Gustavo Fring is a fictional character in the television series Breaking Bad and its prequel Better Call Saul. He is portrayed by Giancarlo Esposito. A Chilean-American, Fring is a prominent methamphetamine distributor in the Southwestern United States. He uses several legitimate businesses, including a chain of successful fast food fried chicken restaurants called Los Pollos Hermanos (The Chicken Brothers) and an industrial laundry facility called Lavanderia Brillante, as fronts for a vast drug operation. Fring maintains a positive public image; he is a booster for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), befriending the special agent in charge and making large donations to the Albuquerque office's civic and charitable events. However, he is ruthless and Machiavellian in managing his vast drug empire. He employs a number of enforcers and has personally killed rivals and associates.
|Breaking Bad / Better Call Saul character|
Giancarlo Esposito as Gus Fring
|Created by||Vince Gilligan |
|Portrayed by||Giancarlo Esposito|
|Full name||Gustavo Fring|
|Home||Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States|
Gustavo has a mysterious background, but is supposedly a native of Chile; he is sometimes referred to by cartel members as "The Chilean". He immigrated to Mexico in the 1980s during the Chilean dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Gus and his longtime friend and crime partner, Maximino "Max" Arciniega started a chain of fast-food restaurants called Los Pollos Hermanos (The Chicken Brothers) in Mexico as a front for distributing the crystal meth they synthesized. Seeking to expand their drug trade, they met with Mexican cartel leader Don Eladio Vuente. Eladio rejected their offer, preferring to continue to distribute cocaine, and accused them of disrespect for producing meth in his territory without his permission. Hector Salamanca, one of Eladio's right-hand men, shot Max in the head and forced Gus to look at his dead friend. Eladio spared Gus because of his unknown but apparently powerful connection to Chile, but forced him to cooperate with the cartel under Eladio's terms. Gus then moved to Albuquerque and began operating Los Pollos Hermanos restaurants throughout the southwestern United States, which he used to facilitate distribution of the cartel's drugs. While he remains outwardly loyal to the cartel, he spends the next 20 years nursing a grudge against Eladio and Hector and waiting for his chance at revenge.
Gustavo Fring is established as an alias, as neither the DEA nor Mike can find any records about him prior to his arrival in Mexico. In a flashback scene, Hector Salamanca mockingly refers to him as "Grand Generalissimo", implying that Gus had a connection to the Pinochet regime. In the Better Call Saul episode "Sabrosito", Hector suggests that Gus and Max, "The Chicken Brothers" might be better referred to as "The Butt Brothers", insinuating that they are homosexuals. Gilligan has stated that he purposely left Gus' origin ambiguous, comparing it to the briefcase in Pulp Fiction.
Better Call Saul
Nacho Varga pays Mike Ehrmantraut to help remove Tuco Salamanca, Hector's nephew, from the day to day activities of the family drug business. Instead of killing Tuco, Mike arranges for Tuco to assault him in view of the police, leading to Tuco's arrest. Mike fears Hector will learn that Mike arranged for Tuco's imprisonment and is concerned that Hector will retaliate against Stacey and Kaylee. Mike acts preemptively by preparing to assassinate Hector, but is interrupted at the last moment. Mike tracks this interruption to Gus, who explains that he wants to be the one to determine when Hector will die. However, Gus encourages Mike to continue to disrupt the trucks Hector uses to bring ice cream store supplies and drugs from Mexico and send cash back to the cartel. After Mike disrupts two shipments without revealing his identity, Hector demands that Gus temporarily use his Los Pollos Hermanos trucks to ship both Hector's and Gus' drugs. Gus, who had wanted this result from the start, appears to reluctantly agree. He later attempts to pay Mike, but Mike refuses the money. Instead, he asks for assistance laundering the $250,000 he stole from one of Hector's trucks, which Gus provides by arranging for Madrigal Electromotive to hire Mike as a contracted security expert and pay him monthly consulting fees.
