Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Boys’ Giancarlo Esposito on why we all just want to be superheroes

As Breaking Bad’s kingpin in a chicken franchise, Gus Fring, Giancarlo Esposito cemented a place for himself in prestige television history. It was a long time coming, though: He’s been a working actor since the late ’70s, with multi-episode arcs on everything from Sesame Street to Homicide: Life On The Streets, and roles in at least four different Spike Lee joints. His latest project is as evil corporate CEO Stan Edgar on The Boys, which kicks off its second season on Prime Video September 4. Calculating and manipulative, Esposito’s Edgar runs Vought Industries with a velvet fist, which he uses early on in season two to remind Homelander who’s really boss.

Playing even adjacent to superheroes is a longtime dream for Esposito, who has previously said he’d love to be in a Marvel franchise. (He’s in the Disney canon/Star Wars universe now as part of The Mandalorian, so maybe that sort of counts?) The A.V. Club talked to Esposito about his superhero dreams over Zoom earlier this month, portions of which are in the video above. The full transcript, in which Esposito waxes philosophic on the very nature of humanity, is below.

The A.V. Club: You’re pretty new to The Boys’ universe. You were in an episode last season, and now you’re coming into season two full bore. How in the mix are you for season two?

Giancarlo Esposito: Stan is in the mix. He’s got to mitigate the damage that Homelander has caused. He’s got to find a replacement for Madeline. He’s got to really figure out how to deal with another character who’s gone off the edge. So he’s really starting to solidify and to be known as the face of Vought, which in many ways shields him.

Knowing who he really is—for me as an actor, it’s allowed me to show you more of who he is because he’s able to be the face, but is he all of Vought? We don’t know. We have some clues in our first three episodes in regard to how he speaks to Homelander and tries to educate him on the history of the company.

He’s a guy who is very calm, very confident, and extremely smart at reading people, but what makes him different in his calm and cool demeanor is his ability to understand what’s going on in, for instance, Homelander’s confrontation. In the office where Stan says to him, “Oh, you wished to be consulted about a Stormfront?” and is a little bit surprised? He really gets an idea of where Homelander’s egos at and knows that this show is not about him. You know, you guys go out and do the song and dance and yeah, you saved the universe and save people and do all your good as well, but this is a show.

It’s what I love so much about The Boys, because it’s so reflective of the show that we’re in, in our lives, in our country, right now. It looks at all of these elements from a very macro, but also a very micro view.

So I fully expect to be doing more and more to be able to show some revelations about how the world really works. [Showrunner Erik] Kripke’s brain is just so immense and so incredible. To make some of the reflective correlations between what’s going on politically and socially in our country… that they are reflected in this show is a wonderful thing and still so very exciting because humanity is so well-represented even in superheroes. Who would have ever thought of superheroes abusing each other in superhero city or who would ever have thought that the idea could be an element that would intrigue us? But it certainly does it already, at least in our show, The Boys.

AVC: I’m glad you mentioned the scene with Homelander, because you really do finesse him there. He never has been getting his way, but he just never knew it until you showed him just how much of a cog in the machine he is.

GE: There’s no doubt that there’s a plan for Homelander. There’s a way to funnel his anger. There’s a way to handle this man-child for good.

I mean, what happens if we find out that all of [Homelander’s] nefarious actions are well known? Who knows? We haven’t even gotten into that. Or if they’re well known by the company, if he’s being manipulated, do we have to respect him because he is powerful? He does represent a group that has been positioned and shown to the public to be heroes. And so it’s very tricky, you know.

It’s sort of like the old Roman arena, where, do you live or die? The people can decide, so [Homelander’s] very frustrated at the time… You are the animal and the circus. That’s part of what your job is and what you have to do. My job is bigger. We don’t know how much bigger, but we will soon find out.

AVC: You are also responsible for bringing in Stormfront, the new member of The Seven. In the first few episodes and even in the trailers, we see her harnessing social media to almost undermine the team. She’s revealing the strings behind The Seven, so it’s interesting that she was a corporate hire if she’s such a rule-breaker. Without revealing too much, can you speak to the rationale there?

