Gustavo "Gus" Fring is a fictional character in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, played by Giancarlo Esposito. Fring is a prominent methamphetamine distributor in the Southwestern United States, who uses several legitimate businesses, including a chain of successful fast food fried chicken restaurants called Los Pollos Hermanos and an industrial laundry facility called Lavanderia Brillante, as fronts for a vast drug operation. Gus maintains a positive exterior; he takes an active role in managing his front businesses and is a booster for the DEA, making large donations to the agency's Albuquerque office. However, Gus is ruthless and Machiavellian in managing his vast drug empire. He employs a number of enforcers and has personally killed rivals and associates.
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 nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for the 64th Primetime Emmy Awards. 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".
Gustavo is originally from Chile. He emigrated to Mexico in the 1980s during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. With his longtime friend and crime partner, Maximino "Max" Arciniega, Gus started a chicken restaurant called Los Pollos Hermanos. Max was murdered by the Juárez Cartel, leading Gus to emigrate to the United States and re-establish Los Pollos Hermanos as a chain of fast-food restaurants in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Using his restaurants' supply chain as a front, Gus began distributing drugs in the American southwest on behalf of the cartel, an operation that eventually grew to encompass methamphetamine.
Gus claims to have children, yet they have never been seen onscreen and little else about his family life has been revealed. It is implied that "Gus Fring" may be an assumed name; neither Hank nor Mike can find any record of his existence before his arrival in Mexico. Don Eladio, the cartel's leader, mentions that he spares Gus's life only because he knows who Gus is, and warns him that he "isn't in Chile anymore"; in a flashback scene, Hector Salamanca mockingly refers to him as "Grand Generalissimo", implying that Gus may have had connections to the Pinochet regime. Gilligan has stated that he purposely left Gus's origin ambiguous, comparing it to the briefcase in Pulp Fiction.
When Walter White seeks a buyer for his high-quality meth, Saul Goodman puts him in contact with Gus. Walter and his partner, Jesse Pinkman, arrange a meeting with the seldom-seen Gus at a Los Pollos Hermanos restaurant in the South Valley, but Gus seemingly never shows up. Walter later realizes that Gus is the restaurant proprietor, and that he had purposely scheduled the meeting at his own restaurant in order to observe Walter and Jesse. Upon being confronted by Walter, Gus tells him that he is not interested in conducting business since Jesse was late and high during the meeting, and is thus potentially unreliable. Walter 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 buys 38 pounds of Walter's meth for $1.2 million; the timing of the transaction forces Walter to miss the birth of his daughter, Holly. Shortly afterward, Gus is given a tour of the DEA's Albuquerque field office, along with other local boosters. While there, he discovers that Walter has lung cancer and that his brother-in-law, Hank Schrader, is a DEA agent.
Pleased with how well Walter's product has sold, Gus offers him $3 million for three months of his time. Walter, whose family life is in shambles and who has no desire to continue cooking, respectfully declines the offer. Later, Gus intervenes in a plot by the Juárez Cartel to kill Walter, narrowly saving his life. Gus finally persuades Walter to accept his offer after showing him a large-scale "superlab" housed under an industrial laundry facility that he owns, outfitted with top-of-the-line equipment and capable of producing at least 200 pounds of meth a week. He partners Walter with Gale Boetticher, a talented chemist who set up the superlab.
Gus's protection of Walter puts him at odds with the Cartel, which seeks revenge against Walter for betraying Hector's nephew Tuco Salamanca, who was subsequently killed by Hank. Gus promises one of his superiors, Juan Bolsa, that the Cartel will be free to kill Walter once his cooking tenure has been completed. When Leonel and Marco Salamanca, Hector's twin nephews, impatiently object, Gus overrides the Cartel and gives the pair permission to kill Hank instead. An anonymous phone call arranged by Gus alerts Hank to the hit, allowing him to survive the Cousins' ambush despite being critically wounded; Hank kills Marco and cripples Leonel. Upon hearing that Leonel has survived, Gus personally delivers fried chicken to the police detail at the hospital, allowing his henchman Mike Ehrmantraut to sneak into Leonel's room and give him a lethal injection.
Hank's attempted assassination causes the U.S. and Mexican governments to launch a crackdown on the cartel. Juan Bolsa, who realizes too late that Gus has engineered the entire fiasco in order to seize control of the methamphetamine market, is killed by the Mexican Federales. After learning that Hank was contacted moments before the hit, Walter makes the same conclusion and requests a meeting with Gus to discuss the future of their arrangement. Gus offers to extend their agreement to a long-term, $15 million-a-year deal, which Walter accepts. Gus lets Walter keep Jesse as his cooking partner, but makes it clear that he only tolerates him because he respects Walter's abilities.
