Few actresses would have pegged playing Wanda, a hood girl turned drug addict gone clean, in Snowfall as a breakout role. But life has shown Gail Bean that there are no small roles or any unworthy characters. Back in 2015, her name first began buzzing for the Sundance film Unexpected, produced by NBA hall of famer Chris Webber. In that, she played pregnant teen Jasmine who bonded with her pregnant white high school science teacher. And while guest roles on Insecure and Atlanta, among others, quickly followed, her biggest win has been playing Wanda on Snowfall.
It’s a role that Bean says “I really feel like I manifested.” Nicknamed “Little Taraji” by her acting studio classmates in Atlanta, Bean always knew she wanted to work with the legendary John Singleton. But when the Boyz N the Hood director spoke to Bean's class “before Snowfall was even a thing,” she became even more committed to that dream.
“After meeting and talking to him and having him giving us real feedback, as a Black person [in the industry], I [gained] a whole different level of respect for him.”
So, years later, after she moved to LA and had Unexpected on her resume, she heard about his show Snowfall and pressed her reps about it. At the time, however, her reps thought Wanda was too mature for her and not a good fit. Bean persisted and landed a chemistry read with the actor Isaiah John who plays Leon. And though Bean and John had never met before that moment, they both studied at the same Atlanta studio where Singleton spoke.
At the time Bean admits that she really didn’t know what playing Wanda would mean. “To be honest, Snowfall hit me with some stuff I didn’t expect,” she tells EBONY. “I didn’t know Wanda was going to do drugs and then eventually be an addict. Snowfall continuously challenges me episode after episode, season after season, because I don't get the scripts in advance to know what is happening. I get it in real time.”
At the start of Snowfall, Wanda and Leon, Franklin Saint’s righthand man, were kicking it real strong, living the life of both newfound money and love. As the show went on, however, one of the casualties of Leon selling drugs with Franklin was losing the woman he loved to them. And it was rough. This season, however, featured a clean and sober Wanda as well as a more focused Leon trying to make better decisions. In fact, as Franklin’s world came tumbling down during the fifth season’s finale, it looked like Wanda and Leon might run off to Africa together.
“There are some people who are still alive who are still surviving. They're survivors. They're victims of the crack epidemic. And I'm grateful because I'm able to tell the addict story, but I'm also able to tell the survivor story,” Bean says of Wanda.
Even as Snowfall is set to end next year with its sixth and final season, Bean says Singleton, who passed at the age of 51 as the third season was filming, is still missed. “John had a different type of spirit and energy on set that is irreplaceable. So, there's a void, but we are trying to live up to the standard,” she shares. “This was definitely a project from the heart,” she continues. “I feel like for John, Snowfall was for the city. This was his childhood. This was what he found growing up firsthand. Not by third-party knowledge, not ‘I'm telling someone else's story.’ This was his story, his family members’ story.”
Bean, herself, also has other stories to tell and can’t wait for people to see her in P-Valley in June. “I was already a fan of the show before I was added to the cast,” she says. “My character Roulette is a new dancer at The Pynk. My character is from Jackson, Mississippi. So she's not from Chucalissa. My character is not like any of the dancers at the strip club,” she dishes, adding that Roulette would pick Mercedes as her favorite dancer if she had to. “She’s new. She’s young and she’s real. I can say she's very vulnerable, but she has a wall up. I think a lot of people will be able to relate to her. A lot of people will love her.”
Binge "Snowfall" on Hulu and catch the season two premiere of "P-Valley" on Starz June 3.