Up-and-Comer of the Month: ‘Fargo’ Star Salvatore Esposito Is TV’s New Favorite Tough Guy

     September 27, 2020

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When I began scouting for our Up-and-Comer of the Month feature, I had a funny feeling I’d end up picking someone from Fargo given my affection for Noah Hawley‘s brilliant FX series, but I had no idea who was going to stand out among the show’s lesser-known cast members.

The wonderful E’myri Crutchfield announces herself as a rising star with her turn as the show’s conscience, Ethelrida Pearl Smutny, while musician Andrew Bird is very good as her father, Thurman. I also adored Kelsey Asbille as the fearless outlaw Swanee Capp, but there was one performance I just couldn’t shake — that of Salvatore Esposito as TV’s new favorite tough guy, Gaetano Fadda.

The fourth season of Fargo stars Chris Rock as Loy Cannon, the head of a Black crime syndicate in Kansas City who decides to make a move for more power when the leader of a rival Italian crime family suffers an accident, causing chaos in the ranks. Jason Schwartzman plays Josto Fadda, who inherits the Italian throne, while Esposito plays his younger brother Gaetano, a formidable kingpin in his own right, who arrives in town from Sardinia eager to assert his old-country strength.

Esposito has swam in these dangerous waters before, as he’s best known for playing young crime boss Genny Savastano on the popular Italian series Gomorrah, which is currently streaming on Netflix before it makes its way to HBO Max later this year. Esposito also starred in the show’s feature spinoff, The Immortal. Having said that, the 34 year-old actor has never been exposed to American audiences quit like this before, and I suspect they won’t forget him anytime soon after his powerhouse performance on Fargo. And though Esposito is still honing his English, it was his ability to speak Italian that served him well on the midwestern show, which oddly enough, allowed him to switch back-and-forth between languages.

Esposito burns with intensity onscreen to an almost comical degree, but it’s a choice that fits the world of Fargo and the tone of the show. The burly actor gained roughly 22 pounds for the role, and he uses his intimidating size to great effect, making good use of his physicality as an actor. He reminds me of a young Vincent D’Onofrio in that regard, and I can see him going on to big things after Fargo and the upcoming fifth season of Gomorrah. For that reason, he prevailed as our Up-and-Comer of the Month for September, so get to know him below, and be sure and check out the first two episodes of Fargo when they premiere tonight on FX, and Monday via FX on Hulu.

COLLIDER: What sparked your passion for acting and made you want to get into this crazy business?

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Image via Salvatore Esposito

SALVATORE ESPOSITO: I grew up in a neighborhood next to Naples. A beautiful land, an amazing land. I grew up with this big dream to become an actor, and maybe dream about the USA. So I grew up with this big passion, and when I was 24, I started to study acting in Rome. Then Gomorrah comes, and after Gomorrah, everything changed for me, because the TV show put me in a special situation, because everybody loves the show around the world [it airs in 190+ countries].

At first, I made a connection in France, when Luc Besson called me to do one movie [Taxi 5] that he produced in France, and then international projects like Fargo came. It’s really a dream come true. It’s been seven years since I finished school to now, and everything that has happened to me is more and more and more than I ever expected. I’m so grateful.

Tell me about the audition process for Fargo. How’d you land the job, and how’d you even land on Noah Hawley’s radar in the first place?

ESPOSITO: Well, this is a crazy story, because I met the casting director in L.A., where my agents Josh Rahm and Nick Styne sent me, and this was probably two years ago. She just wanted to meet me. They knew there was a project that needed some Italians or Italian-American actors, but I didn’t know what project. And then last July, in 2019, they said, ‘look, they want you.’ I said, ‘They want me for what?’ They said, ‘they want you for Fargo Season 4,’ and I said ‘really?’ And they said ‘yes, they want you!’

And then when I met Noah and I met the other producers, they said they knew me from Gomorrah and [that] from the beginning they wanted me, so for me, it was an honor. I really appreciate everything that Noah Hawley and the producers and the broadcaster and the other directors did for me. It’s not easy, because I come from a different kind of work, a different nation, you know, but they [made it] feel like home, so I loved it.

