inside of me. In film you shoot less pages every day, and you’re able to pay more fine attention to bringing that character to life. The pitfall is you don’t want it to be so larger-than-life that you’re reaching the last row of the orchestra. You tone down the performance and get the balance of how you act, let the camera come to you. It’s truly a blessing that I’ve been able to transfer between these three mediums because it keeps me sharp and passionate about what I do.
After doing ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ last year with James Earl Jones, do you have the juice to get back onstage again?
GC: I loved it, I really did. I loved being with James Earl Jones, who’s such a master at what he does, he’s applying that again for “Driving Miss Daisy”. Terrence Howard who has never been on the Broadway stage before, and was fantastic to be with him. He was an acting student of mine from years before so it was nice to see him break through and find his discipline. To stay on Broadway is a discipline, because you have to do it, up or down, 8 shows a week. If you can do that successfully you can find your way whether it be stage, film, or television.
You recently got your first directorial film, ‘Gospel Hill’ off the ground. What’s next for you?
GC: I’m really excited to be coming back for the 4th season of ‘Breaking Bad’ on AMC with Bryan Cranston. I play a wonderful character. That airs in July. When I finish the 13 episodes of that in May, I will direct my second feature film. I have two pieces that are really fantastic. One is ‘Reading,’ and another piece called ‘This is Your Debt’ which is quite a phenomenal and profound piece that makes a comment on reality TV and how that world effects us deeply inside. I’m hoping to get a feature released within a year. My lead will be Jeremy Piven, and I’m very excited about him joining the cast, then I have two other wonderful actresses and I’ll know next week if they’re set.
What’s the story about?
GC: It’s about a TV talk show host who deals in death. Suicide is legal and he has a reality TV show where contestants come on and take their lives in front of a live studio audience for money. Very profound. He’s at the top of his game, and things happen throughout the piece for him to see the error of his ways in being so supportive of a morbid way of looking at life. I’m really excited, Wilson, ’cause it could blow the lid off of how we view television. It’s a real cross between ‘Network’ and other movies that have come at a time when we need to look at what we’re doing and how we’re entertaining ourselves. I couldn’t be more excited about the timing of this. We’ll be all in to go in front of the cameras in May.
With as much as you do in front and behind the camera and with four kids to support, what keep you balanced?
GC: I think yoga keeps me balanced, and knowing what I’m here for. If the role is mine, I’m grateful to get to read for a producer if I have to do that, that I was able to work that day. I don’t direct movies to be in them, but if they sent me a script and they want me direct but there’s a great role in it and they asked me to act in it… an African American man down on his luck who takes up the talk show host’s offer to take his own life, and it’s a real statement in terms of what we’ll do to save our family in these hard economic times. I’m grateful to have some parts I can sink my teeth into after all these years.