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Better Call Saul: Why Giancarlo Esposito Almost Didn't Return As Gus Fring

In the modern television landscape, there are not many characters quite as revered (or universally feared) as "Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul" drug kingpin Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito). As viewers can attest, the stoically menacing Fring eventually reigned unholy terror over almost everyone who stood in his way — right up until Walter White (Bryan Cranston) unforgettably got the better of him. But even as much as fans of the "Breaking Bad" franchise love Gus Fring, they have every bit as much for Esposito. 

Even though Gus played a significant role on "Better Call Saul" and Esposito earned multiple Emmy nominations for his performance, the actor's return was far from a given. Esposito told Vanity Fair in a 2023 interview he almost said no to a return. "I felt like I was going through the same dance," he said, adding, "but I felt like I didn't wanna go back." 

He stated his reticence to reprise the role had a lot to do with having worked hard to put such a beloved character in his past. "In my brain, I was like, 'I can't mess with that guy. That guy is done, man," he told Vanity Fair, later saying, "I don't wanna mess with him anymore."

Esposito decided he had to reivent Gus in order to reprise the role

Thankfully, Giancarlo Esposito found a way to reconcile his past with "Breaking Bad" and Gus Fring, returning to the role with a renewed vigor on the "Better Call Saul" set. Though Esposito freely admitted to Vanity Fair how difficult that decision was, he explained he signed on for creator Vince Gilligan after realizing he'd be playing a very different version of Gus.

After all, the series begins several years before the events of "Breaking Bad." While Esposito noted that detail changed his initial thinking about Gus, he still struggled with the decision. "I went, 'No, don't choose that [not returning because he'd already played the role]. Choose to surpass that." Choosing as much entailed Esposito removing obstacles that might prevent his return. Those obstacles cleared when he recognized that the time shift allowed him to explore an alternate version of the terrifyingly cool and collected Gus seen in "Breaking Bad."  

Esposito further stated his passion for the character was reinvigorated by the idea of playing a version of Fring that hasn't yet developed his signature, bone-chilling sense of self-control. "Okay, so he's more volatile; he's less controlled," he said in talking out his process, acknowledging the possibilities that came with creating a whole new Gus ultimately enabled his return. If you've seen "Better Call Saul," you know Esposito pushed hard to show fans a whole new side of Gus. You also know it made the iconic character all the more compelling.