Giancarlo Esposito's 10 Best Genre Roles (So Far)

From left: Once Upon a Time, The Mandalorian, Westworld, and Sesame Street.
From left: Once Upon a Time, The Mandalorian, Westworld, and Sesame Street.
Image: ABC, Disney, HBO, PBS

Giancarlo Esposito is having a moment. The acclaimed television and film actor has recently starred in some of the biggest franchises around, including The Mandalorian, The Boys, and Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. But with almost 200 acting credits to his name, there’s so much more to love.

Here’s our list of some of the greatest sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and Star Wars roles Esposito has played so far over the course of his four-decade career. They range from key parts in some of our favorite series to lesser-known appearances that might make you do a double-take. I’m sure it’s only the beginning of what we’ll be seeing from Esposito, one of the most standout actors around, over the next decade or more. So here’s to making the list even bigger in the future. Hopefully with more sexy vampires.

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Moff Gideon: The Mandalorian

Moff Gideon isn’t here to goof around—unless Baby Yoda wants to, of course.
Moff Gideon isn’t here to goof around—unless Baby Yoda wants to, of course.
Image: Disney

This is Esposito’s latest and (possibly) greatest role, starring in Disney’s The Mandalorian as the Baby Yoda-stealing, Darksaber-wielding Imperial officer, Moff Gideon. It feels like the role he was born to play—the perfect mix of suave, silly, and threatening. Moff Gideon can joke around with Grogu one moment and commit genocide the next, all without batting an eyelash. At this point, it’s impossible to imagine anyone else playing this part the way he does.

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Mickey: Sesame Street

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Big Bird’s wondering where his floaties are.
Image: PBS
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Esposito has been acting since the early 1970s, but his big break came when he got a role on Sesame Street, playing Big Bird’s camp counselor Mickey. He appeared on seven episodes of the series, in 1982 and 1984. Hopefully, all of them featured those short-shorts.

Phantom Blot: DuckTales (2017)

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The Phantom Blot takes out his anger on magic.
Image: Disney Channel
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The Phantom Blot is a masked agent of F.O.W.L. (or Fiendish Organization for World Larceny), an international criminal organization that plays a major part in the 2017 reboot of DuckTales. He’s a tech genius who hates all magic—mainly because Magica De Spell used her powers to destroy his village—and has invented a gauntlet that can absorb and dispel magic. What’s interesting about this role is he’s actually one of the oldest baddies in Disney history. The Phantom Blot, or “The Blot,” first appeared in a daily comics strip back in 1939, and he served as one of Mickey Mouse’s arch-nemeses for decades.

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Sidney Glass/Magic Mirror/Genie: Once Upon a Time

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Gotta love a sassy editor who’s not afraid of a little conflict of interest.
Image: ABC
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The role of Sidney Glass was an excuse for scenery-chewing at its finest (much like most of Once Upon a Time). He’s the editor of the Storybrooke Daily Mirror, albeit one with zero ethics, who also happens to be the Magic Mirror from the Enchanted Forest of long ago. The show cleverly intertwined the role of the Magic Mirror with the Genie from Aladdin, turning Sidney Glass’s origin story into a tragedy of forbidden love and queenly manipulation.

Lex Luthor: Harley Quinn

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Lex Luthor might be after Superman, but Harley Quinn’s still the star of the show.
Image: HBO Max
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Esposito has played quite a few characters in the Batman animated universe, including R’as al Ghul in Son of Batman and Black Spider in Batman: Assault on Arkham. But his standout turn in the DC Universe so far has been his dry comedic take on Lex Luthor in Harley Quinn, a series that isn’t afraid to let its actors cut loose and have a good time.

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Tom Neville: Revolution

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“Hey you, see my army?”
Image: NBC
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Hey, remember Revolution? That’s OK, no one else does either. This was NBC’s answer to the growing popularity of AMC’s The Walking Dead, only instead of a zombie invasion, it was an apocalypse where all the world’s power had gone out at the same time. It was a pretty generic show with a run-of-the-mill antagonist in the form of insurance salesman-turned-militia leader Captain Tom Neville. But Esposito gave the role a depth and gravity beyond the writing, turning this generic baddie into a surprisingly complex character.

Stan Edgar: The Boys

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Stan Edgar knows how to play the crowd.
Image: Amazon Studios
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Put Esposito in charge of everything...then again, maybe not. The actor takes on the superhero and pharmaceutical industries as Vought International CEO Stan Edgar—an imposing figure who towers over even the most powerful supes in the series, even though he (presumably) has no powers of his own. His strength comes in his absolute confidence in himself, his company, and the work that they do. As evil and terrible as that work may be.

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Vampire: The Hunger

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Fair warning: Esposito spends most of the episode way more naked than this.
Image: Showtime
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The Hunger was a horror anthology series that aired on Showtime back in the ‘90s, telling stories of monsters, mayhem, and horrific sex—mostly as an excuse to show some soft-core erotica. In the season one episode “Fly-by-Night,” Esposito played an unnamed vampire who forms an attachment with a war veteran after the two of them find themselves in the same mental health facility. Surprise no surprise, the two of them have sex....because it was a requirement in every episode of The Hunger. If you’re craving some Esposito vampire nudity and non-pornographic sex scenes, the episode is on YouTube. In Italian.

El Lazo II: Westworld

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This is not your daddy’s El Lazo.
Image: HBO
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The Man in Black (Ed Harris) spent most of season one traveling around Westworld with the revolutionary leader El Lazo, otherwise known as Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr.), who William believed would lead him to the center of The Maze. Things took an unexpected turn in season two when William and Lawrence found themselves face-to-face with a new El Lazo, this time played by Esposito. This version of El Lazo was there to tell William that he was meant to play the game “alone” before ordering himself and all his soldiers to die by suicide. It was a reminder that Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) was still in control of Westworld, even in death, and that any host’s story or world could be changed at his whim.

Jorge: Maze Runner series

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Who is this guy? What’s he doing? Why should I pay attention to anything else but that sweet volume?
Image: 20th Century Fox
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I’ve got to be honest—this addition has nothing to do with Maze Runner. I don’t know who Esposito plays in this franchise, and frankly, I don’t care. Jorge is on this list for one reason and one reason alone: that hair.

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Video Editor and Staff Writer at io9. My doppelganger is that rebelling greeting card from Futurama.

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DISCUSSION

Blind-Prophet
Blind Prophet

Hey, remember Revolution? That’s OK, no one else does either.

I do! Specifically because of Giancarlo Esposito.  It was my first real introduction to him, and probably the sole reason I remember that show.