Ahead of the final season of Italian crime drama Gomorrah, DQ speaks to star Salvatore Esposito about landing his leading role and why he hasn’t been surprised by the show’s global success.
After seven years thrilling audiences with the exploits of Naples’ most dangerous family, Italian crime series Gomorrah is coming to an end. With four seasons under its belt and its fifth and final season debuting tomorrow, the Sky Italia- and Cattleya-produced show has become a worldwide hit and has sold all over the world – to Sky in the UK, HBO Max in the US and SBS Australia, among other places.
For lead actor Salvatore Esposito, who plays future mafia capo Gennaro Sevastano, its success hasn’t come as a surprise.
“The acting, the cinematography and the relationships between the characters are all ground-breaking in Gomorrah,” he says, speaking to DQ at French television festival Canneseries, where the show’s final season had its premiere last month. “I really think it’s a landmark show of the last few years when it comes to production.”
Based on Robert Saviano’s bestselling book, which also inspired a film, the gritty series paints a portrait of brutal Neapolitan crime organisation the Savastano Camorra clan. While viewers have followed the changing journeys of the show’s characters as the power balance has shifted among rivals, Gomorrah has also been a personal journey for Esposito. Beginning the show working as a script prompter, he knew the dialogue before most of those who had already been cast did. One day, the director asked if he wanted to audition for the part of Gennaro – and the rest, as they say, is history.
“If you took a still from season one and compared it with one from season five, you wouldn’t recognise Gennaro,” says Esposito. “I’m incredibly grateful to have been able to play a character with such a great journey, and I’ll be proud if I can approach future roles in the same way as I took on Gennaro. It’s been by far my most challenging role ever, as his journey has changed every season and each time was a new puzzle.”
Gennaro begins the show as the son of clan leader Pietro Savastano (Fortunato Cerlino), who chooses Ciro (Marco D’Amore) to ready Gennaro to become the gang’s future leader. Over the series, Gennaro evolves into a hardened criminal. Esposito feels that, like Breaking Bad’s Walter White, Gennaro’s character progression is what makes the show tick.
“His journey might have changed every season but my attitude was always the same when getting into character,” he says. “Over time, he’s accrued enemies who want to take his and his family’s life, so there’s always trouble for Genny. His progression over the course of the show is essentially an evolution of evil. If I think back to season one, he was no prince but he was essentially a good person in a totally different place from the monster he is in season five.”
The end of the fourth season saw Gennaro end things with his associate Patrizia Santore by killing her and numerous other people, before abandoning his wife and child and fleeing to a bunker. But despite the show’s apparently melodramatic nature, Esposito understands why foreign audiences enjoy it as much as local viewers.
“The show is popular all over because even though we’re dealing with an Italian crime family, the struggles are still relatable,” he says. “People have issues with their parents, they want to become better – the best, even. In Gomorrah, of course, Gennaro becoming the best is the worst possible outcome for innocent people. The mafia is something everyone in Italy is fairly used to, and there are shows coming out about them every day. We had to offer something more.”
With the character of Gennaro being one of the driving forces behind the show, Esposito is sad Gomorrah is concluding but he believes he couldn’t have had a better opportunity for his first major role.
“I enjoyed every moment of making the show and I’m so grateful to have been given the chance to play Gennaro, as now I’ve been around the world,” he says. “It’s given me the chance to show what I can do and the chance to act with some amazing people. I got to work on the character a lot as well, especially after season one. The writers and I worked together on character progression, which was amazing. By the final season, I was getting a lot of control over Gennaro’s character.”
Distributed by Beta Film, Gomorrah has indeed catapulted Esposito from the side of the stage to the world stage. Last year, he had a role in FX crime series Fargo (his English-language debut), and he is hoping to line up more projects of that ilk. He credits the Italian show with shaping him in all sorts of ways.
“Every season of the show helped me grow as an actor but also as a man,” he says. “Playing Gennaro has helped me realise that I’m very lucky to get to do what I want to do, as there are many who don’t get that chance. It’s also the character that’s helped me realise that – someone with so many responsibilities in terms of family and business has no real choice, even if they are the head of the mafia.”