Had you watched previous seasons of Fargo before you were cast?

ESPOSITO: Of course! The movie and the TV show are amazing, and like a fan, I couldn’t wait to watch Season 4. I think that anybody who loves the best TV shows and movies can’t wait for Fargo.

Did you view your character, Gaetano, as a bad guy, or just the kind of guy who’s willing to do what his big brother isn’t in order to protect his family and keep them in power?

ESPOSITO: I can’t tell you more because you watched just 9 episodes, not 11, and I think that after the other episodes you will understand more about Gaetano. I think all the characters in Fargo are three-dimensional characters, so they are killers, they are gangsters and they are brothers, but there’s a lot of things inside them.

It’s not an easy way, but we built Gaetano [using] Noah and my [own] ideas of the character. We gave him this kind of look, where he [always] looks like a predator. He looks like a bull, and we wanted to create this amazing relationship — and fight — between Josto and Gaetano. The big brother is a small guy, and the little brother is a big guy. I thought it was a great idea, and every [scene] that we played together was great. And in a certain way, Gaetano is the point of the show, because he changes the story.

Tell me about Gaetano’s eyes, because it appears that he rarely blinks, and I felt like so much of your performance lies in the intensity of your eyes. Was that how you saw the character or was that direction that you were given by Noah or someone else?

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Image via FX

ESPOSITO: No, this is my idea from the beginning, but I have to say thanks to Noah and Enzo Mileti and Scott Wilson, the writers of the show with Noah because when I give to them this kind of look for Gaetano, at the beginning, it’s uncomfortable to watch this actor with these big eyes, but in a way, it shows he’s something like an animal. He’s like a lion in the jungle with his big eyes looking at you. He’s always in a fighting position, really like a raging bull, who’s ready at any time to kill you, and there’s something funny inside him and inside his relationship with Josto.

And at the same time, it’s not easy, because I’m the only character who speaks fluent Italian and English, and I’m trying to mix it all the time, but I think it’s good. It’s interesting for the audience to listen to this Italian voice, and at the same time, to see that he can also talk in English. So we tried to mix it, and most of the time it worked, and if you like it, then that’s a good reason for us to do it.

How did the writing of Gaetano’s Italian dialogue work? Was Noah writing English dialogue and then having someone translate it into Italian, or what?

ESPOSITO: Ah, no, they’d translate the dialogue, but I’d translate my dialogue by myself. Sometimes, it happens that you can translate something from Italian to English, but it’s literal. The real meaning and the real feeling, the emotion, it’s just a translation, but I want to give to my characters in English and Italian an interesting point of view. So I know what I have to say in Italian and how to say it, and for this reason, I have to say, like I told you, “Thanks” to Noah, but he gave me a certain freedom when I talk in Italian to say some words and not say other words, and to play with my character and put my own spin on Gaetano. It was great.

Are there any actors who you admire or whose careers you’d like to emulate?

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Image via FX

ESPOSITO: Yes, there are so many actors, from Robert De Niro and Al Pacino to Russell Crowe, there are a lot who I love. Russell Crowe is the kind of actor that I want to be. Vincent D’Onofrio is the same, like you said, and James Gandolfini. That kind of actor, who looks a little bit like me — not Pacino and De Niro, but Vincent D’Onofrio and Gandolfini. I love them all, but I think it could be interesting to have an Italian play an Italian, rather than an Italian-American. It could be a new wave!

When you talked about the guys who looked like you, I did want to say how impressed I was with the way you used your size. It’s a very physical performance you give.

ESPOSITO: You have to think that I took [on] 10 kilos more — I don’t know how many pounds that is [roughly 22 lbs.] — to look even bigger than my brother, Josto, because Noah wanted to show this big difference — physically too — between these two characters. So I [gained] these 10 kilos before the shoot, and now, fortunately, I’ve lost it.

Are there any directors you’re eager to work with?

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Image via Sky Atlantic

ESPOSITO: I’m Italian, so I love Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Brian De Palma and Ridley Scott, and I know that most of them watched Gomorrah and know me from that show. Hopefully, with Fargo, they’ll understand I can work in the U.S. too. This is a great opportunity for me. I hope they like it.

