‘Snowfall’ star Damson Idris predicts tempest of a final season that could rival ‘The Wire’

Damson Idris.
Damson Idris photographed at his Studio City home on Feb. 2.
(Jack McKain / For The Times)

On a chilly night near downtown Los Angeles, a car maneuvers down a dark dead-end street. When it stops, the driver opens the trunk, revealing a terrified man in handcuffs and shackles.

“No, Franklin, please don’t do this,” the captive pleads as Franklin Saint jerks him out of the trunk and throws him to the pavement roughly. It’s just another day in the life of Saint, the ruthless drug kingpin at the center of FX’s mayhem-packed “Snowfall,” about the rise of crack cocaine in South-Central during the 1980s.


But it was not just another night for Damson Idris, who plays Saint. The encounter marked his final scene for “Snowfall,” which will launch its sixth and climactic season Feb. 22. A few minutes later, he was surrounded by a cheering throng of fellow cast members and crew.

Fighting back tears, Idris smiled as he acknowledged the salute. “We made magic,” he said in his native British accent. “Above all else, we built this s—!”

When British actor Damson Idris auditioned for the role of young street entrepreneur Franklin Saint in FX’s “Snowfall,” a drama set during the infancy of the crack cocaine epidemic in 1980s South-Central Los Angeles, he was given more than lines to read.

July 19, 2018

“Snowfall,” which ranks as the third-most-watched series in FX history — behind “The Old Man” and “Sons of Anarchy” — showcases Idris’ artistic range as his intense portrayal of Saint shifts between charming, crafty entrepreneur to lethal thug. The actor, who hails from Peckham, London, won the role after convincing show co-creator John Singleton that he could convincingly project the demeanor and attitude of a youth growing up in the rough neighborhoods of South-Central.

Singleton, the Oscar-nominated director of “Boyz n the Hood,” wanted “Snowfall” to dramatize the complexities of the crack epidemic that wreaked havoc on Black communities. In addition to depicting the devastation of neighborhoods, the series also showshow Saint’s outlaw pursuits rip apart his family members, who were partners in his endeavors.

The production was severely shaken when Singleton died in April 2019 of a stroke. Idris, along with the cast and executive producers, channeled their grief by becoming even more committed to realizing and building on Singleton’s vision.


Executive producer Dave Andron said Idris was more than up to the task of taking a leadership role on the series: “He had the chops and he’s so naturally talented. It’s astounding what he brought to the show. I’m so incredibly proud of him, and he’s just getting started.”

The actor has also sparked romance buzz in the gossip arena after appearing at the “Snowfall” red carpet premiere with his new romance, Lori Harvey, the ex-girlfriend of Michael B. Jordan. The model-influencer is the daughter of entertainer Steve Harvey.

Michael Hyatt, who plays Saint’s mother, Cissy, said of Idris: “Damson has always been eager and hungry to be the best artist he can be. Over the years, he has become more grounded in the understanding of the process. He loves to play and tell jokes, but there’s a very observant, quiet person that is very in tune with everything that is going on.”

The day after wrapping his last scene, Idris was trying to wind down as Beyoncé’s music blasted through his spacious Studio City home. Dressed in an all-black ensemble, he was in an upbeat mood, sipping red wine as he discussed his past and future.

“How Crack Began” is the tagline for John Singleton’s new FX drama, “Snowfall.”

July 5, 2017

It’s been almost 24 hours since you said goodbye to “Snowfall.” What were your feelings after doing that last scene and coming to the end of this journey?

It was a whirlwind of emotions. Bittersweet and sad. There was also bewilderment. I couldn’t believe we had done it. I was on the verge of tears, but I had to stay strong. Everyone probably wanted me to cry. The show is really the foundation of my career. I’m always going to have it as a touchstone no matter what. Nothing’s going to beat that feeling. It’s like when a musician has his first hit song that introduces him to the world.


But besides sadness, there must have been...

Joy. We created something magical. We created history and the world gets to enjoy this forever. This isn’t something that’s just going to go away. I would speak to [FX chief] John Landgraf about this all the time, and he’d say, “This is a show that’s going to be on our platform forever.” So long after I’m gone, people are going to get to watch “Snowfall.”

What were your expectations when you first started this journey?

This isn’t an easy show to make, so I didn’t expect it to be smooth. But I knew as long as I stayed humble and spiritual, God would provide me with everything. And when I say everything, everything to me is happiness. I know so many artists who have everything but are unhappy. I just wanted to be happy at the end of it. I wanted to be proud. And that’s exactly what happened.

