Tonight, FX’s crack drama Snowfall cemented itself as the best show on TV this year (so far) with an intense season finale that brought main character Franklin Saint’s tortured relationship with his father Alton, a former Black Panther, to a head. In an attempt to extricate his son from the lure of drug money and stop the pain and destruction his business inflicts on their community, Alton sought to expose the CIA’s hand in the crack epidemic, which put him squarely in the crosshairs of Franklin’s agency handler Teddy.
But while Alton’s fate was being decided, the destiny of one of the show’s fan favorites was also up in the air, as the blowback from a season-long drug war with the unpredictable dealer Skully led him to seeking vengeance against Franklin’s aunt Louie and uncle Jerome. Jerome has been an intriguing character since the early days of the series, when he surprisingly did everything he could to keep Franklin out of the cocaine game, even though he was Franklin’s original source of exposure to selling drugs. Played by Amin Joseph, Jerome is a throwback to the jheri-curled, front-lawn bench-pressing tough guys of the early 80s, but often provides some of the show’s most tender and raw moments through his conflicted relationship with Louie and Franklin.
As Snowfall gets deeper into the ‘80s and the full throes of the crack epidemic, an increasingly darker tone has come to envelop the entire cast. The season started with Jerome committing his first murder and has only gotten grimmerfrom there. However, against all odds Jerome and Louie lived to fight another day–and they end the season by deciding to splinter off from Franklin and run a smaller outfit their own way. GQ talked to Amin Joseph about his pivotal season, how the finale turned out, and whether Snowfall is really better than The Wire.
This marks two seasons in a row now where I was very relieved that you made it to the end. I feel like there’s always a dagger hanging over your character especially, but this season seemed intentionally designed to make the audience feel that everyone around Franklin was in danger at some point.
Yeah, and there was a lot of misdirection even in the advertising. It put Franklin and myself in an adversarial relationship. You could see where things were going. My character, from finding out about the CIA involvement and then the ultimate betrayal of Louie being compromised… I think that scene in the hospital is everything coming to a head. Usually when you see a situation like that, you know that someone is going to be martyred in that moment and for it to turn the way that it did, it’s indicative of that Skully character.
What I like about this show is that it doesn’t look at the traditional tropes of the gangster that we’ve seen on television, especially the glorification. It does a really good balancing act of entertaining and giving you these raw moments but you also get to see these characters and swhat makes them who they are. You really get to become invested and you know that Skully has a code, but that code isn’t just all war. The way that he deals with Khadijah throughout the entire season lets you realize that she’s actually more alpha in some regards than him. I like that it’s not just all gangster. Same thing with Leon. Leon has definitely been the muscle and has killed without conscience, but that changed for him this season as well.
Was there a point where you were getting the scripts this season and nudging the writers saying, “Hey man, is it looking dark for me or what?”
Before the pandemic, we were able to always be with each other for our table reads. We get each episode a few days before. We have this funny little thing that we do at the table read, because some of those scripts could’ve had revisions made just the night before. [So when we get there] we just flip through looking for our character and looking at the end of the episode, and it’s become a running joke because very early on, even from the first season, there were so many bodies piling up. Some things may have changed from the last draft. But such is a show with this type of subject matter, right?
You mentioned the promotion for the season setting you and Franklin up as adversaries. it really was a dark season for you in general. Do you miss the days where Jerome could be counted on for more levity? I’m thinking of moments like the porn set scene that set up an instant-classic line delivery from you.
What I like most about this character is that he can be jovial. He can be charismatic. He can be fiercely intense. He can be an all out guy looking for blood. He can be emotional. He can be sage with wisdom. Do I miss those days? No, I’m just happy that the writing team has layered him as such because I could’ve played one note, any of those, and it would have still been a really rich character. But he’s able to be hot-headed and also poised, to be irrational in his vengeance for Louie but also very sage from the first moment that he ever saw a brick coming into his house with his nephew and saying that, “This brick ain’t going to get you into nothing but trouble.”
I think the writers have given the opportunity for Jerome to live his own [choices]. Did you take your own advice? And even if you think that you can escape the consequences, more than likely you’re not. He’s had the opportunity to evolve. And yeah, for a large part of this, he was the comic relief in this heavy, heavy subject matter. But in real life, we act as though some of the most charismatic people aren’t sometimes murderers or sometimes drug dealers. In real life, some of the people that are the most altruistic are also the most blood thirsty.
