Behind every great man there is an army of people who helped put him there. In the world of REVOLUTION, Col. Sebastian Monroe (David Lyons) may be the despot who rules with an iron fist; but he does not rule alone, for at his right hand is his trusted confidante and ruthless second-in-command Tom Neville (Giancarlo Esposito). At the WB Mondo International Press Tour, star Giancarlo Esposito shared how he see his character Tom Neville and the challenges of playing a character so seemingly gentle on the surface, but who hides a vicious heart.
What really grabbed you about REVOLUTION?
GIANCARLO: What grabbed me was this guy had the ability to have fun, to tell stories and to be kind of a fun character to develop, and the physicality of this particular show really attracted me. To be riding a horse, to be fighting was really an attraction to be in, and a little more action, after having played a character who was so close to the vest. So I wanted to make this guy, Tom Neville, possibly a little psychotic, possibly a little bit angry from what had happened in his previous life of being held down and being meek and being mild. When Eric [Kripke] brought up the fact that maybe he possibly is an insurance adjustor, I immediately went to the hero part of that. In my brain, I thought, “Oh, yeah, he’s the best in the company. He’s at the top of his game. “ And then I started to think, “Well, what if he wasn’t?” And Eric and I started talking, and as it turns out, well, he wasn’t. He was just your everyday blowhard. That’s more interesting. So I’ve loved the little transition I’ve been able to make and what I’ve been able to show the audience.
Given how ruthless the characters are that you play, how meek and mild are you in real life?
GIANCARLO: I’m very meek and mild. I’m humble and I attribute a lot of that to my looking inside, because I think that’s where my strength comes from as an actor. It started with BREAKING BAD, when I used my yoga practice to drop my spirit and to really be connected. First and foremost for me is the work; it still is. And I’m really happy on this particular ride, because we’re a hit. They say we’re moving toward being a bigger hit, that I’m connected to that, because that’s all that matters for me, truly. All the other perks are kind of great, and I’m at an age now where I feel like I can enjoy them more without my ego getting involved. So I pinch myself. I really do. I’m feel deep gratitude.
What are the biggest challenges of your character Tom Neville?
GIANCARLO: The biggest challenges for me are to make the action stuff look good. Did I ever think I’d be in that kind of action world? The fight stuff – you know, I’ve been hurt. The young kid hit me in the ribs; I was hurt for four weeks. He bruised my ribs, almost cracked my rib. But that was after I missed and hit him. [LAUGHS] It may have been retaliation. But that’s been a real challenge, to be careful and to not hurt each other when we’re doing stunts, but to allow it to look real. Because we have to pass each other’s face with fists and feet and knives, and so to respect yourself and the other actor. I mean, I hit Billy once in the nose. Then he missed once and got me. I really thought I broke his nose, and I was like, “Oh, my God, this can’t happen.” So now we have padded rooms and we rehearse the physical stuff. To make that look good and not force your acting surrounding the physical work is a challenge. That’s been a big, big challenge.
What was it like with the horse riding and using all the different the weapons on the show?
GIANCARLO: I love riding horses. I hadn’t ridden in ten years. I was in my little town in Connecticut and they ride English. Then Jon Favreau had called me and said, “Can you ride a horse?” Evidently, I didn’t know that he had an experience with actors who all said they could and they couldn’t. It’s the first thing that goes on your resume. It’s the first thing that went on mine. But I hadn’t been on a horse in ten years, and I was honest with him. He said, “Well, go get on a horse in your town.” And I said, “Mmm, something’s funky about this, but I’ll do it.” They only had English. I happen to know the guy from the stable because he rode motorcycles. And I went down and they had an English saddle, which I had never ridden. Then his wife comes out with the video camera, and I was like, “I get it now.” And they basically wanted to see that I could mount and dismount. But on an English saddle, you got to mount from a block. Because it’s so high. So I mounted, dismounted, and rode around the ring. And they, all of a sudden, got the idea that I wanted to ride English. I was like, “No, I’m a Western rider.” So I got down to Atlanta where we were shooting. Everything was really connected in a sort of very interesting way. I had done BREAKING BAD, and there was a driver on the show who I remembered, who I loved, Butch, who was a southern boy from Richmond, older gentleman, and he had mentioned at some point in time that he worked with horses and that they had done “John Adams.” So I called this guy Doug, and I said, “Doug, I’m going to be down a day early.” I went to the ring, got on the horse. He said, “You’re a natural.” And it turns to out that Butch was Doug’s partner, and the guy from BREAKING BAD who was my driver was coming down with the horses, so it all worked out. I love riding horses. I’m much better at it now, after having prepared and ridden on the show. And I respect animals a little more. Because I’ve learned that the more relaxed you are on the horse, the more the horse will reaction. You have to be firm, like I do with my acting. The more the horse will do what you want it to, know you’re the boss, but you can relax with it. If a horse can feel a fly on its butt ‑‑ that’s a big animal ‑‑ can feel a fly on its butt and get it off, it can feel every motion in your body.
Are you a fan of watching TV on home video? What do you think of the special features aspect of it? And what do you think of the idea that people will be watching you on BREAKING BAD and this show years to come?