With the new transport agreement in place, Nacho and Arturo arrive at the Los Pollos Hermanos warehouse and farm to pick up a drug shipment, and Nacho attempts to strong arm his way into taking six kilos instead of the agreed upon five. When Tyrus calls Gus for guidance, Gus recognizes an opportunity to infiltrate the Salamanca organization and tells Tyrus to give Nacho the extra kilo. Nacho fears that Hector will learn of his role in Tuco's imprisonment and is concerned about Hector's intent to take over Nacho's father's upholstery store for use as a front business. He secretly swaps Hector's angina medication for a placebo, hoping to induce a fatal heart attack. At a meeting between Juan Bolsa, Gus, Hector and Nacho, Bolsa informs them that the use of Gus' trucks to move the drugs and cash for both organizations will be a permanent arrangement. Hector's angry outburst leads to a stroke, and Gus calls for an ambulance while administering first aid that saves Hector's life, though he is comatose. Nacho follows Mike's previous advice to switch the placebos for Hector's real medication so that foul play will not be suspected. Gus appears to notice Nacho's actions, but says nothing.
Hector is rushed to the hospital and Gus arranges for Hector to be given special care. Gus learns that Hector's body had no traces of his heart medication, meaning Nacho tried to kill him. When Nacho and Arturo make their next pick up at the Los Pollos Hermanos warehouse, Arturo takes an extra kilo, as Nacho did previously. Arturo brags about his success as they leave, but Gus springs an ambush and kills Arturo. He then tells Nacho that he knows Nacho switched Hector's heart medicine, but the Salamancas do not, and that if Nacho does not follow Gus's orders, he will inform the Salamancas. Gus's men stage a roadside scene to make it appear as though Nacho and Arturo were attacked and the drugs they picked up at Los Pollos Hermanos stolen by a rival gang, the Espinosas. The Salamanca cousins arrive and Nacho falsely identifies one of the Espinosas to them. The cousins then kill everyone in the Espinosa compound and retrieve the "stolen" drugs. Nacho sees that by getting the Salamancas to wipe out the Espinosas, Gus has expanded his drug territory, but Nacho does not yet see the full scope of Gus's plan. With Hector recovered to the point where his mental faculties are sound, but his mobility limited to just the index finger of his right hand, Gus ends his specialized care, in effect trapping Hector's healed mind inside his unhealed body. Lalo Salamanca arrives to help with management of the Salamanca drug business. He thanks Gus for coming to Hector's aid, but afterwards begins to surveil Gus's activities.
Gus plans for a secret "superlab" designed by Gale Boetticher under an industrial laundry he purchased for the purpose, which will enable him to produce methamphetamine on the U.S. side of the border rather than relying on cartel cocaine from Mexico. Gus discreetly watches Mike guide engineers through the laundry and the details of the proposed design, and hires Werner Ziegler due to his honesty about the time, cost, and risk associated with the project. Gus provides Mike the funds to arrange for long-term living quarters for Werner and his German crew but when construction falls behind schedule, Werner effects an escape and plans to rendezvous with his wife. Mike catches up to him and realizes that Werner inadvertently revealed some construction details to Lalo. Gus informs Mike that Werner will have to be killed in order to protect the secret of the lab, and offers to send men to do it. Mike says supervising Werner was his responsibility, so he will carry out the execution, which he does by shooting Werner in the head.
When Walter White seeks a buyer for his high-quality meth, Saul Goodman arranges a meeting with the unknown purchaser. Walt and his partner, Jesse Pinkman, arrive at a Los Pollos Hermanos restaurant in the South Valley, but the buyer seemingly never shows up, with Jesse and Walt unaware that Gus, the restaurant manager, had been silently watching them. Walt realizes this later, and arranges a second meeting with only himself and Gus. Gus tells him that he is not interested in conducting business since Jesse was late and high for the first meeting, and is thus potentially unreliable. Walt persuades Gus to reconsider his decision, promising that he will never have to deal with Jesse and that their product will earn him enormous returns.
Gus eventually agrees to purchase 38 pounds of Walt's meth for $1.2 million but only if it can be delivered within a limited time at a remote location. With Jesse unconscious after taking heroin with his girlfriend Jane Margolis, Walt is forced to miss the birth of his daughter Holly to make the delivery. Shortly afterward, Gus is given a tour of the DEA's Albuquerque field office, along with other local boosters. While there, he discovers that Walt has lung cancer and that his brother-in-law, Hank Schrader, is a DEA agent.
