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Giancarlo Esposito speaks at UF on Valentine’s Day

Acclaimed actor encourages students to live within the space between the lines

<p>Guest speaker Giancarlo Esposito, a 64-year-old actor best known for his role in &quot;Breaking Bad,&quot; addresses the crowd of UF students and faculty before an interview conducted by Ted Spiker, chair of the UF department of journalism, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023. </p>

Guest speaker Giancarlo Esposito, a 64-year-old actor best known for his role in "Breaking Bad," addresses the crowd of UF students and faculty before an interview conducted by Ted Spiker, chair of the UF department of journalism, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023.

UF has something Giancarlo Esposito wants. Or perhaps, UF students have the potential to create a world Esposito wants to live in. 

“Stick with inspiration,” he said, “Stick with your knowledge and what you know and make it happen, because guess what? The world needs you now more than ever.” 

The 64-year-old actor, director and producer spoke with Ted Spiker, UF College of Journalism chair, and implored students to stick with what inspires them. During the event, hosted by UF Accent Speakers ​​Bureau, he asked that students not only make their dreams happen, but invite them to happen. 

“That moment of inspiration that comes to you from the pit of your stomach — that makes you think ‘I’ll never find the money to do this,’ ‘I’ll never get the investment,’ ‘It might be a good idea,’ Esposito said. “That moment of doubt? Throw it away.”

Esposito, whose 54-year career includes notable roles in shows such as “The Mandalorian,” “The Boys” and “Do the Right Thing,” is most known for his nine-year stint playing New Mexico drug lord Gus Fring in “Better Call Saul” and “Breaking Bad.” It was his role as Gus Fring that the over 800 students who came to see him speak seemed most excited about. 

Within the line that sprawled out from the University Auditorium and onto 13th Street, students could be seen in bright yellow hazmat suits and Los Pollos Hermanos T-shirts — staples of “Breaking Bad.”

Fans such as 18-year-old UF history freshman Tomas Cerniglia and 18-year-old UF computer science student Matt Brown waited over two hours to see Esposito. The pair came dressed as characters Saul Goodman and Walter White.

“I'm a fan of a lot of his shows,” Brown said. “He’s just an amazing actor, and I think especially to a lot of minority groups, he’ll be a great influence here.” 

Esposito made a point to do just that, explaining how his identity as a biracial man informed his worldview — with his European upbringing complicating his identity. 

“When I came to America, I suddenly became Black,” he said. “I refused that label because I wanted people to know who I was.” 

He’d been given a chance to both find his identity and hone his craft through his various roles, Esposito said. Expression, he said, is entwined with daily life, informing our character. Esposito also believes in the idea that how you do anything is how you do everything, he said.

When describing how he develops complex characters such as Fring, Esposito credited the space between the lines. 

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“My interpretation came out of leaving space, being meticulous, bringing parts of myself that I felt would really bring Gus alive,” Esposito said. “A picture speaks louder than words. Being an actor, you put all that together and its poetry in motion.”

When discussing other roles, such as villain Moff Gideon in “The Mandalorian”, Esposito drew boisterous applause from the audience — particularly from the Gator Star Wars club which sat VIP in the front rows. 

Officer Daila Dooley, a 19-year-old UF history sophomore, held up a homemade poster she hoped Esposito would sign.

“I do graphic design, and I was like ’You know what? I’m going to design a poster, and if he signs it, that will be such a privilege,’” Dooley said.

Esposito divulged that, in his youth, he had been a fan of the Star Wars franchise. He acknowledged his admiration for the hero’s journey and boyish love for Princess Leia, admitting he had wanted to be a part of the universe since he was a kid. 

Upon receiving the offer from director and friend John Favreau, Esposito had one request: a cape. 

“Part of life is to allow the child within you to live and to grow,” he said, “I grew up fast, I lost some of those opportunities, but I'm getting it back now. I stood in that mirror and I just blew that cape back.” 

As the event neared its end, Esposito answered student questions ranging from pleas to have him as their Valentine to who his favorite collaborators were. Upon Esposito’s final goodbye, the actor received a standing ovation, with fans rushing to the edge of the stage with pens and memorabilia in hand. 

Dollar bills, PopCorners bags, beakers, hazmat suits and lightsabers were all signed with care, even as the actor was ushered off the stage. 

He did, however, stop to sign the homemade poster held proudly by Dooley. 

“The fact that he could have walked off stage and said goodnight but instead stayed and signed things…I am so thankful,” Dooley said, “Truly an incredible evening for a massive fan like me.” 

Contact Sydney at sjohnson@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter at @sajohnson15

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