Damson Idris can make you believe anything. Born Adamson Alade-Bo Idris, the 30-year-old Snowfall actor has spent the last five years convincing the world a ’90s baby from London, England is Franklin Saint, a teenage drug dealer from ‘80s Los Angeles who can guarantee death for some and protection for others with the same amorphous smile on FX’s soul stirring drama series. When an incarcerated Franklin berates his absentee father from behind the prison’s visitation glass, he sucks the air out of the room and you feel just how claustrophobic that rage can be.
Thickening his British accent is half the trick of making you believe him; embodying his character everywhere in his life from fake shootouts to real Whole Foods trips is the other half. And it doesn’t take long for him to impress most.
Snowfall showrunner and co-creator Dave Andron was blown away by his audition tape and only needed to see if Idris could act out a scene in which boyish Franklin matures into a murderer of someone he loves to realize he unquestionably deserved the role. P. Diddy, Naomi Campbell, Seal, and Mary J. Blige only needed to see one season of Snowfall before rushing him at a 2017 Vanity Fair party, yelling “Franklin, we love you” while the young actor scarfed down an In-N-Out Burger. Ex-cons have told him his show made their prison stay more bearable. It only took a firm handshake and an attentive gaze for him to make me feel like the environment of the bustling Whitby Hotel in Manhattan, where Derek Jeter was dining a few steps away, was simply background noise.
The talent is unmistakable, but it hasn’t been undeniable. Even with Snowfall being the final creation of iconic director John Singleton—anchored by an actor Singleton repeatedly compared to Denzel Washington, and becoming the most-watched show on FX—Snowfall has yet to receive a single nomination at the Primetime Emmy or Golden Globe Awards. Similarly, The Wire was voted the best TV show of the century by TV critics in October 2021, yet never won a Golden Globe or Emmy, never even being nominated by the former. Idris is aware of this, but he doesn’t care.
“We’re not connecting with a small group of people who vote on who’s going to win a trophy. This show is connecting to the world,” Idris says. “When I walk in London, people are screaming ‘Franklin!’ When I walk in Budapest, people are screaming ‘Franklin!’ When I walk in Nigeria, people are screaming ‘Franklin!’ In Thailand, people are screaming ‘Franklin!’”
To him, any award would simply be a bonus to an experience that has changed his life. Before Snowfall, Idris had never been a series regular on a TV show, and had to work at a sneaker store in order to fund his trips to Los Angeles to audition for Snowfall. He was unknown, detached from the struggles of Black people across the pond, and still wearing trainers. Now, he has a deeper empathy with the plight of African Americans, bounced between LeBron James and Jay-Z’s suites at this year’s Super Bowl, and comes to interviews decked in a sleek all-Black, all-Prada attire—like if Bruce Wayne was Black and always ready for the runway.
Speaking with Men’s Health, Idris chatted about workouts that helped mature Franklin on Snowfall, the scene that evoked his real feelings about his father, how being killed off could have its benefits.
Maarten de Boer
So far, the biggest surprise of this season has been Franklin getting a girlfriend and impregnating her in the 15 months between Season 4 and Season 5. He’s already had her find his gun in the house, had CIA agent Teddy McDonald break into his home, and he’s had to kill one of his closest drug partners. How’s Franklin doing as a father?
[LAUGHS] He’s trying to get all of his ducks in a row. He’s met a new love Veronique, played by Devyn Tyler who’s doing a great job. He has this baby on the way, which also means he has something precious that can be lost. It’s made him a lot more cynical, calculated, and paranoid. But, we’re also going to see a tender side to Franklin, as well as a more ruthless side.
Another surprise is how jacked Franklin is in the season premiere when he’s hitting the punching bag. Is that because of what the show called for for Franklin this season, or is Damson lifting weights?
It was me. For so long, I wanted Franklin to go from boy to man, and I did that this season. My beard ain’t connecting, but I tried hard [LAUGHS]. I was doing some HIIT training. I just wanted to show the progression of the 15 months, and how Franklin is stronger now. He was so weak in Season 4, I wanted to show a new side to him. A man who’s a leader with a responsibility to control an empire. I probably didn’t look as good as Michael B. Jordan in Creed, but I’m getting there. I’m working slowly.
What are those workouts?
HIIT training YouTube videos with this white guy who’s like [RAISES PITCH OF HIS VOICE] And hold for six…and for five…and for four. I’m there sweating in my bathroom.
Maarten de Boer
Even with the success, Snowfall hasn’t received any nominations from the Golden Globes or Emmys in its 5-year run. Do you think you need that recognition?
I feel it’s a shame. I remember talking to some guys who were in The Wire who went through the exact same thing, and their response was, “It’s a shame.” People look back after 10-20 years and say, “This is the best show.” I think it’d just be a bonus.
The biggest thing that matters is the story being told, and you’re changing the lives of people who view it. Snowfall is one million percent changing people’s lives. People come up to me and say, “Man, I was watching your show while I was in jail. You got me through my bid.” There are people who have been through horrific circumstances and are terminally ill on hospital beds who love this show. We’re connecting with the people. We’re not connecting with a small group of people who vote on who’s going to win a trophy. This show is connecting to the world. That’s what it’s all about. It’s not about a small group of people saying, “This thing is great so, they should get the trophy.” It’s about connecting to the world.