How have you been spending your downtime during the pandemic?

ESPOSITO: In Italy, we had a two-month lockdown. I flew back from Chicago to Rome in March, I think, and then we spent two months in Italy closed in the apartment, and we never went out. We were just training ourselves and cooking, watching TV shows and movies, and that’s it. And after those months in Italy, step by step, they started to open stores and everything, and production started back up in July, and I went to the Venice Film Festival to introduce one of my movies called The Stonebreaker. It was strange because Venice was the first international festival to open since COVID started. We had to keep a distance, but I got good vibes for the future, because in Italy, too, there’s not too many people going to theaters to watch movies, and it’s not an easy situation for the industry, so we need good vibes.

If you had to single out one of your Fargo co-stars for extra praise, someone who really impressed you on the set, who would you choose and why?

ESPOSITO: I loved a lot of characters. I loved the way Jessie Buckley played her character. I loved spending most of my time with Jason Schwartzman, and as you know, I played some scenes with Chris Rock, and I loved those too. All the seasons of Fargo, there’s an amazing cast, but that kind of big cast with so many talents and so many actors and amazing characters, it’s not easy to have, and I think this is the only season to have all these things together. So I’m really lucky, and I loved doing it.

How did a family-based crime show like Gomorrah prepare you to tackle this kind of violent role in Fargo?

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Image via Sky Atlantic

ESPOSITO: They’re totally different because Gomorrah comes from a book. It’s a drama story, but the way we act is totally different. The best thing about Fargo is that there’s a Fargo style, and there’s a Gomorrah style too, but those are two different kinds of styles.

When you talk about drama and crime, there’s a lot of the same situations, the same reactions, so it helped me, but in the meantime, Fargo is totally another world. It’s a different kind of language and filming situation. Gomorrah looks more real, and in Fargo, we create characters that look real, but you feel that they are heightened Fargo characters, like mine and like Jessie Buckley and Jason Schwartzman. Those are more Fargo characters. In Gomorrah, the characters feel like real people who can kill everybody and can die. But I have to tell you, it’s because of Gomorrah that I’m on Fargo. So it was a great thing for me.

Do you plan on reading Fargo reviews or do you typically steer clear of that stuff?

ESPOSITO: Just in the past day, I read some reviews, and I’m really happy because a lot of people love my character and love the show. It’s not easy, because everybody knows how important this season is, and we all worked hard, especially with the pandemic, so we really appreciate what’ll happen after the 27th. I never know if people love my character, but now I do, I guess, since I’m doing this interview.

Are you excited that Gomorrah will soon be available on HBO Max?

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Image via Sky Atlantic

ESPOSITO: It’s a really great opportunity for me after Fargo, because there are a lot of people who watched Gomorrah on Netflix or on Sundance TV, but just the first two seasons, so now they’ll get Season 3 and Season 4 and the movie, and eventually, Season 5. So I’m really excited, because a lot of producers, actors and directors love Gomorrah and love the way that I play my character, Genny. I know that everybody HBO Max can’t wait to show Gomorrah, and this is great, I think.

What’s next for you, Salvatore?

ESPOSITO: Fargo, for me, is like a [lottery] ticket, because I do a lot of meetings and generals on Zoom with directors, producers and casting directors. They know me for Gomorrah, but just for two seasons, and now that Fargo will be out and all the seasons of Gomorrah will be out on HBO Max, it’s the time for me and my agent and manager to work hard and push, and let people know that I’m available in the U.S. We really can’t wait to show what I can do, and that’s it.

I’m doing a project in Italy, and I have to start Gomorrah Season 5, and then I have another project in Italy. There’s also some international project that is coming and maybe I can [do] that, because with COVID-19, everything has been pushed. But now that production is starting up again, I’ve had to turn a few projects down because of scheduling conflicts. I had to say ‘no’ to some project because I had already committed to another project. I’m excited that things are starting up again, but the important thing is that this COVID thing goes away, because we can’t do it anymore. It’s crazy.

Fargo Season 4 premieres Sunday, September 27, on FX. For more, check out our review of Fargo‘s fourth season.

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