FX's Snowfall fans are all impatiently waiting to see what the season finale holds for each characters' fate tonight. In particular, many are curious to see what's in the cards for Wanda – portrayed by actress Gail Bean. For anyone who's been following along with the series and the latest season, Wanda's journey has been a rollercoaster ride, to say the least, and now it seems like things are finally looking up for her.
We first met Bean's character in season two of the show as Leon's girlfriend before she was unexpectedly thrown into the world of drugs. The brash, carefree and infectious personality Bean brought to life in her character immediately jumped off the screen and found a special place in our hearts. What she's been able to translate throughout the show illustrates a realistic look at how the crack epidemic impacted Black women in America. Even through all of the chaos and self-destruction, Bean's character shows the beauty of what happens when life teaches you lessons about self-worth and beating the odds.
The events that transpired in seasons three and four of Snowfall showed Bean's character at her lowest. However, toward the end of the current season, we finally see her start to get back on her feet as she imagines a life post-addiction.
Ahead of the season finale, the Georgia native shared with 21Ninety her experience of portraying drug addiction and recovery in the world of Snowfall, the importance of realistic representation for Black women on-screen, and even offered us a small glimmer of hope of what's to come for Wanda's story.
Njera Perkins: I feel most people know you as Wanda from Snowfall, so for those who don't know, who is Gail Bean?
Gail Bean: Gail Bean is a girl that's found somewhere in Georgia. I went to Stephenson High School. I have five older brothers. I'm the baby, so I was a tomboy for a long time. I'm a Delta [of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.], and I'm honestly just a person that loves happiness and fun. I'm a good time. I like to find the positivity, but I am a realist. I allow myself to receive things as they are. I'm a grinder and a go-getter–one of those, make a way, not an excuse type of person.
And I like to help people be happy with who they are. I like people to feel confident with themselves, and I talk to all types of people. I like to compliment people because I want them to feel comfortable and feel good and feel relaxed so they can just be themselves. I like to give back, and I love all things, Black.
NP: You say you're a good time, so what do you do outside of acting?
GB: I love to travel. I love hanging out with my friends and my family. I like to drink, skate, watch movies, go to the club. I clubbed so much growing up that clubbing to me now doesn't excite me.
NP: When you signed up for Snowfall, did you know what you were getting yourself into?
GB: Girl no [laughs]. I thought it was going to be so dope. John Singleton – RIP to a legend. I was so grateful and happy to work on a John Singleton project. Then I was also excited to play an around-the-way LA girl in the '80s. It checked all of my boxes. I get to do a period piece, work with John Singleton, and be an around-the-way girl in the '80s. I'm going to have my long nails, my jewelry, my LA accent, and I was like, 'I'm going to be popping.' So yes. I had no idea that Wanda would become Wanda.
NP: What about Wanda made you say YES to the role?
GB: Well, the writing is amazing, but they also give you enough freedom to make the character your own. I improvised a lot, and I gave her mannerisms and characteristics and physicality that aren't on the page. So the words and the storylines were great, and that's all the writers. But what I made Wanda was me. I gave her some things that are Gail.
For example, the personality, which is bubbly, fun, and looking for a good time; that's me. I gave that to her, which I would definitely say, made her pop. I also believe what all of the cast members gave to me, including my scene partners, made her pop too.
NP: What many people love about Snowfall is how accurate it is about showing how the crack epidemic affected everyone in the Black community, from the dealers to the addicts. So from a Black woman's perspective, can you talk about how the show puts your character at the root of that?
GB: What I really love is how they don't shy away from the existence of the Black woman. In so many shows, we see it's male-dominated or male-driven, and they will sometimes leave out the female narrative or the female presence, and Snowfall doesn't shy away from that. I like that they allow their women to be in the midst of everything that's going on.