One of the other surprises of the new season was how it started with the infamous cocaine-induced death of NBA hopeful Len Bias in 1986. How much about the Len Bias story did you learn through Snowfall?
All of it. Len Bias’s tragic overdose was something that created a horrifying ripple effect in American culture. The parties that be used it as an excuse, in my opinion, to introduce mandatory minimums which essentially ripped the Black man out of the Black family. It caused so much turmoil in African American culture and communities. Kids were being raised without fathers, and these new mandatory laws put the selling of one gram of crack to the same punishment of selling 100 grams of cocaine. That was really an attack on Black people. Len Bias was the start of that in 1986. The laws and legislation got worse. We, Black people, became known as “superpredators.” They criminalized us and made us cut off from the world. I relate so deeply to the struggles of African Americans because there is a direct correlation between how Black people are treated in Europe, Brazil, and today in Ukraine and Russia.
You’ve said you’d want Snoop Dogg as a guest star on Snowfall. Anyone else?
Denzel Washington. I’d love for him to be on Snowfall just so he could slap me around a bit, and tell me I’m a bad actor [LAUGHS]. I’m playing. The beauty about the show is a lot of the characters are not that known, myself included. When I got this part, I had relatively no experience. We’re about giving people opportunities in front and behind the camera. For next season, I’d love to see some OGs come in, like Al Pacino or [Robert] De Niro, to slap me around a bit.
What has been the hardest scene to film in Snowfall?
Wow. The hardest scene to film was when Franklin was in prison and had to confront Alton and Cissy through the mirror. I was so deep in it, and my relationship with my father bled into the scene.
Alton, played by Kevin Carroll, was no longer Kevin Carroll to me. He was someone else. Our showrunner Dave Andron, who wrote the episode, told me he cried when he wrote it. After I did the first rehearsal, he came over to me and said, “I cried when I wrote this, and that’s exactly how I pictured it. What you’re doing right now is exactly how I pictured it.”
That episode, for me, was incredibly spiritual because it was the last episode John Singleton directed. Thinking back to it, it was definitely my hardest scene. My girlfriend at the time had gone with me to work, and I knew it was going to be hard. I had to tell her to go home because I didn’t want her to see me like that. If I saw her, I knew it would take me out of it. I’m incredibly proud of how that scene came out. Looking back at it, those words definitely speak closely to the feelings of many young Black men today who don’t have their fathers in their lives. I was representing them, and that’s why it was so difficult.
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You also attended the first Super Bowl in Los Angeles in decades with Jay-Z, Beyonce, and a bunch of other celebrities. What was that experience like?
I was jumping from suite to suite. I was not loyal to anyone. From LeBron to Hov, B[eyonce] to my good friend OG Juan. It was a great experience. That halftime show was really remarkable. It’ll go down in history as one of the greatest halftime shows ever. It was so full of culture. It was a beautiful day. I went with my good friend Daniel Kaluuya. We felt like it was validation that we were in the building.
What’s something Franklin’s done on Snowfall that fans liked but you really didn’t agree with personally?
So many things. I’d say killing Andre Wright. Killing him was such a big thing for Franklin; it changed so much for him. He lost a huge piece of his soul. That was a man who helped raise him when his dad wasn’t there. This was Melody’s father. I understand Andre was threatening to hunt him down. That was a dark thing Franklin did. I’ve been recently saying I hope the fans understand Andre Wright was trying to do what was right. So many characters on this show were trying to do what was right, so it’s important to try and empathize with them. People were tweeting, “Andre got to go!”
They felt the same when Franklin’s father snitched on him to the reporter last season.
They wanted Teddy, a CIA officer, to kill Alton, who was a former Black Panther. Black people wanted that. They were typing, ‘Alton gotta go! He’s blowing up the spot’ (laughs)!
What are some everyday situations you’ve been in while in character as Franklin? Are you intimidating cashiers at Walmart?
With COVID, being incognito helped because I’d have my hat, glasses, and mask on. So, when I was talking, people wouldn’t really know. In the first and second seasons, it was really bad. I was fully in character all of the time. I’d go back to London and talk in an American accent. My family is like, “You’re not filming right now. Can you just be British, please? Can you stop being Franklin for two seconds?”
Your Dark Skin Society group with famous Black men like Daniel Kaluuya and rapper Giggs is a great sign of male bonding and unity. You recently inducted Jamie Foxx and Bobby Schmurda into DSS. What are the criteria to join DSS?
Togetherness. You’re not allowed to be a hater. The biggest mantra we live by is ‘When one of us wins, we all win.’ And you have to be blue-black. We have some light-skinned representatives on the board who are doing a fine job for the organization.
Are you all planning on doing anything together, in terms of films or other projects?
We’re definitely talking about that. There are so many ways to create a platform for young people to come through. Getting into this business is so hard. Everything has been done before. Every actor that comes in is compared to someone else. Every movie is a remake. I think seeing something fresh is interesting, and that’s what DSS is.
When it’s all said and done, how do you want Franklin’s story to end on Snowfall?
I need him to die because I don’t want to walk around the world with people saying, “When are you going to bring Snowfall back? You should play Franklin again.” [LAUGHS]. I hope he finds some level of redemption.
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