Walter's relationship with Gus is jeopardized when Walter ends up killing two of Gus's dealers to protect Jesse. Gus, along with Mike and fellow henchman Victor, confront Walt in the desert and demands that he explain himself. Walt implies that Gus ordered the dealers to kill Tomas, the eleven-year-old brother of Jesse's girlfriend Andrea, which Gus denies. Gus seemingly accepts Walter's plea to regard the episode as a "hiccup" and allow him to continue cooking meth, but re-appoints Gale as Walter's assistant. Gus visits Gale at his apartment and surreptitiously instructs him to learn Walter's formula so as to be able to cook alone should Walter die from cancer, though in reality, he is planning on killing Walt, and the amount of overhead he has put into the meth operation makes it impossible for them to stop production for even a short time.
Walter deduces Gus's true intentions and plots with Jesse to kill Gale, as insurance against Gus killing either Walt or Jesse. Walter surmises that any delay in production would weaken Gus's position, and that without Gale, Gus would be forced to retain Walter as the only cook capable of producing the high-quality meth needed to sustain the operation. As Walter sets out to kill Gale, he is intercepted by Victor and brought to the lab, where Mike is waiting for him. Walter convinces Mike to allow him to call Jesse, under the pretext of luring Jesse to the lab to betray him to Mike. Instead, Walter instructs Jesse to kill Gale. Victor rushes to Gale's apartment, but is too late to stop Jesse from shooting him.
In the aftermath of Gale's murder, Victor finds Jesse in shock sitting in his car but, while Jesse was unobserved at the crime scene by neighbors, Victor was seen and acted very suspiciously to many of the onlookers. Forcing Jesse back to the lab at gunpoint, an enraged Victor informs Mike of Gale's death and of his being noticed at the crime scene. Walt asks Mike to allow him to cook, since Gus will be even angrier if they fall further behind on production. Victor dons a gas mask and informs Walt that he knows Walt's exact cooking method from watching him at the lab and Walt had only made his and Jesse's fate worse by murdering Gale. Victor seemingly knows Walt's method, a fact that Walt had never foreseen and is busy cooking when Gustavo Fring enters the lab. Gus calmly and silently descends the stairs and begins to change into a hazmat suit as Walt becomes increasing frantic trying to justify his actions and argue that Victor may know the steps but could never operate such a large and complex lab, problems would invariably arise that only Walt would be able to recognize and cope with. Gus all the while silently changes and now stands directly in front of both Walt and Jesse holding a razor sharp box cutter and, in a gruesome show of force, suddenly grabs and fatally slashes Victor's throat with a box cutter and spraying Walter and Jesse with Victor's blood, staring unemotionally into their eyes as Victor struggles and bleeds to death. Gustavo then redresses in the same manner speaking only once before leaving, saying "get back to work". Walter knows that he has fallen out of favor with Gus and fears that he will eventually be killed. Walter decides to pre-emptively strike against Gus, illegally purchasing from Lawson (Jim Beaver) an untraceable .38 Ruger LCR revolver for the task.
In response to Mike's concerns that Jesse's guilt-ridden recklessness could attract unwanted attention, Gus instructs Mike to take Jesse along as a passenger on a series of seemingly mundane pick-up runs around New Mexico. Aware that Jesse can't be scared into behaving, Gus instead orchestrates a fake robbery for Jesse to foil, thereby boosting his loyalty and self-esteem. Later, Jesse helps Mike retrieve stolen meth from a pair of junkies. Impressed with Jesse's mettle, Gus deems him ready to take on a greater role in the operation.
Meanwhile, Gus's conflict with the Cartel escalates. The Cartel sends several men to kidnap Gus's chemical supplier Duane Chow, but Mike kills the four gunmen. Later, they start attacking Gus's refrigerated trucks. In the first attack, the attackers manage to kill the driver and shoot up the truck, but are thwarted when Mike (hiding in the back of the truck) surprises them and shoots them. The second attack is more successful, as these attackers kill the driver, then lock the guards in the back and suffocate them to death with fumes from the truck's exhaust. They then steal a fry batter bucket full of meth and distribute it to a pair of junkies.
Gus arranges a meeting with the Cartel where he offers a one-time payment of $50 million in exchange for a settlement of grievances and a complete severance of their partnership. The Cartel buttonman, Gaff, refuses, reiterating the cartels' demand that Gus hand over Walter. A flashback scene reveals the origin of Gus's animosity toward the Cartel: twenty years earlier, Hector executed Gus's partner Max during a meeting with the Cartel's boss, Don Eladio Vuente.
Hank begins to suspect that Gus is involved in "blue sky" when he finds a Los Pollos Hermanos napkin among the evidence collected from Gale's apartment, which he finds odd considering that Gale was a vegan. Hank retrieves Gus's fingerprints during a visit to Los Pollos Hermanos and matches them with prints found in Gale's apartment. Gus is questioned, but his explanation satisfies both the DEA and the police. Hank remains suspicious and investigates Gus on his own. Still handicapped from injuries inflicted by Leonel and Marco, Hank obliviously asks for Walter's help in attaching a tracking device to Gus's car at Los Pollos Hermanos. Gus is warned by Walter and removes the device before driving anywhere but home and the restaurant. However, this doesn't deter Hank's investigation.