Gus is pleased with the quality of Walt's blue meth, and offers him $3 million for three months of his time to cook more in a high-tech "superlab" hidden under an industrial laundry that Gus owns. Walt initially refuses, but Gus eventually convinces Walt that he should cook for his family’s financial security. Gus provides him Gale Boetticher, the talented chemist who set up the superlab, to help cook, but Walt needs to placate Jesse after Hank assaults him, so he convinces Gus to bring Jesse back as his assistant. Gus informs the cartel that once Walt is done with his three months, they will be free to kill him. Leonel and Marco Salamanca are impatient and travel from Mexico to the US to carry out the murder, but Gus intervenes and points them to Hank, who actually killed Tuco. Gus anonymously warns Hank about the pending attack, enabling Hank to kill Marco and critically injure Leonel, despite becoming nearly paralyzed from the waist down. Gus uses his influence with the police to distract them at the hospital so Mike can fatally inject Leonel.
The attempt on Hank's life leads to a large-scale crackdown on the cartel, and Juan Bolsa is killed. Realizing his own life was at stake, Walt agrees to continue cooking in the superlab for an extended period for $15 million with Jesse aiding him, but Gus is still concerned about Jesse's loyalties. Jesse learns that drug dealers who work for Gus were responsible for the death of Tomás, the young brother of Jesse's girlfriend Andrea. Before Jesse can kill them himself, Walt runs them over with his car and tells Jesse to flee. Walt explains to Gus that this was just a "hiccup" in their agreement. Gus agrees to overlook the matter but reinstates Gale as Walt's assistant, and privately tells Gale to learn all of Walt's methods so that he can take over from Walt. Walt realizes that Gus is trying to groom Gale as his replacement, meaning his life is at risk, so he secretly meets with Jesse and asks him to find out where Gale lives. Once Jesse finds Gale's apartment, Walt sets out to kill him, but Victor stops him and brings him to the lab, where Mike is waiting. Walt asks Mike to let him call Jesse and convince him to come to the lab, but instead Walt tells Jesse to kill Gale. Victor rushes to Gale's apartment, but Jesse arrives first and fatally shoots Gale.
Gus arrives at the lab, where Walt and Jesse have been secured by Victor and Mike. Knowing he was recognized at Gale's apartment, Victor fears for his life and attempts to show his continued usefulness to Gus by beginning to cook meth, which he learned how to do while guarding Walt and Jesse. Walt begs for Gus to spare them, but they are shocked when Gus slices open Victor's neck and lets him bleed to death in front of them. Gus calmly tells Walt and Jesse to get back to work, and increases oversight in the lab by installing security cameras and having Mike and Tyrus watch them while they work. Mike suggests to Gus that they may be able to drive a wedge between Walt and Jesse. Mike takes Jesse out of the lab to help pick up dead drops and carry out other tasks, and arranges for Jesse to foil a pre-planned attack on him, which boosts Jesse's confidence and increases his sense of loyalty to Mike and Gus. Gus is impressed by Jesse's mettle, and has Mike involve him in more work outside the lab. Worried about their safety, Walt gives Jesse a cigarette with a capsule of ricin hidden inside and tells him to poison Gus when he gets the chance, but Jesse does not follow through.
Gus arranges to meet with Don Eladio and the other cartel leaders to work out the differences that have caused the cartel to disrupt Gus' business and he brings Mike and Jesse with him. Jesse cooks a superior batch of meth and Gus offers to have him stay in Mexico and work for the cartel. Jesse is apprehensive, but the offer is a ruse. During the party at Eladio's house to celebrate their rapprochement, Gus tricks Eladio and most of the other cartel leaders into drinking from a poisoned bottle of tequila. Gus takes the first drink to alleviate suspicion, but forces himself to vomit afterwards. During the fight that ensues after cartel leaders begin dying from the poison's effects, Jesse helps the ill Gus and wounded Mike escape, killing Hector's last living grandson, Joaquin Salamanca, in the process. He brings them to the makeshift hospital Gus had previously arranged, where both receive treatment. After recovering, Gus returns to Albuquerque and taunts Hector, telling him the cartel leaders are all dead, and that because of Joaquin's death, the Salamanca family line ends with Hector. Jesse is no longer loyal to Walt and refuses to serve as his protector. With the DEA beginning to connect Gale's death to Gus, Gus fires Walt and threatens Hank's life if Walt retaliates or informs.
