When AMC's Breaking Bad prequel Better Call Saul returns for Season 3 on April 10, the show will feature another familiar face from Breaking Bad: ruthless drug lord Gus Fring, played by Giancarlo Esposito.
AMC teased Esposito's appearance last week by releasing a clever ad for Los Pollos Hermanos—the fictional fast-food fried chicken chain that Fring operates as a drug front—featuring Fring himself, which caused Breaking Bad fans to lose their minds.
Esposito confirmed his return at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour in Pasadena, Calif., when he appeared in character as Fring during AMC's panel for Better Call Saul, and handed out boxes of Los Pollos Hermanos chicken to reporters.
The actor told Adweek that he came up with the idea for last week's pitch-perfect Los Pollos Hermanos spot himself. It's been gestating for years, Esposito said, since he first appeared on Breaking Bad in 2009.
"I always say it was divinely guided, because it came out of a meditation. I always knew from the time I first started working at Pollos Hermanos that there might be some juice in doing something that was centered in the restaurant, that was commercial-like," said Esposito. "But when I thought of it earlier on, with Breaking Bad, it just didn't fit" with that show's dramatic tone.
The idea resurfaced again as he began filming Better Call Saul. "It came back to me two or three weeks ago, and I thought, this is the perfect way to tease a Gus Fring return. Because this show has some comedy in it. It's a little funnier than Breaking Bad was," said Esposito.
But still, the actor hesitated to share his vision with the show's co-creators Vince Gilligan (who also created Breaking Bad) and Peter Gould. "We're dealing with Sony [which produces Saul] and Vince Gilligan, who's a genius, and AMC, and I thought, 'Will they ever accept that idea? And then I thought, it doesn't matter whether they do or not, it came to you; put it out there!' So I did, and I even guided them as to what it might look like."
Gilligan and Gould were on board. "We loved it, and fortunately, AMC decided to make it," said Gould. "We just sat back and enjoyed it." Added Gilligan, "I thought that was brilliant. … I love this thing."
After getting the green light, "The writers took it and ran with it, and they said yes and made it. For me, it was a dream come true, because it allowed me to exercise a different part of my creativity," said Esposito.
The spot did actually run on late-night TV in Albuquerque, N.M., where Better Call Saul (and Breaking Bad before it) is set and filmed. "Can you imagine being up at 2 a.m. and that thing comes on?" said Bob Odenkirk, who stars as Jimmy McGill, the man who will eventually become Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad.
"That was the point: Did I just see that, or did I dream it?" said Gilligan. Esposito himself stayed up to watch the spot when it aired, as he hadn't seen it in advance. However, it was harder to track the ad down than he had expected. "I'm up and I realized there are like five local Albuquerque channels, and I'm scrolling through all of them, trying to find the commercial," Esposito said.
Since the spot went viral last week, Esposito said his manager has been fielding phone calls "from Burger King and other people, wanting to know if I would advertise their product as Gus."
When Gus Fring appears on Better Call Saul this season, he won't be exactly like the character audiences remember from Breaking Bad. "We are at a time where he's a little more immature than where we left off. So I'm reminding myself that he's still finding his way as the businessman that he is … and where he was with regards to the cartel," said Esposito.
The actor admitted he lobbied Gilligan for Gus Fring to star in a prequel of his own. "I mentioned that it would be wonderful for me to realize a show or something called The Rise of Gus, because I think there's enough backstory within Gus to support that. Hint hint! But that didn't stop me from wanting to be a part of this particular group," said Esposito.
Gilligan and Gould first teased Fring's return last season on Better Call Saul, as the first letters of each Season 2 episode spelled out "FRING'S BACK." But fans cracked the code much quicker than they anticipated.
"We thought we were being oh-so-clever coming up with that hidden message in the titles. Yeah, right up there with the Enigma code in World War II! It got figured out in something like 14 seconds," said Gilligan. "We knew the audience was smarter than we were. We didn't know just by how many IQ points."