And if we’re talking about instant-classic Jerome line readings, episode eight–the way you said, “Fuck Franklin,” made me sure that y’all would never be on speaking terms again.
[Laughs] Yeah. The last time Franklin had a situation like this he ended up shooting and killing his friend by mistake. There’s the growth of Franklin, to realize that I have to stop him but I don’t have to take him off the board.
Let’s talk about where this season leaves Jerome. Last week’s episode fooled us into thinking that, after a season of strife and tension, you and Franklin had made up. But then it ends with you and Louie deciding to split off. What do you think the motivation behind that is for the characters?
Part of what has gotten Jerome vexed is that oftentimes, we’ll look at Franklin and he’s a really intelligent kid—but there’s something about following and having to deal with the consequence of someone else’s decision, and I feel like Jerome is tired of following. I think at the same time, Louie has come into her own as a cocaine goddess. She’s making a lot of decisions that proved to be smart and they contrast the decisions that Franklin is making. And I think at this point, as a unit, what’s going to bring them together? What brought them together is the truth, her letting Jerome know what exactly happened and how deep they are in with the CIA.
I think as a couple, we feel like no one’s going to protect us the way we are. We know how to sell it. It’s a more of a Bonnie and Clyde moment for them to be able to say, “You know what, nephew? We’ve been foot soldiers for you but that just isn’t our place.” And at the end of the day, for Franklin’s empire to work, he does need to elevate lieutenants to generals. Of course, he didn’t take it well.
I think part of this season’s [arc] is what happens when Franklin loses everything around him, because what has supported him so far has been that family unit. He’s been able to rely on that, and I think that he has also taken it for granted. And sometimes it feels like the family is being pawned. And now people are pulling away. I also like that because it gives us a new landscape for going into season five. And of course, with those fractions there’s going to be more problems. But also, an opportunity for them to perhaps enjoy the fruits of their labor. I mean, there hasn’t been much time for them to celebrate. I think this is the closest that you’ve ever seen Louie and Jerome.
Obviously it’s very early to have those season five conversations, but what can you say about what it will look like in a general sense? As you said, the family’s splintered plus this season also ended with you guys wiping a lot of antagonists off the board. Season five, in a way, almost feels a little bit like it’ll be kind of a reset.
Definitely. One of my favorite episodes is 310 [the season three finale, which focuses on a dream scenario in which Franklin never turned to drug dealing], and it went over well with some fans and others wanted to stay on a more linear timeline. But what I liked about it, was that in itself it was a reset. And I feel with the flashbacks of understanding what Alton’s saying, what he represented [as a Black Panther]— we saw them lose. I don’t know if our audience will pick it up but we totally disconnect at that point from the original energy that birthed the gangs in LA, that birthed the activism and the search for a self-reliant community. That Panther passion and that liberation, that has been sacrificed. Going forward, now we’re post ’85. Now we’re really talking about gang violence. Now we’re really talking about the true foothold of hip-hop and the images and the music that is inspired by the lifestyle that we’re living.
In a grander sense, how many years do you think the show has left in it? A story like this does have a finite element to it.
I mean, usually when you’re a part of a show, and especially if it’s being well-received, you want it to continue to resonate and you want to continue to expound on the show. But in terms of Snowfall, I feel like the late, great, John Singleton and Erica Amadio and Dave Andron and Tommy Schlamme, I feel like they had an original game plan with this. And at the end of the day, this is a chilling tale. We know how this all ends, and it ends quite tragically, in the literal sense. I feel like the show creators have it in their head that this would not be dragged out. I think this will go as long as it takes for them to tell a complete story.
You’re very active on Twitter. You’re always engaging with the fans, especially on air nights. And you can be very passionate—I have to ask about the interaction you had with the singer Dani Leigh, when she said she couldn’t get into the show and you said “it’s a Black thing.” Does it bother you when you feel the show is still being underrated or when people say that they can’t get into it?