Considering his life at risk, Walt attempts to kill Gus with a pipe bomb attached to his car, but Gus senses something amiss and walks away from the vehicle. Panicked, Walt recovers the bomb and hides at his home. After unsuccessfully attempting to enlist Jesse in aiding him to kill Gus, Walt poisons Brock, the son of Jesse's girlfriend Andrea and convinces him Gus is responsible. Jesse agrees to help Walt and tells him about Gus' routine, including his visits to Hector at the nursing home. Walt convinces Hector to help him by promising him final revenge on Gus. Hector pretends to have turned informant to the DEA. Gus visits Hector to find out why he was at the DEA office. Hector refuses to acknowledge Gus as Gus prepares to kill him with a lethal injection. Before Gus administers the shot, Hector suddenly turns to face him, stares at him intently and repeatedly rings the bell on his wheelchair. Too late, Gus sees that the bell is attached to the detonator on the pipe bomb Walt placed on Hector's wheelchair. The resulting explosion kills Hector, Gus, and Tyrus.
The continuing investigation into Gus' death reaches his restaurant business and the destroyed superlab, which Walt and Jesse burned after Gus died. Knowing that the security camera recordings stored on Gus' laptop can incriminate them, Walt, Jesse, and Mike use an electromagnet outside the police station to erase the laptop's hard drive while it is in the police evidence room. The police recover the account numbers and access codes for the offshore accounts Gus previously set up to pay his employees for their silence and seize the accounts. Mike, Walt, and Jesse partner in a new meth business, with Mike continuing to pay Gus' former employees out of his share of the profits in order to assure their continued silence. When police successfully interdict these payments, Walt fears his identity will be exposed and attempts to obtain the employees' names from Mike so he can have them killed. When Mike refuses, Walt kills him. Walt then obtains the names from Lydia Rodart-Quayle and has Gus' former employees killed in prison before they can reveal his identity, effectively bringing an end to Gus' drug distribution empire.
Initially, Giancarlo Esposito was offered a character that was described to him as "very admirable, very polite", and he decided to play that character as if he had "some kind of a secret". Without knowing what that secret was, Esposito understood the potential Gus had as a growing character, therefore rejecting offers for guest appearances and insisting on becoming a series regular. To achieve Gus's trademark calmness, Esposito used yoga techniques, which allowed him to convey the character as "being a good listener".
The humanity of Gus's personality played an integral role in his development, The loss of Max contributed to Gus's evolution into a ruthless criminal; he stops at nothing to avenge Max's death, including the gradual killing of Hector's entire family. The loss of Max also cultivated Gus's desire to create a new "family" by empowering his meth empire, as well as the chicken restaurants. Moments before dying, Gus manages to calmly adjust his tie even after having half his face blown off. Esposito saw it as an important gesture of "when a person goes to what they've always done ... to be complete in his leaving this world".
Gus' popularity, as well as his importance to the series' development, made room for possible "flashback" type appearances in future episodes, but that idea never came to fruition until 2017 when Gus was brought back for season 3 of Better Call Saul.
For his portrayal of Gus, Esposito won the Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series at the 3rd Critics' Choice Television Awards and was twice nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. Paste ranked Fring number 3 in its list of the 20 Best Characters of 2011. TV Guide named him No. 3 in their 2013 list of The 60 Nastiest Villains of All Time, and in 2016, Rolling Stone ranked him No. 7 of their "40 Greatest TV Villains of All Time".
Although the character of Gus Fring and Esposito's performance have generally been well-received by critics, some native Spanish speakers have criticized the actor's stilted and unnatural accent when speaking Spanish. A 2014 NPR article focusing on representations of Spanish and Spanglish in American television singled out the character of Fring, with one fan saying he was "so painful to listen to" and that it made them angry that "such a pivotal and fantastic character would have such a giant, noticeable, nails-on-a-chalkboard flaw."
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