Why Giancarlo Esposito Plays Afro-Latino Characters Despite Being Biracial

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA – MARCH 20: Giancarlo Esposito attends the Los Angeles premiere of AMC/AMC+’s “Parish” at The London West Hollywood at Beverly Hills on March 20, 2024 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Corine Solberg/Getty Images)

Giancarlo Esposito is a face and name known well for the plethora of roles he’s played on both the big and small screens from the 1980’s to the present day. But the actor’s heritage is something many viewers have been long mistaken over.

The long-time Spike Lee collaborator stopped by SiriusXM’s The Clay Cane Show today, where he discussed his life, career, and all things Parish, his new AMC crime drama.

While reminiscing on working (and flirting) with legendary songstresses who forayed into the acting world like Madonna and Whitney Houston, host Clay Cane’s recent realization that Esposito is in fact mixed-race, not Afro Latino as many seem to believe, came up. In a number of his early roles, such as Fresh and even some of his more recent work like Maze Runner: The Death Cure, Esposito played Latino characters.

“There’s a reason for that,” Esposito explained. “When I made a shift from playing, you know, all the crooks, killers, robbers, and ‘desperate’ characters that I played that were labeled African-American, I needed somewhere to go. And the only transition for me was to start to play Latino characters because you saw more of them.”

Why Giancarlo Esposito Plays Afro-Latino Characters Despite Being Biracial
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA – MARCH 10: Giancarlo Esposito attends the Elton John AIDS Foundation’s 32nd Annual Academy Awards Viewing Party on March 10, 2024 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/WireImage)

Seeking to escape the rampant typecasting for stereotypical Black characters, Esposito leaned into the advantages his phenotype provided him to play characters not written to be African American.

“I was resourceful. I went, ‘if I choose not to play this African-American character, I need to start to apply another character that I can play.’ And so, at that time, the Spanish characters, Latinos were a little more ‘acceptable’ in our entertainment community.”

Esposito, who was born in Copenhagen and raised in Rome by his Italian father and African American mother (they met in Naples while she was studying opera), says he’s technically playing against type in his many roles as an African American as well, since he grew up with a truly non-American, mixed heritage experience.

“So I come from that multicultural background, which I’m very proud of, but I just play, you know, I play – look, I was on Jay Leno a number of years ago, and I said, ‘You know what? I’m an Italian posing as an African American or an American at all, because really what roots me is the combination of that Italian and that soulfulness of being Black.’”

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