I think that [the subject of Dani’s] mental health was mentioned in a tweet, [after] that [exchange]. We take mental health seriously. That being said, it was a tongue-in-cheek remark, but there is some truth in there and the truth is this: In this country, when you mention the word “Black,” it can mean a lot of things. In the context that I was talking about, “Black” is Black culture. And for someone not to understand or not to get—Black culture isn’t something to get. John Singleton has left basically a bound volume in Snowfall that is our history. This is Black culture. This is what happens to a segment, a population that people deemed as throwaways, as castaways, and that you could finance geopolitical wars across the world using these communities as cannon fodder. In that way, if you don’t get it, it’s a Black thing. You just don’t understand. You get me? Because maybe someone else doesn’t care to understand that history. But for people from my community, it’s imperative that we learn the chilling tales of the past so that we don’t repeat it.
Do you guys feel the show deserves recognition from the Emmys and other spaces in terms of critical acclaim?
As actors, it’s our job to be totally captivated with our character to do the best work possible and let the chips fall where they may. I didn’t go into this show thinking that it would receive critical acclaim. I went into this show saying, “Wow. If we were able to tell this show, when we’re finished with it we’d be proud of the work. We’d be proud of the legacy that we leave behind.” A lot of shows come and go and perhaps generations after receive it, or it gets its flowers after it’s already gone off the air. Maybe that will be the fate of Snowfall. Maybe it won’t. Oftentimes, we’re not even on the ballot, so this isn’t even about whether or not we’re getting awards. This is about whether or not this story is deemed worthy of giving any type of consideration. That has more to do, I think, with our society than it does the actors and things. I just feel if overall these voting bodies see the humanity in the story then perhaps we’ll have our turn to and if not, we have a rabid fan base that will always lift us up and let us know that what we’re doing is actually affecting people.
Last week after episode nine, the conversation around the show turned into comparing you guys to a classic series that also got snubbed by the Emmys: The Wire. Now there’s a Snowfall versus The Wire debate happening. Where do you land on that?
I land where our number one on the call sheet, Damson Idris, lands. He put a video out before the season and said, “Listen, this is where the comparisons stop. When this show airs, I’m telling you, it’s going to be the best show on TV and we don’t want no comparison. There are no comparisons.” And we mean that for The Wire as well.
The Wire is a classic show, but there is no comparison between The Wire and Snowfall or anything else on TV. We should appreciate The Wire for what it is and what it was. And we have this show that’s going on right now and I would implore everyone to take a look at Snowfall. They’re two different shows and two different eras and they both deserve their flowers without comparison.
What did you think of the finale? I think fans are going to hate it because they’re going to be like, “I don’t want to know about freaking Alton. He’s a freaking snake.”
I’m glad you brought that up, because last week I tweeted, “Fuck Teddy,” and a fan asked me “Who you rooting for?” in response to the Alton situation. And it just struck me how the writing on the show is so good that you can lose perspective on who you really should be rooting for, because Alton is a snake but generally, what he’s doing is the right thing.
Yo, the biggest shock to us as a cast is that usually the morally-centered characters are the most hated on this show. Every time, we go, “Wow. What does it take?” What does it really take for our audience to truly turn on us? And I think that’s part of what makes the show really special. It even makes me go back and watch some crime or gangster films and go, “Why do I like these characters so much?”
Alton, for all intents and purposes, is trying to save his community. It shows how it wasn’t just black people in those neighborhoods. There were all types of communities that were in Compton and Inglewood, and middle-class families that watched their communities totally become ravished with drugs and the crime that ensued afterwards. And for a guy that’s running a shelter, that’s taking care of crack-addicted people or people affected by homelessness because of it and then getting the message out—people can’t stand them. People want to see them die and that is the part of this where I go, “You know what? This is truly entertaining but I hope the message isn’t missed.” I hope. And I think our audience is smart enough to get both, but they are definitely being entertained by us slaying the “good guy.”
I think no matter where you fall on that, you don’t want to see Franklin sink to a low of choosing Teddy over his father. I think it’s going to go over well.
Yeah. I mean, I really don’t know. Put it like this. I think they’re going to be happy when Alton dies. And I’m not going to act like some of them might want Cissy gone too. Even when I was punching him, I was like, “I don’t know how this is going to go,” because usually, the fans are like, “Kill him. Kill Jerome. Kill him.” The work that Damson is doing [as Franklin], it really gives us the opportunity to support him very well because he leads with such a quiet charisma and a calculating brain that I think it sets up [everyone else]. The relationship between him and Teddy this year was exceptional because they both realized that there was a time limit. There was a clock on their heads and even knowing that, this is where they end up. Yeah. Season five, brother.