The actor stars as ''Bakersfield, P.D.'''s biracial Sgt. Paul Gigante in Fox's latest comedy

The white cop confesses to his black partner that he always wanted to be black; the black partner then reveals that, actually, his father is white. And so we’re introduced to the racial duality of Giancarlo Esposito’s character in the first episode of Fox’s new comedy Bakersfield, P.D. ”This is a different view of black people,” says Esposito, whose own biracial roots were grafted onto Bakersfield‘s Sgt. Paul Gigante. ”I don’t think we’ve seen a guy with this kind of mixed ethnic background on TV before.”

Born in Copenhagen — his mother is an African-American former opera singer, and his father an Italian former stage technician — Esposito, 35, is best known for roles in School Daze, Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, Night on Earth, and Bob Roberts. ”When I got into show business, they told me I wasn’t black because my hair was curly,” says Esposito, who began his career at the age of 8 opposite Shirley Jones in the Broadway musical Maggie Flynn. ”So I learned how to do a lot of different things with my hair. In School Daze, I was looking for something really severe, reminiscent of Adolf Hitler. With [Do the Right Thing‘s] Buggin’ Out, I let the top dread, with different designs on each side. I had a Caesar in Malcolm. For Night on Earth, I just put on a hat.”

But no character has come as close to home — or to his own hair — as Gigante. ”What I’m beginning to like about Paul is that he’s flawed — he’s a very good cop, and yet he misses a lot with people and relationships because he’s just moving so fast,” says Esposito, who lives in New York City with actress Fia Porter (Malcolm X) when he’s not working in L.A. He adds that a future story line may find Paul ”having Italian relatives in Bakersfield whom he hasn’t seen in years. That could be very funny.”