Metro.co.uk’s Ones To Watch series is highlighting TV actors we think you’re going to be seeing a lot more of. We continue the series with British actor Damson Idris, who has made the leap across the pond to star in 80s-set American crime drama Snowfall.
In the John Singleton drama he plays Franklin, a black teenager who turns to selling drugs as a cocaine epidemic breaks out in Los Angeles and gets in way over his head.
Damson, 26, from Peckham, spoke to us about breaking America, getting starstruck and how growing up without his dad informed his acting.
Talk a bit about your character Franklin
He’s the perfect character to play. People are calling him the sweetest drug dealer on TV! He has such a conscience, and he’s a sweet young kid who has no idea what he’s doing. And I think the audience could look at that and be like, ‘Well I’m no Tony Montana but maybe I am Franklin, and maybe I can understand why he’s doing the things he’s doing in the time that’s in’.
His innocence is relatable to everyone who is watching. Whether you’re 18 or 81 I want everyone to see a little Franklin in them. It’s great to play a character like that. He’s very intelligent and that’s because of where he came from and his upbringing. He does everything he’s doing for his family. He just wants to be stable and he feels he can’t do that in a regular office job because he’ll never excel. He’s a street entrepreneur.
Are you similar to him in any way?
Like me, Franklin doesn’t have his dad in his life. There was one time when I was in Vauxhall coming back from Richmond college, and I saw my dad and I didn’t go up to him. Then I went home and I cried. I was about 17. When I got the script for the first episode they had no idea about my upbringing, and we did a similar scene in Snowfall.
I saw my dad every single time in every single take. That’s the greatest thing I admire about Franklin. Although he doesn’t have a father figure, he’s able to connect on a mature level. That’s what he seeks, maturity and to be able to transition from a boy to a man, and that’s what I’ve been through. I have three older brothers, Franklin has no one. He has Jerome, but Jerome makes him sell weed, so he’s not the best role model. I definitely see that link between me and Franklin, just how strongly we value our mothers.
You have some pretty intense scenes with Alon Aboutboul as gangster Avi, what were those like to film?
Alon Abutbul is a nutter! Just throwing that out there. Alon is such a great actor to work with. It’s like how Leonardo DiCaprio talks about Jack Nicholson. His acting is so spontaneous. No take is the same. Maybe it was just him not listening to the director! But each take is surprising and you’re able to respond in a more truthful way. He’s been a great help for me in learning how to act.
L.A. is a bit of a way from Peckham, do you still get time to see your family and friends in the UK?
A million per cent. That is all I do – when I’m back I’m not working. Unless I’m playing FIFA I want to be around them, because I know the time we have together, with the path I’m on right now, that time is going to get smaller and smaller. So it’s beautiful because they’ve kind of become mini-celebrities among their peers. My brother works at Gatwick and people give him stuff to give to me to sign! My sister’s friends all want to go on a date with me, they’re all older than me as well.
Have you taken them up on their offers?
Not yet, I’m waiting for the right one. They’re all gold diggers right now. No, I’m not single, I have many queens. I have my mum, I have my lady and I have my lady’s mum as well.
Any ‘pinch me’ moments since going to America?
At the Oscars this year, John Singleton invited me to the Vanity Fair after party. You hear of the awards shows like the Baftas, Golden Globes, the Emmys, but you never really hear about the parties in the press. So I went there with John and Jackie Chan walked past. I said to my friend, ‘I’m going to text you the name of every celebrity I see’. By the morning I had written down 150 names. These were people I’ve grown up looking at and admiring.
Your mum must be very proud.
She’s so proud. I brought her to the Snowfall premiere and I insisted that my mum and brothers and sisters came on to take pictures on the red carpet, and my mum’s going, “Wait, wait one more – that one wasn’t good!’ And getting the photographer to do it again. I love her so much. She’s my queen.
You’re quite active on Twitter and you recently tweeted ‘People wanna be there when you make it but they don’t wanna make it with you’. What did you mean by that?
As I’m transitioning into the limelight, I’ve noticed a lot of people who I reached out to when I was starting and gave me the cold shoulder now want to be my best friend and get pancakes in the morning with me.
It’s interesting because I was told this when I first started. I thought, ‘It’s never gonna happen’, but it really does. My main thing when I started acting is that I never really had a mentor who could tell me everything, or someone who was already established who could tell me, ‘Okay, this and this is going to happen’. And that’s what I wanna be for all the young actors who look up to me, I want them to read my tweets and slide in my DMs and ask me questions so I can help them be better prepared.
It really is a dog eat dog world in this industry. This game, as they call it, is tough to play if you don’t have your head screwed on.
Are there more opportunities for black-British actors in the US?
100 per cent, simply because it’s a bigger place. When you’re an African kid in the UK, you’re not really going to work in Glasgow, Liverpool or Manchester. We need to be able to say, ‘Hey, Cardiff has a really big industry over there we should go over there.’ We don’t really have a place where we can do that.
It boils down to who is your favourite actor, and as long as Denzel Washington stays in power black people will want to go and work in America. That’s a fact. Not until we have a Sidney Poitier-worthy actor. God bless Idris Elba and Chiwetel Ejiofor and David Oyelowo because they’ve done it. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t know how to act. I wouldn’t know how to be from where I’m from and get to where I need to get to.
The only way to get black British actors to stay in the UK is to make more shows like Our Loved Boy or Guerrilla. Particularly for ethnic minority actors to stay in the UK. We do need to get a grip on the stories that are coming out of London. I feel that if Americans are going to complain about it, then the directors and producers need to start partnering up with British stories.
Who are your acting heroes?
Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington and Daniel Day Lewis. They’re my daddies. On the UK side, definitely Oyelowo, Chiwetel and Elba. They’re paving the way for the British invasion which is on its way.
What’s next for you?
It’s a movie called Farming, directed by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. It’s about his upbringing in Tilbury. Small spoiler – I play a 16-year-old Nigerian boy who is sent to England, and is fostered by Kate Beckinsale and becomes the leader of a white skinhead gang. It’s amazing. The universe is gonna see something soon.
Thank you for the chat, Damson!
By Sarah Deen(Metro UK)