Damson Idris became a household name after his portrayal of Franklin Saint in John Singleton’s, Snowfall, for the past three seasons.
Damson has since gone on to star in the Netflix sci-fi, Outside The Wire, alongside Anthony Mackie, and he’s just getting started as he enters another decade in his life.
But the 29-year-old’s headlining role in the FX series will always be special because he said John Singleton handpicked him in an exclusive Zoom interview.
Damson Idris said that Singleton gave the cast and crew the “code” to carry on the show without him and “after watching season 4, I’m sure he’s smiling down at us.”
The wait is finally over for the fourth season of Snowfall which is scheduled to premiere on Wednesday, February 24th.
In the following conversation, Damson discussed his experience filming amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the evolution of Franklin Saint in season 4, Snowfall becoming a stamp in pop culture, and British actors portraying American characters.
(This interview was edited and condensed for clarity).
So after a year-long COVID breaks, Snowfall is finally coming back. What are some obstacles that you guys faced while filming during the pandemic?
Um so many. Um, what happens is they create a bunch of guidelines, which kind follow government regulation, big risk factor is someone getting sick because that means they might possibly infect other people. And then you need to shut down, retest everyone, make sure everyone’s good and kind of revamp without that person who got sick. So it was, it was constantly being on our toes and, and hoping that didn’t happen. And at the same time, you know, we’re filming in LA, which is one of the States that was hit the worst. And, um, and it’s various shows that film in LA around us that were being canceled. So we’d come into work everyday, like, Oh my gosh. And it’s, it’s interesting because we started season four in, um, February 2020, and then we, we were filming and we got to episode four and then we stopped and then they were like, yo, come back in two weeks. We’re just going to deal with this little pandemic thing, fast forward, we didn’t get back to work until like October, November. So it really was a process. For us actors, it was making sure that we would stay in character during that time and stay in flow. For producers and writers It was about seeing how we could use this time constructively to make the show even greater than it was supposed to.
Okay. That’s good to hear. So if I’m not mistaken, is this the first time filming without John Singleton?
John left us when we were around episode nine, season three.
How was it filming without him? And then during the pandemic, this whole new season, without his direct creative input?
Well, John interacted with everyone and developed a relationship with them: The sound, actors, producers, the crew, makeup. Everyone loved John, you know, and he loved everyone. So we definitely lost a special place of John Singleton as he left us. But the greatest thing is he left us all the codes to carry on and he left us with a passion. He, John was that the most passionate person. He would, he would run out if I did a good take and be like, ‘That’s it! That’s what I’m talking about!’ It was like the coach, like if you’re a basketball player and you just dunked he’s like the coach that runs out or the players that are going like this. Like, that’s how Jordan was. And, and it was difficult at the beginning without him, but then we all put our heads down focused and I made it our sole aim to create art and put art into the universe that Singleton would be proud and after watching season 4, I’m sure he’s smiling down at us.
We’re witnessing a different Franklin Saint than we’re used to seeing from the other three seasons. Franklin is my favorite street entrepreneur because he’s so tactical. Can you relate to that character in any way?
A hundred percent. Um, very recently as I’m approaching 30 I said to myself that the last decade of my life has been me experiencing life and walking through different rooms and being in different rooms and interacting with people, different cultures, different ideas, different dreams. And that’s what Franklin is. He’s able to operate in South Central, operate in Israelis, operate with the CIA, operate with all these people and fit in. So I think that’s the biggest thing. We have in common.
Let’s talk about the best scene in the entire show. And you probably know what I’m talking about, the scene where Franklin humbled, Leon in the car.
Yeah people are always tagging me in some sort of metaphor to do with that scene. So people don’t even refer to it as Snowfall anymore. They use it with everything. Like if someone had a bad basketball game or, you know, if someone had some bad habits, or a rapper. That’s beautiful, man, I feel like that scene is apart of pop culture now, pop history. And that scene has actually increased the popularity of the show. I know many people who, who said, yeah, I saw that brick by brick scene and I locked in. So You know, so that’s beautiful.
What was going through your mind while you guys were filming? That was some good acting at that very moment.
Trying to go back to it. I remember we, we only did that tape probably three times and that was the least intense. The other two, one of them, I was riding Leon’s face like this. After the take he had to wipe all the spit off. I told him before that I was going to go hard and afterwards he said ‘Damn! I didn’t know you were gonna go THAT hard!’ I knew we had done something special because, after the rehearsal, we was in the car obviously, Liliana, our script supervisor. Um, I heard her, she has the loudest voice, after we did the take in between the tape she was like, ‘Oh my God.’ And I thought this might be a really good scene, and I guess it is.
That scene was the one, not the two. Anytime I try to convince anyone to watch Snowfall, that’s the clip that I refer to. Season three, ended off with Melody avenging her father’s death. And I’m pretty sure that’s going to come up at some point in season four. And you know, I’m assuming that Franklin doesn’t really blame her for her actions, but what is really going through his mind right now, because Melanie is a hundred percent a threat to his freedom, his empire, but it’s Melody that we’re talking about here.
So the interesting thing about Melody’s characters is a lot of the viewers hate her. But I think this season you’re going to be torn. Um, this whole season, with Franklin specifically is constructed with him, trying to build back his spirit and prove to himself and everyone around him, that he is the boss. He can take control and he can save them from this turmoil. So Melody, this season is a factor, a huge factor, which starts the snowball effect of that downfall. And I feel just as a viewer, um, and outside looking in, we need to understand that although Franklin is a character that we root for, um, there’s also many things he does that are directly the reason why societies and communities are in the positions they’re in today. And I think that’s the ownership and responsibility that I definitely take in that I can’t wait for the viewer to take too.
