Giancarlo Esposito had two special cameo appearances in Community, adding to the connection between the comedy series and AMC’s Breaking Bad. The actor, who was best known for playing villain Gus Fring in Breaking Bad at the time, starred in two episodes of the series created by Dan Harmon. Community debuted in 2009 and ran for five seasons on NBC before it was cancelled on the network due to underwhelming ratings. Yahoo! Screen decided to give the series a sixth season, which would serve as the last.
Esposito played the role of Gilbert Lawson in the Community season 3 episode titled “Digital Estate Planning.” As Cornelius Hawthorne’s personal assistant for 30 years, Gilbert invited Pierce and his friends for the reading of Cornelius’ will. Gilbert then explained how Pierce and the study group must play a video game to win Pierce’s inheritance. To complicate matters, Gilbert decided to participate in the game, seeing as he was Pierce’s secret half-brother. Though the study group beat the game, they convinced Gilbert to accept the reward to make up for the decades of abuse caused by Cornelius. A few episodes later in season 4’s “Paranormal Parentage,” Esposito reprised his role when it was revealed Gilbert was living in the Hawthorne mansion to look after his half-brother. Initially unaware of Gilbert’s presence, Pierce decided to ask Gilbert to officially move in.
Seeing as Community was never a ratings winner for NBC, the series seemingly bolstered interest with several major guest stars. Season 3 alone saw guest cameos by actors like Jeff Garlin, Luis Guzmán, Taran Killam, and Michael Ironside. There were also recurring characters played by notable figures such as John Goodman and Michael Kenneth Williams. While there was never a direct explanation given to Esposito’s casting as Gilbert, but it presumably stemmed from the actor’s popularity in Breaking Bad. The award-winning drama developed by Vince Gilligan was clearly on Harmon’s radar while working on the NBC comedy.
Esposito joined Breaking Bad as the ruthless drug boss in the show’s second season before serving as a primary antagonist through season 4. As one of the most memorable villains in Breaking Bad‘s history, fans certainly couldn’t get enough of Esposito’s character. His rivalry with central character Walter White came to an end in 2011, opening the door for new acting opportunities. With Gilbert’s initially no-nonsense demeanor, Harmon found the perfect actor to portray an intimidating character. The fact that Esposito shed his well-known hardened personality for a more comedic spin on the role made his cameo even more memorable.
Esposito’s casting in Community season 3 was just the start of major Breaking Bad alums making the jump to Harmon’s comedy. Jonathan Banks, who played Mike Ehrmantraut in Breaking Bad, joined season 5 as Professor Buzz Hickey. The same season featured Gilligan’s on-screen Community cameo as the cowboy host of the VCR game, “Piles of Bullets.” Harmon and Gilligan never worked together before, but their mutual admiration for one another paved the way for stellar casting choices.