FX drama series “Snowfall” season 4 is about the 80s lifestyle in Los Angeles along with the re-election of Ronald Reagan, increased demand for crack rock, burgeoning gang wars, and LAPD resources focusing on the ‘war on drugs. FX star Gail Bean is Wanda, who is once so pure and innocent but allows addiction to take over her life. The Knockturnal spoke with Gail Bean about the series and getting into the role of Wanda.
The Knockturnal: How did you prepare and get into character for Wanda?
Gail Bean: I take from both my personal life & my extensive research on crack addicts. Several family members fell victim to the crack epidemic, so I use that. I also watch documentaries and interview clips. ‘J is for Junkie’ by Greedmont Park, and Soft white Underbelly interviews are my -to sources. I’ve been following Amanda’s journey on Soft White Underbelly, and it’s heartbreaking but reality. My volunteer work on Skid Row has brought me face to face with the Los Angeles addict at different points of their addiction, so I try to implement that in my career.
The Knockturnal: According to the FX drama series, Snowfall, Wanda is taken over by crack and only thinks about getting her next fix. In taking on Wanda, how have you portrayed addiction takeover a person’s mental state?
Gail Bean: Addiction completely takes over a person’s mental, emotional, and eventually physical. It affects each person differently. As you see, Melody becomes a full-blown addict within 24hours of her first hit. Wanda initially starts off functional, but over time her attention slowly shifts from life to 100% rock. Mentally she’s no longer with us. We see a glimpse of pre-rock Wanda when the tooth falls out, but it’s not enough to hold her here in reality with us. The closest Wanda gets to regaining a piece of her mental state is in the hospital when Leon pays for them to keep her there until she detoxes. I try to understand those who have unpleasant memories with their loved ones due to addiction. It’s in no way to excuse the behavior of an addict but hopefully provide some understanding that addiction is a disease. The drugs rearrange their insides, rewires their thought process if not depleting it completely.
The Knockturnal: What does Wanda represent in the drama series? What was it like getting to the root of the problems that occurred in the 80s?
Gail Bean: That drugs were a problem from top to bottom. It affected not just the dealer and the user but the black as a whole. Wanda represents how crack rock blind sighted the black . When we first meet Wanda, we have no idea the horror that is in store for her future. Wanda represents how hope and strength, and prayer stood no chance to the problems the government burdened the Black with. The baddest and the toughest fell. Wanda is the beauty of light that the US smothered with darkness and evil, yet we still cling to what once was and think time and the right person can bring us back to the light.
The Knockturnal: How do you think drug abuse affects a person’s everyday life, relationships, and internal battles? Why do you believe people turn to drugs to suppress their feelings?
Gail Bean: Drugs temporarily take a person from reality. I think so many people turn to drugs because they are afraid to confront specific pains that come with life. In some instances, you have people turn to drugs because they enjoy the high, but it’s all a disillusion. Too many people glorify drug use and publicize the joys of a high, which tends to persuade others to try it. This causes people to make poor decisions that they otherwise would not have made had they been clean.
The Knockturnal: What do you think “80s babies” really learned from that time? What do you think about people bringing that fashion back to the present day?
Gail Bean: I think 80s babies saw the aftereffects so closely that we just vowed to stay away from drugs. Not many from my generation are addicts that I know of, but I fear drugs are coming back around to the newer generations and stronger than ever. I’m unsure why people find it fashionable nowadays or why they’re using it as a coping mechanism. Still, I do pray those that have dabbled in drugs for whatever reason find a more suitable substitute that’s not harmful to themselves and those around them.
The Knockturnal: Your love for Leon is paramount. What role does your relationship play a part in making an introduction to Wanda’s downfall?
Gail Bean: All relationships should have balance. Wanda and Leon start as two young kids in love. They want to be around each other 24/7, so when Franklin grants Wanda cooking privileges to hang out at the cookhouse with Leon, it’s honestly the beginning of her downfall. Had they kept Leon’s business separate from their relationship, I’m confident Wanda’s life would have a different outcome. Their love for each other clouded their judgment. At that time, they didn’t know the effects of crack (you can become addicted and high just from cooking and touching it without masks/gloves). Their relationship plays 90% into Wanda’s downfall because without it, she wouldn’t have had access to rock, nor would Leon have hidden her stealing product from his crew. I do think Leon’s emotions clouded his decision-making early on when it comes to Wanda because he could’ve told Franklin when she was taking from the stash, and they might’ve been able to get out in front of it before she got so bad.
The Knockturnal: From the show Wanda is led by money, would you say money is the root of all evil? If so, why?
Gail Bean: I believe money is a root, but the person determines what sprouts from it. In my opinion, Wanda is motivated by fun. She loves a good time so much that it becomes her demise. Anything in excess can lead to evil if you’re not careful.The Knockturnal: Have you had any personal experiences that helped you get into character for this role? If drug abuse runs in someone’s family, how can someone work to break that generational curse?
Gail Bean: The drug addicts in my family have been addicted before I was born. My best advice to their loved ones would be, “never give up on them”. Also, a reminder to all people that kindness can go a long way, even to a stranger. Regarding breaking the generational curse, I think it’s just about knowing that drug addiction doesn’t have a face. Nobody is too good, too smart, too pretty, so the only way to be sure you don’t become an addict is to stay away from it. Don’t even try drugs because you never know the effect it could have on you. Some people get addicted the first time, and some die. A few individuals can easily walk away but don’t risk it trying to determine which type of addict they are. Allow those who have fallen victim to drugs in your family to be the example of what not to do. I do not think in any capacity is it okay to try drugs, and if addiction runs in your family, be mindful and inform doctors whenever prescribed medicine.
The Knockturnal: John Singleton’s legacy and vision lives on FX’s “Snowfall.” What did you learn from him in bringing this story to life?
Gail Bean: John taught us many lessons. I would say the one that comes to mind more often than most is “to tell the story you want to tell.” There are several ways a person could approach the story of how our government flooded the black with drugs, crack in particular. I could so easily portray Wanda as just another addict, but I learned from John Singleton that I am responsible for the images I put out. I control the narrative, and ultimately I am the storyteller. Case in point, I choose to focus on Wanda as a human being. She is no different from you and me. I wanted to show that crack addicts are regular people who were targeted and just as quickly fell victim to something much bigger than them.
The Knockturnal: What’s next for Gail Bean?
Gail Bean: I co-wrote a series, so we’re in full pitching mode. We will have updates by the end of the year as to where it’ll land. I’m also working on another poetry book. My first one, LAVON, did exceptionally well, so I’m excited about the follow-up. And I’m cast in another project, but I can’t reveal the details just yet. However, when I do, it’s going to make your head explode.
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