GIANCARLO: I like it. It gives the opportunity for some of my work to live on, and other actors’ stellar work to live on beyond them. But I like the uninterrupted aspect of it. I love also that with the special features, they’re able to really get an inside view of what really goes on, of some of what is good and some of what is difficult. And they also get a chance to see, especially and specifically with REVOLUTION, how some of the stunts are done. I mean, we did such a huge stunt last week, I thought I was in a major Jerry Bruckheimer movie. I really did. And I thought, “Wow, our audience is really going to love this,” because they’ve never before seen this on television. I also like the idea ‑‑ like I’m one who if I watch television or film it goes by sometimes quickly, something gets your attention for a second and you’ve missed something — so with what we can do today in technology, in replaying things, I can go back and recapture that and go oh, that’s what happened and then move on. So I really think it’s a new time for our mediums, that we’re able to put them out there in that fashion.
Are there any shows you’ve discovered that way?
GIANCARLO: I had. I had to bone up on BREAKING BAD. They wanted me to do a guest spot in the very beginning. I didn’t want to do it. I had done so many guest spots for scale-plus-ten. I got convinced by my agent and my ex‑wife who said, “This is a really great show.” So they had to send it to me. And I said, “Send it.” And they sent me a DVD and I watched it and I went, “Oh, okay, this is different filmmaking. This is something different than I’ve ever done.” I always want to be challenged. I don’t want to do the same things over and over again, even if I’m good at it and I become really, largely famous for doing that person. I never ever thought or never even thought of, even in my wildest dreams and ego, that Gus Fring would become this iconic character. And when they said to me, “Would you come back and do it again?” I had to think about that. Because it’s like “Do the Right Thing,” when Spike Lee asked me to go back and play Buggin’ Out 20 years later. I told him no. He said, “What?” I said, “No, I can’t do that. Because that was such a strong piece.” He sees it, of course, but he thought it would be funny to have Buggin’ Out 20 years later as a bum on the street in another movie. And I thought, “I can’t do that, because I can’t get back into that space.” That lives. That breathes, not just from my work, from everyone’s work. And I can’t go back and throw that aside and have another vision of that. I feel blessed to be always looking forward.
Did the success of the show BREAKING BAD change anything?
GIANCARLO: Absolutely. Because when you’re shooting and no one’s seeing it, you don’t know if it works. You’re relying on the efforts of the editor and the music. I look at shows completely because I’m a director. So when I’m making a show, I try to look at it and feel as if what’s going to happen, as in my director’s brain, because it’s how they put it together. And a network show has less time to allow moments to breathe. So what we learned with REVOLUTION, after having shot six or seven before it was aired, was that a lot of it ‑‑ you got to think of this now. Directing a movie is one director. Directing a television show, every eight days is a new director. And I as an actor, I want to trust my director. That’s my nature. I’m different than some of the Hollywood actors who trash their trailer and want to go, “Screw you, you don’t know what you’re doing.” I want that trust so I can give you my best and give you alternate takes. If I don’t trust you, I’m giving you one take, because I can’t trust what you’re going to take, what you’re going to cut. So equally so, when I watch a show, there’s different editor for each episode as well. So it’s kind of weird, right? It’s kind of funky. So I look at both of the editors who do our show and I can tell who feels the rhythm. And so you don’t know if anything’s working until the audience sees it. And in television, it’s committee. Man, you’ve got Favreau. You’ve got Abrams. You’ve got our producer on set. You’ve got Kripke and the writers. You’ve got network. All those people have to approve of something. So that’s why I’m so focused on set, because I want every second that I’m performing to be good because you never know where they’re going to cut you and you want it all to be powerful and to be strong. So what we learn was that directors weren’t leaving time — that moment I say something to you, “Go, do this,” and I give that moment. They weren’t allowing that moment to breathe. So we’ve fixed it in allowing the scene to play out a little bit. Because the editor can take out the air. Why should I be forced to take out the air? I don’t want to feel rushed as an actor. I want to feel like my emotion is going all the way through. So we learned a bunch of things, but that’s one of them.
What surprised you that you didn’t expect about the character or maybe the season that has taken you in a new direction?
GIANCARLO: First of all, I didn’t expect to have to have my backstory be someone who was so humble and so stepped on. And I loved that I allowed that to be. Because, for me, I want to be the hero, and that’s only my own ego. So I identified with that. So I really liked being able to play someone who was humble and hurt and who wasn’t so good at what he does. We all want to be the best, but sometimes we have to go through not being the best. And then, the other part of what is good for me is to not be the top dog. There’s a guy above me — and we were having some trouble — I don’t always agree with what he says to me, and I don’t always want to do what he tells me, but I’m a good soldier. My background, I went to military school when my parents divorced. I was an alter boy, almost became a priest. So I feel that military bearing of what we’re doing in REVOLUTION. So when I’m playing with David [Lyons], I’m having to be a good soldier and wanting to please, even if inside me I know I can do it better. It’s something good to play against and to work with for me. Because I’ve got to respect him and I’ve got to do what he tells me, even if I think he’s unraveling, even if I think I can do it better. So it’s good. It’s good stuff for me to play. And he’s such a dynamic actor that it’s nice. We have really wonderful stuff together.
To see how long exactly Tom Neville tolerates subservience under Monroe and if he strikes back, be sure to tune in for all new episodes of REVOLUTION Monday nights, starting March 25th at 10:00 p.m. on NBC.
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