GE: I love the Stormfront character because she is outspoken and because she doesn’t give up. She’s not afraid to access her humanity and be who she is.

I think many of the other Seven are finding out who they are. They’re finding their flesh within their own skin, but also realizing that their humanity is not going to go away just because they are superheroes. Some of The Seven fear Homelander or they fear each other. They worry that they might take each other out for whatever reasons, like power, money, success… all of those things. I like [Stormfront] as a character because she’s a straight shooter. She could possibly become a problem for Vought because of her way of thinking, but partly she has nothing to lose. So that makes her have a certain confidence that Edgar can admire. I can really respect that. It just depends on whether she’s going to poison the rest of the group. And if she does that, then we’re going to have to talk.

AVC: Homelander seems like the classic American hero, and she’s the new American hero. She’s making memes, using the internet, stirring up mistrust, and they’re facing off against each other. That’s my theory, at least. 

GE: I really like that. Because everyone within The Seven has to play within the rules and boundaries, the parameters that have been laid out by Stan Edgar and by Vought. And so their mistrust of the company is obviously well-founded because are they being used? Is this really good? What’s behind all this? We don’t quite know that yet, but it’s great to have this firestorm brewing.

Each of the members of The Seven have their own agenda, you know. I think of The Deep in the seat at the bar and he’s looking at the dudes and he’s like, “that’s my arm. They can’t take me out.” I love it because so many of us deal with our egos in our own quest for success, or our quest for stardom.

What does it all really mean? What does it all really mean to you? Is it air time that you need? Personally, I love it. The show had me looking at my own hero complex, you know? I like to feel like I’m saving people, but the truth is I can’t save anybody, not even my own children. All I can do is share my experiences and what I’ve been through to strengthen who they are at their core.

So we’re looking at people who are wounded while we’re in our shells, which is wonderful because there are many of us—not all, but many… I’ll speak for myself—who have some moods and have some pain. So to have ultimate power on one hand and on the other to be respected as someone who saves people physically because of the power that you have within you is an interesting dynamic. To carry that in juxtaposition to hating yourself? Wow, that’s some powerful stuff.

So much of what is touched upon in this show moves me on a very personal level, because, look, who didn’t want to be a superhero, man? I was listening to the radio and the ads could be talking about Superman. I just happened to hear the very first radio play of Superman, and if you were watching that, you’d see me growing up, running up to my attic, and putting a blanket or in wearing my Superman pajamas and putting on the blanket. There’s a cape ingrained in us. We want to have a feeling of being superhuman. Where does that feeling come from?

In another show I do called Star Wars: The Mandalorian, it’s mythology. I relate to that. Maybe you don’t. That is power to me. The mythological sense that there is a hero inside of me wanting to come out. Not that I can fly or jump buildings in a single bound, but in that whatever I say or do, if I’m in a compassionate space and understand the space, that might help someone else overcome something traumatic that happened in her life, some depression or whatever else it is. So the humanity of this show keeps coming through. We can relate to it. At least I can. I love it.

You know, as we grow up, we’re full of wonder and awe and amazed at the universe and the world. I remember feeling like that was all so very powerful, the power of my sense of smell, my sense of sight. I’ve been given a super human body, when you really think about it on a deeper level. We’re amazing as human beings that can walk and run and talk and do all these things and have an intellect as well and not be an animal.

What we’re seeing on The Boys is that intellect, that compassion, that feeling, but also the animal. What does Compound V do? I want to feel that too, because since I was a boy, I’ve always felt partially superhuman. But what I didn’t realize until now was that the humanity we’ve been given, that human feeling? That is that heroic feeling.

If we can look at ourselves with acceptance and love and go, “Yeah, I’m the hero. I can be the hero without the glory,” we can be connected to the intention and the integrity of what we want. Then it changes our world. We don’t need to fly because we can close our eyes, meditate, and put ourselves somewhere else. We can do that too.

Marah Eakin is the Executive Producer of all A.V. Club Video And Podcasts. She is also a Cleveland native and heiress to the country's largest collection of antique and unique bedpans and urinals.