During the season 3 red carpet, the showrunner described the crack epidemic in a way that I never thought about myself. He talks about Black history in America, and he talks about the crack epidemic being one of the many disturbances in black history and how it’s still affecting us til this day. And we don’t even look at it that way, like I’m from Brooklyn, but whenever I go to Harlem, it looks like, like the Walking Dead.
Exactly. John Singleton would always say, um, is there’s three major things that, that destroyed and set black people back slavery, Jim Crow, he threw heroin in there as well. But he said crack. Actually there was a bunch of stuff. He said mass incarceration, but he said, the only one that would make Black women leave their babies is crack cocaine. So that is a pandemic that needs to be respected. It needs to be seen as a health crisis, just like opioids are today and not some criminal activity where only Black people do it. And so let’s throw them away. And I think the show stays true to that. And I think the show speaks volumes to not only the eighties, but also what we’re going through today.
While you were relentlessly teasing the premiere of season four over the summer, you posted a video in character saying, ‘Don’t compare us to none of them other shows!’ And I want to know what show are you talking about? Because I mainly see ‘Power’ comparisons.
Every show. I’m just, I’m tired of people pitting stuff together. We could all be in our glory at the same time. I watched Power, I love Power. I watched The Chi, I watched everything. But just because something is black faced, does it mean we need to be like, ‘Oh cool. This one’s better than the rest and less trash everything else.’ There could be different levels to stuff. But I think we need to celebrate all of it together. So that’s what I meant. It wasn’t no shade.
No, of course. Of course you guys both are holding it down for the East coast and the West coast. So around this time, last year you were in The Bahamas with Pop Smoke and crew and he was recording Meet the Woo part 2, and presumably some songs that were on his debut album. Did you guys get a chance to connect?
Yeah, we did I met Pop Smoke in Miami and I was, I was coming out of a function and he was coming in and um, he was talking to a guy I was with, and a bunch of people were walking by like, ‘Hey, I love your stuff, man.’ But they were talking to him as if he’s the secret like this, like he’s this young up-comer that the world doesn’t know about yet, because I was like, ‘why don’t I know?’ Um, and then I got educated on his, his journey of music and, um, he was telling me he loves the show and I was like, man, this guy reminded me of 50 Cent. And then when we went to The Bahamas, um, he was out there and, and he was teaching me how to, how to do his, um, his dance. Then the last time I saw him he sat right beside me at the Louis Vuitton show in Paris and we chopped it up there again. And I think we got picture with each other and he was someone who was going to be so important to his community and, and a true pillar of, of young music of that genre. And it’s, uh, it’s such a shame to, to have lost him at such a young age.
You featured his song, “Hello” featuring A Boogie on your Spotify Taste playlist. What made you choose that one?
I was in LA, right and I went and got loud car, I never do that. I got a G-Wagon, right and the song was playing, um, someone got in my car and played it and my shoulders just couldn’t stop. Then I saw the video and I just saw the energy that he had when he performed that song. And, you know, in dedication to him, I wanted it to be on my top 50 Spotify.
Okay. That was dope. The Drill sub genre has grown exponentially,thanks to Pop, after he joined forces with UK producer AXL Beats and in Brooklyn, there’s always like debate about who started it and who did it first and regardless of who started it or not, Brooklyn has the spotlight right now. Thanks to just one person. So it’s just a really divisive conversation I wanted to know. Is it like that with UK drill rappers?
It’s interesting. Because drill is something that I only recently started listening to.
30 is already hitting you, huh?
Man. I’m listening to Sade and Nina Simone like, um, well, my young, my young G um, Santana Dave, he’s like my little brother, man, I love that guy. And he’s always letting me know about what’s popping. Um, there’s a guy called, um, Heavy One, um, who I love, I loved his recent album. Um, I’ll always attach myself to artists who I know are going to be here forever. So the more I see people who have something to say and who aren’t just about the moment or about longevity is when I remember their names. So, so drill something, I’m just getting educated on. Um, I don’t know where it started but best believe I’m going to support everyone.
Good to hear. So I am a TV movie junkie just as much as I love Hip Hop and R&B, and a lot of my favorite shows have lead British actors: Snowfall, For Life, P-Valley. And I personally do not have a problem with it, but you know, everyone’s a critic and there are going to be those people who might feel like your role in Outside The Wire defending the U.S. probably should have went to an American actor. What are your thoughts on that?
Well, I was fortunate, man, because when I auditioned for Snowfall, it was only a small group of people who knew I was British, which is great because when you play a role, you don’t want people looking at your character thinking, ‘Oh, that’s Damson. I know everything about him.’ It just happens that people think I’m from South Central LA because of Franklin. So no one knew I was really British but a small collection of people there. And every time I met celebrities, um, YG, The Game, Snoop, um, Tyler, the Creator, they would always say, ‘Yo, I thought you was from over here.’ So that, let me know that the best guy always gets the part. Snowfall specifically, it’s a show that everyone with auditioned for. I was probably the only British actor who auditioned.
Everyone like who?
Um, I’m trying to remember who I auditioned with. Um, but there was a lot of actors who are working today who auditioned for Snowfall too, a lot of non-actors who were just straight from South central. There was something that Singleton saw in me. Now, I understand the debate when you’re being cast by someone who doesn’t represent that story and you two are not from there and it’s like, ‘yo, what’s going on?’ But when John Singleton says, ‘I want you to be Franklin!’ You get the co-sign man. And I haven’t received any backlash since Snowfall. I’m very much apart of American history. I’m 29 now and I’ve been in America since I was 23. So most of my adult life. And I’ve been on the frontline speaking out about many of the issues to do with American history and what’s going on. And I think that that’s why I’m able to get the co-sign, but that regardless, um, acting is a form of expression acting is for the artists. I genuinely believe the best person gets the part.