Giancarlo Esposito

Giancarlo Esposito's explosive exit as Gus Fring from Breaking Bad last season was one of the most memorable and intense in TV history. But Gus lives on, sort of — Esposito will guest-star in an upcoming episode of Community as Gilbert, Pierce's abusive father's longtime assistant. He's nearly as manipulative and misanthropic as Gus, at least initially.

On the Community set Wednesday evening, Esposito explained the similarities in the parts exclusively to TV Guide Magazine: "This role calls for someone who has quite a bit of calm and is keeping a secret," he explained. "From the moment they called me, my sense was the writers admired Breaking Bad and wanted me to come on and do some semblance of a Gus-like character."

Esposito's appearance was thrown together quickly. "I got a call at the very last minute, the night before last, midnight on the east coast, and they didn't even have a script, they had a thumbnail sketch," recalls the actor, who described his impression of the show as "quirky and interesting." "They said that normally when they try to get someone of note to come on the show it falls through, so I decided to make their dreams come true." Community approached him just a couple of weeks after Esposito told his manager he'd be interested in dipping his toe in comedy again — early in his career, he had seriocomic roles in Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing and the Fox series Bakersfield P.D.

After Community, Esposito and his youngest daughter (of four) were off to Vancouver for him to shoot another episode of ABC's Once Upon a Time; his daughter's a huge fan of all things Snow White.

His youngest, however, is not allowed to watch Breaking Bad, and for good reason — her daddy's character was memorably blown up after an intense cat-and-mouse game between Gus and Walt White (Bryan Cranston) in the Season 4 finale. Gus emerged from a destroyed nursing-home room as the panning camera revealed half of his face had been burned away; Gus calmly and coolly adjusted his tie and collapsed forever.

The seemingly incongruous yet ingenious tie-adjustment was Esposito's idea, he says. "Vince [Gilligan] asked me what might Gus be doing, say, if they were to blow him up, and he were to come out of that smoke, what might he be doing? I said, 'Vince, the way I've developed Gus, he'll button his button and straighten his tie and make sure he's presentable. It's an involuntary motion.'"

To get ready for that scene, Esposito flew from Albuquerque (where the series is shot) to Los Angeles and spent two "very claustrophobic" hours under glop, having a clay model of his face harden, while he breathed out of straws. On the day of the scene, it took four and a half hours to apply the prosthetic. "It was the oddest and weirdest thing to be looking at one side of my face which was normal and the other side with craters in it."

Esposito's plate is incredibly full in the future — he's seeking funding for his next independent film directorial effort, This is Your Death, has a couple of pilots he's circling and will return to the stage in New York, starring in John Patrick Shanley's latest play, Storefront Church.

"I'm very picky," Esposito insists, adding with a laugh, "when I have compromised myself, I've been lucky because no one has seen those things."

Subscribe to TV Guide Magazine now!