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Giancarlo Esposito stars in New Orleans-set crime drama Parish

Best known for portraying drug lord Gus Fring on Breaking Bad, Giancarlo Esposito now goes from the New Mexico underworld to New Orleans in his latest project, Parish. Esposito plays the titular character, Gracián “Gray” Parish, a man who had left a past full of questionable activities behind for house, spouse and running an above-board luxury car service. But when the need to dig his family out of financial difficulty arises, Parish agrees to one last dirty job with old acquaintance Colin (Skeet Ulrich) to put himself on higher ground.

Parish on AMC. Pictured: Giancarlo Esposito as Gracián “Gray” Parish
Alyssa Moran, Eliot Brasseaux/AMC

Based on British miniseries The Driver, the series was adapted by showrunners Eduardo Javier Canto and Ryan Maldonado to become a uniquely American story. “Anytime you are setting about to adapt a series like that, you ask yourself, what made the original series so successful and what can you do to add to it?” says Canto. “When you have an actor like Giancarlo as the lead, you have a chance to elaborate on the character in the situation, tell a story that’s really relevant to today’s America and know that he’ll be able to authentically convey grief, frustration and ambition. New Orleans felt like a good city to put that in, because, after Katrina, you find a city that’s trying to rebuild itself and find its new identity.”

Parish on AMC. Pictured: Skeet Ulrich is Colin, an old acquaintance who offers Gray a not-quite-legal job.
Alyssa Moran, Eliot Brasseaux/AMC

New Orleans felt to Esposito, who is also an executive producer on the show, like a place that mirrored Parish’s journey of finding out what kind of man he is. “It’s a city with demons and a city with great light. It’s a city that has more churches than any other city in America. It’s a city where there’s bars on every corner, and you can party till five in the morning,” he says. “It seems like a place where you have to make a choice, and our show was a lot about the choices that Gracián Parish makes and how they affect his family. New Orleans seems to be the place where you struggle with the ghosts of your past and the ghost of your future.”

Parish on AMC. Pictured: Zackary Momoh is the Zimbabwean gangster known as The Horse.
Alyssa Moran, Eliot Brasseaux/AMC

Parish is not just a man in financially dire straits, he is also mourning the recent death of his son, which impacts his decision to jump back into the deep end of a murky pool. “Gray is a character who bought into the concept of the American Dream. He believed that if he kept his head down and stayed out of trouble, he could have a job, he could put a roof over his family’s head and keep his kids safe,” explains Canto. “When we find him in the pilot, he is struggling. Here is this man who’s now finding himself frustrated because he feels like he did all the things he was supposed to do and now the deck is stacked against him through no fault of his own.” It was a situation that Canto and Maldonado felt would make the story timely. “It felt topical,” says Canto. “It gave us an opportunity to obliquely talk about what it’s like to be a Black father in America right now, and it lent itself well to the character and the character’s journey.”

Parish on AMC. Pictured: L-R: Arica Himmel as Gray’s daughter, Makayla, and Paula Malcomson as his wife, Rose.
Alyssa Moran, Eliot Brasseaux/AMC

In a show that deals with themes of loyalty, commitment and devotion, even the so-called bad guys found themselves tapping into motivations that could justify their actions. “With The Horse, the world would see him as a Zimbabwean gangster,” says Zackary Momoh, who plays the human trafficker Parish accepts employment from. “I saw The Horse as a man who wanted to attain power, not just for the sake of attaining power but to do something greater than him — something that will transcend time, something that will transcend cultures, something that can bring his family and his whole community up. There is that level of finding our power within the situation we’re in.”

Parish on AMC. Pictured: Bonnie Mbuli is Shamiso Tongai, protective older siser of The Horse.
Alyssa Moran/AMC

As No. 1 on the call sheet, Esposito found himself drawing upon past experiences to become a worthy leader on the project that he has been trying to shepherd to the screen for the past eight years. “I’ve worked with many wonderful actors. Some of those wonderful actors have attitudes, and others have no attitude whatsoever. Some lift other people up, and some do not. In yearning to be in a position where I could affect people in a positive way, this was an opportunity,” he says. “Sometimes I succeeded. Sometimes I didn’t. And when I didn’t, I had to stand up and say, ‘I was wrong, I’m sorry.’ That set me on a course to be the leader that I wanted to be.”

Parish on AMC. Pictured: Giancarlo Esposito stars as Gracián “Gray” Parish, who’s himself dragged into a world he thought he’d escaped.
Alyssa Moran/AMC

Indeed, to Esposito, the offscreen role meant, above all, nailing his part as a team player. “It means that I have to be in an open position to hear everyone’s point of view and to garner what is best for the whole story,” he reflects. “That’s a unique position to be in. It takes much of your energy but it also is very fulfilling.”

Parish on AMC. Pictured: Bradley Whitford is Anton, a New Orleans business mogul who secretly runs a criminal organization.
Alyssa Moran/AMC

Parish premieres on Sunday, March 31, on AMC

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