In an attempt to defuse tensions with the Cartel, Gus agrees to share Walter's formula. Because he does not trust Walter, Gus and Mike take Jesse to Mexico, where Jesse cooks a batch of "blue sky" in the cartel's own superlab. To Jesse's alarm, Gus seemingly agrees to have Jesse work for the Cartel on a permanent basis. However, during a party celebrating the agreement, Gus kills Don Eladio and the rest of the Cartel's leadership with a poisoned bottle of tequila. To convince Don Eladio and his crew that the tequila is safe, Gus drinks the first shot, having taken capsules that delayed the poison and allowed him to purge. Gus, Jesse, and Mike shoot their way out of Don Eladio's compound. Mike is wounded in the shootout. Jesse drives himself, Gus and Mike to an elaborate medical tent that Gus arranged for in advance. There, Gus is treated by his private doctors and quickly recovers. Mike remains in the medical tent as he is unable to travel.
Gus deems Jesse fit to cook Walter's formula and run the superlab on his own. However, Jesse insists that he will not cook for Gus if Walter is killed. Gus's henchmen kidnap Walter and take him out to the desert, where Gus fires him, tells him that he intends to have Hank killed, and threatens to kill his entire family if Walter attempts to interfere. Believing Gus will make good on his threat, Walter plants a car bomb in Gus's Volvo, but Gus manages to evade the trap. Meanwhile, Gus visits Hector in his nursing home and tauntingly informs him that all of his relatives are dead and the Cartel has been destroyed.
Walter learns from Jesse about Gus's visits to Hector's nursing home. Realizing that Gus and Hector are enemies, Walter visits Hector and offers him an opportunity to exact revenge on Gus. The two hatch a plot to lure Gus back to Hector's nursing home, starting with Hector paying a visit to the DEA. Gus learns about Hector's visit from Tyrus and, assuming Hector has become an informant, decides that he must be eliminated. Against Tyrus's advice, Gus visits Hector and prepares to inject him with a lethal poison. However, Hector begins ringing his bell frantically, activating a home-made bomb Walter has attached to his wheelchair. Upon realizing what is going on, Gus stands and attempts to escape, but the subsequent explosion blows off half of his face and kills Hector and Tyrus. Gus walks out of the room where there are several nurses shocked at what just happened, calmly adjusts his tie, before collapsing to the floor, dead.
When Mike attempts to assassinate Hector Salamanca, he hears a faint car horn. Upon realizing that it's his own, he walks back to his car and finds a branch wedged against the horn and a note on the windshield with a single word: "Don't."
Mike finds a tracking device on the inside of his gas cap. As a precaution, he checks and finds a similar tracker on his personal car. Acquiring one of his own, Mike swaps trackers and tricks a henchman into accidentally taking a live tracker, which is passed off to a courier. After following the courier around as he makes dead drops through the night, Mike tracks him to Los Pollos Hermanos and notices that the tracker does not leave the restaurant. Rather than stick out, Mike hires Jimmy McGill to infiltrate the restaurant and monitor the courier. However, Jimmy demonstrates a lack of stealth and gives himself away to Gus. Realizing that Jimmy was working for Mike, Gus arranges an off-site meeting with him on a remote desert road. He states he won't allow Mike to kill Hector, but Mike figures out that Gus does want him weakened as they're in competition with each other. At Gus's suggestion, Mike hits another truck of Hector's, this time arranging for two of Hector's men to be arrested while crossing the border.
In response to the hit, Hector and two of his men enter Los Pollos Hermanos and take the employees hostage. Hector demands that Gus have his trucks carry Hector's product following the police crackdown, not realizing that that is exactly what Gus already intends to do. Gus also sends Victor to pay Mike, but is surprised when Mike rejects the money. This leads Gus to personally visit Mike and offer him a job in his organization. He also explains that he stopped Mike from killing Hector because "a bullet to the head would have been far too humane."
Under the new arrangement with Hector, drugs are offloaded from Gus's trucks at the Los Pollos Hermanos distribution center and handed over to Nacho and Arturo. When one heated exchange culminates in Victor pulling a gun on Nacho, Tyrus has to call Gus to ask what to do to defuse the situation. Meanwhile, Gus begins working with Lydia Rodarte-Quayle to scout potential locations for the superlab, eventually settling on a laundry facility that is for sale. Mike eventually agrees to work for Gus to launder the money he made from a truck robbery.
Later, during a meeting between Gus, Juan Bolsa, and Hector, a furious Hector collapses. Gus performs CPR on Hector, saving his life. As Hector is taken away in an ambulance, Gus grows suspicious of Nacho, who had switched out Hector's heart medication to keep Hector from using Nacho's father's upholstery business as a front.
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's 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.