The Black woman creates life, so why not be in creation or in the evolution of all things? I think it's really great how they are inclusive with us as female cast members, and it gives us a platform to get the exposure and bring justice to the characters – making it true to life. They don't shy away or play it down for the sake of censorship or hyping it up for the sake of good TV. They just give it to you. They give you the real raw. And females really are at the center of everything, are we not?
NP: How were you able to humanize your character's struggle to speak to the issue of drug addiction?
GB: I took it all in real-time, so I just allowed myself to go on that journey and that ride with her. I was very observant of some of the things she was going through as Wanda. Now when it came to going through the redemption, I was a little nervous because I had really settled into her [Wanda] on crack. And I felt I got the hang of it. People like her, and she's funny. Then it was another character arc switch, and I had to really take some time with myself and meditate on how do you come back from something that has taken you so low? I really had to go and look at my life and analyze times that I have been at my lowest. Times I've been at a point where I thought I couldn't come back from. When you go through things, they change you. I also knew Wanda was not going to look like what she did before because she went through something that changed her internally, mentally, and physically.
NP: Something about Wanda makes you want to root her. For the most part, people want to see her pull through. What is it about your character do you think still pulls at people's heartstrings?
GB: It's the authenticity. I've come from a real place with her. I don't embellish. I don't overact. I don't try to make her be anything but who she is. So it's the realness of the character and the humanity that resonates with every person that watches.
Also, we've seen Wanda at her best, so that's also why a lot of people want her to win. When you see someone at their best, you remember who they used to be. When Wanda showed the audience who she was, she was a genuine and real person with a big heart.
I feel her last moment of innocence was that scene in season two at the Christmas party, and Franklin tells her that she can cook. That's a moment, and all the moments before that, the audience holds onto. We want her to win because we liked her and Leon together. It was young Black love.
NP: I'm glad you said that because an underrated part of the show is the love between Wanda and Leon. How cool was that to depict a mini love story on the show?
GB: That was amazing because so many people really are for our side. They want them to win and work out. They want to see this triumphant young Black love story. It's beautiful to be a part of, but in a way, it's also still a dysfunctional love story. Not necessarily dysfunction in that they were bad to each other. It's that other outside factors jumped into this relationship. So it's nice to see a love story where there was some good functionality. There was loyalty, and it was genuine because nowadays, the love that's portrayed on TV between Black people a lot of times is seeking some sort of end goal other than simply love. They were literally two kids who had a genuine attraction for each other with similar backgrounds who connected on a level that permeated onscreen.
I do want to shout out to Isaiah [John] because one thing he did was advocate for this storyline. I'm going to scream that from the mountain top. There are many people who don't look out for one another because they're so focused on themselves. I've been down many different routes with Wanda, and it still would have been true to what has happened with crack addicts, but he said he wanted me to get clean. He wanted my character, Wanda, to come back. He wanted that love story to come full circle. So I'm very grateful to him for advocating for me.
NP: Can you speak to the importance of showing both sides of Wanda's journey – the good and the bad – and that representation in showing all facets of women on television?
GB: As Black people, especially as Black women, there's no margin for error. It's good to show we can come back from anything. This is a good story to inspire and pour into other people when they think they're at their lowest that they can come back from it. If it's not shown, then how do they know it can be done?
It's great because it shows the hardships, the struggles, and the misuse, but then it shows their strength and resilience. It shows how at the end of the day, we are over-comers, and we are victorious.
NP: What's the main thing you want people to take away from Wanda's story on the show?
GB: That she's human, and she's no different than you, or I, or them. I want people to realize she's a Black woman in America. That there's so much, we battle and crack, and drugs is another one of them. We battle law enforcement. We battle jail. We battle job security. We battle all of these different things, and the public and society tell us that we're not good enough.
I want them to know that Wanda is like Leon said, "Wanda is not weak." I want them to understand these addicts that are out here every day battling, they're not weak, they're sick. There's so many other Black people, and people in general, who are going through things where something else may be the cause of their demise. And I want them to be understanding and patient toward them. That doesn't mean that you don't get upset or give them passes, but just have some compassion and understanding.