Did growing up in another country make this role more challenging for you?


Oh, yeah, definitely. I always said the people I wanted to please the most were people from L.A., families who live in South-Central today. I want them to switch on the TV and see their brother or uncle or nephew in Franklin. It was a huge challenge for me because it’s not necessarily about color. Sometimes it’s culture too. There’s some aspects of American culture that I would never, ever be able to relate to fully until doing the full research, until diving into L.A. culture, diving into American culture.

I’m from inner-city London, Peckham. So many of the themes of the show completely correlate with how I was born. Single father, neighborhoods, police brutality, racism, drugs, crime, gangs, everything that happens in the show, I grew up with. So I was able to relate on that front. But I was also a kid who wanted to be a soccer player, who lived in this neighborhood, a kid who was trying to go a different path.

Damson Idris

“When the conclusion of ‘Snowfall’ comes, I think there will be a conversation about whether this show or ‘The Wire’ was the greatest crime show. I’m excited to hear that conversation,” Damson Idris says of his show’s final season.
(Jack McKain / For The Times)

For John Singleton, relief is not being part of the YouTube generation — or rather, not having to forge a career in the thick of it.

May 26, 2017

Were there times that you felt pressured or overwhelmed?

The biggest challenge was really just understanding that I was being thrown into the deep end. I was a 23-year-old kid from Peckham in the U.K., leading a major network show, No. 1 on the call sheet. And Singleton was like, “Don’t mess this up.” I had to step up and understand my responsibility.


In the early seasons, Franklin is shown as kind of this heroic figure. But John’s vision seemed to be to show what happens when you become this sort of guy and where this kind of lifestyle leads you.

That was always the vision. He lived through this era. And if you walk down skid row today, you know exactly what it led to. We always knew that was the heart of the story, for the audience to see the African American experience and how crack cocaine completely decimated the Black community. It was the first epidemic that made Black mothers leave their children. We couldn’t sugarcoat it.

In the third season, there’s a tense scene in a car between Franklin and his next-door neighbor, LAPD officer Andre Wright (Marcus Henderson), in which he’s confronting you about how crack is destroying the community. He asks Franklin, “How do you sleep at night?” and Franklin replies, “Like a baby.” Andre then drops Franklin in front of a house where young people and mothers with children are strung out. It’s a very striking scene.

For Franklin and people selling crack, it was fun. But then the addiction and the crime came. It stopped being a game.

Actors John Singleton and Damson Idris on the red carpet
John Singleton and Damson Idris at the premiere of “Snowfall” Season 2 on July 16, 2018, in Los Angeles.
(Christopher Polk / Getty Images)


What was it like when John passed away?

It was truly devastating because he had completely taken me under his wing. I experienced so much with him. And then all eyes fell on me. I would walk down the street and people would say to me, “Hey, D, this is John’s baby. We’re watching you. Don’t mess it up.” They let me know my responsibility and that I needed to take the reins, to stay true to the authenticity and the private conversations John and I had about what he wanted the show to be. I miss him dearly. He was a master of collaboration. He was incredibly passionate and he wasn’t a brute. When he did pass on, we had a strong enough platform individually for us to take the reins and run with it and make him proud. And I think we did.

What was your process for getting into Franklin’s volatile and controlling character? Was it difficult letting that go at the end of the day?

My mother saved me every time. I get to the set, I go into hair and makeup, and I’m Franklin, 17, 18 hours a day with an American accent. At the end of the day, I take the makeup off and put my clothes on, but I can’t get rid of Franklin. I get home, fortunately London’s eight hours ahead of us, so by the time I get home, it’s morning or lunchtime in London. I call and say, “Morning, mum. How are you?” She says, “Hello, my son.” And I’m back.

What’s next for you?


I’m obviously focused on movies. I want for people to see me on the big screen. I’m also going to do this project with Donald Glover that’s a commentary on the fanfare surrounding a pop star and the psychology of that. I think it’s going to be a fan favorite.

How do you think fans of “Snowfall” will respond when the finale finally airs?

I think the fans are just going to really enjoy it. We’ve always been chasing “The Wire.” I love that show. When the conclusion of “Snowfall” comes, I think there will be a conversation about whether this show or “The Wire” was the greatest crime show. I’m excited to hear that conversation.