Welcome to Emmy Contenders 2020. This month, SYFY WIRE is speaking to some of the actors and artisans whose work earned them Emmy nominations this year. Today we chat with Giancarlo Esposito, Emmy-nominated guest actor for Disney+’s The Mandalorian.
Giancarlo Esposito has been quite the overachiever this year, garnering multiple nods for his work in the role of Gus Fring (his third nomination in the Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul universe) and now Moff Gideon in The Mandalorian (his first).
“It’s really exciting,” Esposito tells SYFY WIRE, noting how long it’s taken him to break into the Star Wars-verse. Back when he played the villain on the J.J. Abrams-produced show Revolution, Esposito had toyed with the idea of hitting up his then-boss for a Star Wars cameo. He says he would stand in the shower and think of graceful ways to request the part. (“Is there a way for me to lend my talent to this incredible, wonderful project that I so respect?”) Esposito’s only hope was to get a crack at rebooting a part such as Lando Calrissian, but with The Mandalorian, Jon Favreau gave the actor something much better: a new iconic character that has captured everyone’s imagination.
Esposito chatted with SYFY WIRE about Moffing it up and if he has a cuddly Emmy date lined up.
What is it going to be like attending the virtual Emmys telecast this year? Do you have plans to dress up, to wear pajamas since you’re not required to dress up for once, or to feature any of your family members? Your daughters or your Baby Yodas?
[Laughs.] It’s a weird and interesting time, and we’re all trying to get used to it. I like to be around people in a place where I can at least be around family, so yeah, my plan is to try and find a place where we have the ability to gather and to be socially distant but have a party. That’s kind of what I want to do. I had thought of staying home and being in my living room by myself, but I thought, “No, that would be too lonely. We should have a celebration.” If you’re in London and it’s the middle of the night and you’re in your pajamas, join us. If you’re in Madagascar, join us. It’s going to be fun.
And it is very possible Baby Yoda might make an appearance. Three of my daughters had such a good time coming to visit me on the set, and really struck up a relationship with Baby Yoda. And I took a shot of all the young Baby Yodas lined up on my couch. That exists somewhere because I got so enamored with the Yodas. I wanted to get one for my children, even though they’re not young. My youngest is 16. And then some for me. So now I have about six. [Laughs.] They actually look like they belong in my living room, so I’ll have to break those out, of course, on our special night.
And then you’ll drive the fans crazy, if the Child is at the Emmys.
Right. Exactly. Moff Gideon finally got the Child! I finally got what I want! [Intones] “You have something I want.” The Child is the star. I knew the first time that I set eyes on him that this particular Child, this role would have to be expanded. I’ve made myself very clear, I’ve told Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni that I want more scenes with the Child, and they need to figure it out. [Laughs.] We’re all obsessed with the Child. Have you met the Child?
No, I have not. I am deprived.
OK. You’re going to have to come visit the set and meet the Child, because there’s nothing like it.
It’s basically Star Wars: Adventures in Babysitting, because it’s all about who gets to take care of the Child. All Moff Gideon wants is some cuddle time.
I love it. [Laughs.] I would agree. I would agree that he wants to be held, and needs to be held. And he needs to have the Child share some wisdom with him. So I would completely agree. It really does become about who protects the Child. It really takes us back to that place of wonder and enchantment when you’re around any baby. And the Child has that as well, but coupled with some visionary power. It’s a tantalizing element of our show.
And I love that because it’s steeped in the mythology of Joseph Campbell, the hero’s journey, and what that mythology and mysticism does for us is it allows and empowers many of us to be heroes. We need to have a feeling that we can be our own heroes because we’re not being championed or led by our government right now. So I can champion you to be a hero, and you can do the same for me, and then we can feel like we’re being empowered to change the world. We can feel like it’s not all for naught, certainly at a time in the world when things are changing quickly and people are taking responsibility for marching, protesting, and changing the face of what that looks like, and what we’ve had to feel for so long.
This particular show allows an open door for young and old to be empowered again, and to be in service. Mando is in service to this Child, and we don’t know yet what Moff Gideon wants completely, but we know he has the power to use it for good or for evil. We don’t know quite what that is. So that’s why I love playing in this world, because it juxtaposes, compliments, and questions what we’re doing here and the world we’re in right now.
You got to bring in a real-world frame of reference from your own family history. Your father lived under fascist rule in Italy — does that help inform the parallels in your portrayal, so that Moff Gideon is no mere villain?
Yeah. My father was from Naples, and he and his father worked in the opera house. This was a time when Mussolini was in Rome, and my grandfather hated Mussolini. He would get arrested all the time for protesting and cursing at Mussolini. And they faced down and eventually had to flee to the mountains. They fought in the Resistance. That certainly is an analogy for when I look at the way Moff Gideon is depicted, the way Moff Gideon is dressed, that clean, straight line, his jackboots. It gives me a very fascist feeling.
I still hold out that there is something different about Moff Gideon than the other fascists or wardens of this particular part of the universe, because he knows more than everyone else. I like that to be ambiguous.
Would you say Moff Gideon is Force-sensitive?
I say that’s a possibility. I can’t say for sure that that is completely the truth, but look, we’ve seen him come out of his TIE fighter, and we’ve seen him also with the Darksaber. I would have to say that there’s some surprises coming down the pike in regards to the connection he has to the Force. You don’t quite know where he fits in there, but he certainly has some information that we don’t that connects him to the old school.
Are you fully versed in all the lore? Did you learn the significance of his weapon?
I’m not fully versed. I don’t know everything. I’m not that Star Wars geek, which allows me to be even more excited to be running around in a cape and wielding a Darksaber. That to me is just so cool. I loved the earlier Star Wars movies. I loved Clone Wars, and that’s so specific in its connection to our show. People ask if I went back and looked up all the Moffs, and I have not. I did go back to see if Peter Cushing was a Moff. Sometimes, if you know everything, then that can be a blessing or a curse. I like to know enough to allow me to have my imagination soar.
And I like to sit there and have my head blown by Dave Filoni, who knows every piece of lore — who everyone is, where everything comes from. I respect his intellectual knowledge of everything that has gone on, so I do go to him if I have [an] in-depth question that needs a direct answer. And sometimes I get so much history that my head’s ready to explode.
They did tell me, “You realize you’re the only person in The Mandalorian who is wielding the Darksaber.” I got really excited. I know that previously my dear friend Samuel L. Jackson had a [lightsaber], and I was so excited about that. But in our show no one has that but me, so that’s just a great honor.
People were wondering where he even got the Darksaber.
I can tell you that one. Walmart! [Laughs.]