Giancarlo Esposito

Active - 1955 - 2020  |   Born - Apr 26, 1958 in Copenhagen, Denmark  |   Genres - Drama, Thriller, Comedy

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Biography by Andrea LeVasseur

Versatile American actor Giancarlo Esposito was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, but grew up in Manhattan from the age of six. His mother was an African-American nightclub singer (who once shared a bill with Josephine Baker) and his father was an Italian stagehand. In show business most of his life, Esposito made his Broadway debut in a 1966 production of Maggie Flynn. His other stage credits include Sacrilege, Miss Moffatt, and Balm in Gilead. He won a 1981 Theatre World Award for his performance in Zooman and the Sign.

On the big screen, Esposito started appearing in Spike Lee films during the late '80s in a wide range of roles with great character names. He was the frat leader Julian "Big Brother Almighty" in School Daze, the outspoken reactionary Buggin' Out in Do the Right Thing, the dandy pianist Left Hand Lacey in Mo' Better Blues, and the criminal Thomas Hayer in Malcolm X. Esposito's other film roles include an investigative journalist in Bob Roberts, an activist in Amos & Andrew, and a game show host in Reckless. In 1995, he earned an Independent Spirit award nomination for his supporting role of doting drug dealer Esteban in Boaz Yakin's debut drama Fresh. Esposito also appeared in Wayne Wang and Paul Auster's Smoke, along with the sequel Blue in the Face. The next year, he turned briefly to producing with the independent prison film The Keeper, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

On television, Esposito appeared on NYPD Blue, Law & Order, and the short-lived Fox comedy Bakersfield, P.D. In 1999, he earned an Image award nomination for his role as FBI Agent Michael Giardello on Homicide: Life on the Street. He also has contributed to the Fox television dramas The $treet and girls club. While teaching at the Atlantic Theatre Company, Esposito found time to portray real-life figures in the biopics Ali (as Cassius Clay Sr.) and PiƱero (as Miguel Algarin). Projects for 2004 included James Hunter's feature Back in the Day and the television movie NYPD 2069. He played a detective in the thriller Derailed, and appeared in the indie drama SherryBaby. In 2008 he directed, starred in, and helped write the drama Gospel Hill. In 2010 he joined the cast of the highly-respected AMC drama series Breaking Bad, and appeared in the 2012 big-screen thriller Alex Cross.

Movie Highlights

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  • Is half African-American, half Italian.
  • Started acting at age 8.
  • His personal heroes include Burt Lancaster, Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama.
  • Mother was a singer who once shared a bill in the mid-1950s with Josephine Baker.
  • Was one of the kid singers on The Electric Company theme song in 1969.
  • In 1982, he played Big Bird's camp counselor, Mickey, on Sesame Street.
  • Member of the Atlantic Theater Ensemble, founded by David Mamet and William H. Macy.
  • Has appeared in four Spike Lee films: School Daze, Do the Right Thing, Mo' Better Blues and Malcolm X.
  • Practices yoga.
  • Enjoys riding motorcycles and playing the saxophone.
  • Member of the Creative Coalition, an organization that supports the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.