The pool of television dramas is deep and the summer line-up has been steaming up the network competition. The new series that has tongues wagging is FX’s “Snowfall,” which premiered two weeks ago and is directed and produced by John Singleton and stars young British native Damson Idris.
Set in South Central Los Angeles during the early 1980s, it reveals the triangulation of drug deals, the DEA and the powers that control the distribution of cocaine.
Filmmaker and executive producer John Singleton has worked on the project for the past three years, having brought it to Showtime before the series landed at FX Networks and premiered on July 9. Singleton and cast members of the show traveled around the country to promote the anticipated series making stops at the Essence Festival in New Orleans, Dallas and Chicago.
The Defender sat down with Singleton and two of the cast members of “Snowfall”—Damson Idris who plays the main character Franklin Saint and Angela Lewis, who plays the tough girl role of Aunt Louie.
How did the concept of “Snowfall” evolve?
John: The concept came from my life. It’s me being really interested in stories that are L.A.-based. Of course, I’m from South Central Los Angeles and I was trying to figure out– when I brought it to television—how to create a world that was self-contained with different kind of characters.
It’s a multi-ethnic series and that’s how I came up with “Snowfall.”
You’re a LA native and we understand how other filmmakers create their work within the familiarity of their hometown. Watching the first episode of the series reminds us of your first film, “Boyz N the Hood. “
John: As I got a little older and mature, I was looking at all of these different things that I wanted to explore story wise. How L.A. was before the crack epidemic. That’s what this whole thing is about—to chronicle who these characters were through the lives of this particular family.
Damson, you’re fooling us with your American accent. Where are you originally from?
Damson: I’m from Southeast London.
How did you study for this role knowing it’s an African-American character who lives in South Central L.A.?
Damson: How well I did the accent boiled down to Samuel L. Jackson, so thank you Samuel Jackson. I listened to a bunch of hip hop music. It’s such a strong element to where I’m from and through the movies we watch. Coming on a John Singleton project, you know you must watch John Singleton’s movies or you’re afraid you might be chased off of that set. “You haven’t seen ‘Boyz N the Hood’?” [laughs]
So, that’s how I got down with the accent being on set and I had Dub C (The Westide Connection) as my coach. He would tell how I had to talk and about the culture. In order to understand what a 19-year-old kid from South Central L.A. was going through and what was going on around them—it was easy to get into the role.
Are there similarities to London’s so-called “hoods?”
Damson: There’s similarities but London is so gentrified, particularly today. I can still see elements of 1983 in L.A. today. People still have their manicured lawns and the palm trees are still up. The hood hasn’t really changed, it’s just the mentality has changed. In London, there’s a Starbucks on every corner. You can’t really be a gangster when there’s a Starbucks on your corner.
Angela, with your role we see another side to the female presence in the show. You have some “boss lady” elements in your character.
Angela: Louie knows that she’s a boss and when we meet her, I like to say, “she’s in a dream deferred space.” Because what happens, when you can’t be the boss that you know you are; things can go really wrong. You can be really heartbroken. I think that’s at the heart of where Louie is; why she behaves the way she does and why she’s been heartbroken in her life. It’s important to her that when there’s an opportunity to be seized—she does it.
How important is it for you as actors to have a genuine script to follow in order for the characters to connect with the audience?
Damson: It’s everything. Authenticity is something we talked about. Even with me being a “Brit.” I was like “Do I even deserve it?” For me as an actor, I only chase stories that are authentic, stories that are true and real.
John says it perfectly: “It’s not easy to get this real stuff on screen.” When I chase a role or a character… that’s why I’m so passionate about “Snowfall.”
Angela: I think it makes everybody’s job easier when it’s real and it feels good coming out of your mouth. You don’t have to say anything because it’s there on the page. Your job is to make it pop off.
Did FX pick up “Snowfall” based on the success of “ATL,” another network drama with African-American characters?
John: It was before “ATL.” We’ve been working with FX for almost three years now. The show was at Showtime first. FX had “Sons of Anarchy” and they needed something for the audience that was hard hitting and gangsta. The week that Showtime passed on “Snowfall,” the show went right over there to FX.
As a Black filmmaker, do you find yourself having to go that extra mile pitching stories to studios and networks?
A lot has changed and things are also the same. Films are now going to television because it’s more competitive and there are more networks competing for viewers.
There are some real life scenes played out in the series. Who is the consultant for the show?
Me and Dub-C, we’re brothers and we’re like, “Remember when this happened?” We think about when we were teenagers and what we need to put in the show. We’re having fun with it and living vicariously through the characters.
You can read about it, but we lived it.
What inspires you?
Damson: Great filmmakers, great stories and everything I do, I do for God. Every role I take, I pray before it so I’m intimately passionate every time I take a role. God is at the top of the list.
Angela: I’m inspired by God and everything. I’m also inspired by complexities. Situations that are challenging but don’t work out completely.
John: God is in everything. This year was the 26th anniversary of “Boyz N the Hood” and I’m still blessed to be able to tell stories in a way that I uniquely can. I have an extended family from around the world.
Are you working on Season 2?
I want everybody out there to support and watch this season to get a Season 2. It looks really good.
“Snowfall” airs Wednesdays 10pm ET/PT on FX. Check your local cable listings.