Damson Idris Was Raised on ‘Def Comedy Jam’ and Bagel King
The British Nigerian actor Damson Idris can see the connections between his career trajectory and that of Franklin Saint, the character he plays on the FX cocaine saga “Snowfall.”
“I came as a kid, and today I’ve got a show under my belt, and I’m meeting new people and there’s a different level of respect that they give me,” said Idris, who was 23 when the show’s creators, including John Singleton (“Boyz N the Hood”), anointed him the lead.
“And that happened with Franklin, too,” he said. “He was this pushover kid who was getting beaten up every episode, and he grew into this guy who was running an empire.”
So the end of the road was bound to be emotional.
Idris, now 31, had just wrapped the sixth and final season and was still riding a wave of euphoria and exhaustion on a video call from his home in Los Angeles. That season begins on Wednesday, picking up a day after the events of the Season 5 finale, after Franklin sees $73 million of his nest egg vanish along with his dreams of a new life and a new wife.
Now, with his back against the wall, he’s willing to take out everyone by any means necessary. “The sweet kid has finally turned into the monster,” Idris said.
He had planned to take a long break from television after “Snowfall,” he admitted while discussing the first book he read (“I was never a book guy”), the music that moves him and the importance of humility. But then Donald Glover called to discuss his coming series “Swarm,” about an uberfan of a Beyoncé-like pop star, “and I’m like, When do I need to be at work, sir?”
These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
‘Young Locs on the Westside’
This is actually, embarrassingly enough, the first book that I read. It was given to me by John Singleton, and I used it to understand South L.A. in the ’80s. You follow these kids as they’re transitioning through adolescence to adulthood, and the horrible things that they go through but also the wonderful things that they go through. After I read it, I immediately got into the mentality of Franklin Saint. It helped me get through six seasons.
It’s a subgenre of house music that emerged in South Africa in the mid-2010s, and it doesn’t matter what mood you’re in, you’re going to find your body moving. I tweeted about it last year when I was introduced to it. I said, “If you’re not listening to amapiano music, you’re missing out on life.” There’s a new dance move on TikTok to it every single day. I probably wouldn’t ever do it publicly, but I do it in the house often. My favorite song is “Tanzania” from the D.J. Uncle Waffles. It’s so culturally relevant that artists from Beyoncé to Rihanna are all dabbling.
‘Def Comedy Jam’
When I was younger, I’d steal the tapes from my older siblings, wait for them to leave the house and spend all day watching the likes of Martin Lawrence, Chris Tucker, Bernie Mac, Katt Williams, Dave Chappelle. I would impersonate their stand-ups word for word. It was a brilliant party trick for family gatherings, minus the cussing.
FIFA Ultimate Team
I grew up wanting to be a football player. But I remember being 18 and Lionel Messi was 22 at the time. And I was so far behind, talent-wise, to him. He made me quit. [Laughs] The FIFA Ultimate Team is a game mode that’s possibly taken up a third of my life. You are essentially making a super team and then you compete with other people around the world. And till this day, if you lose at FIFA in my friendship circle, you have to give a written and verbal apology to the other person for wasting their time.
Fela Kuti’s ‘Beasts of No Nation’
He is so important in Nigerian culture, so important to my family, so important to me. He’s talking about the civil rights of Nigeria of that time and the conflict between the common man and the politics. The song started coming back into my life during George Floyd. I understood the parallels of racism and how it really is a global issue and a pendulum that needed to swing. “Beasts of No Nation” comments on it perfectly.
Mum’s Beef Stew
I’ve tried a million times to make it, but there’s something I’m missing. Maybe her perfume falls into the soup, and that’s what the missing ingredient is. I would get on a 10-hour flight to London to taste my mother’s cooking and her mix of palm oil, tomatoes, garlic and onion, and then the beef. I hope to get married one day and that beef stew comes with the contract.
If you grew up in inner-city London, as soon as the party gets shut down, everyone’s going to Bagel King to have a beef patty in buttered cheese-coconut bread and some plantains. It’s a staple in London culture, and it’s housed some of the funniest yet terrifying moments in my life.
When I was a kid, I remember watching the music video, and it was the first time that I saw a range of artists from different fields. Athletes, musicians, actors, poets — they were all in the same video, all paying homage to the greatest performer of all time. I became infatuated with Hollywood. I said, “I wish I was in that room.”
‘The Black Godfather’
This documentary follows the life of Clarence Avant. It dives into the genesis of Black Hollywood and how there was one man behind it all, lurking in the shadows, that was pulling the strings and introducing some of the most amazing people of all time to each other — which then led to greatness. It was incredibly inspirational because it taught me that regardless of the problems that I may face on this journey — the ups and downs, which will inevitably come — those things will not matter as long as you have friends, as long as you’re a good person, as long as you walk in humility.
When I was 4 or 5, for my birthday my mother would put me in these cute little tuxedo suits. All my friends would be dressed down in their tracksuits, their Reebok classics — here I was in a full-on suit, like I was about to get married. And then my sister would put me in the same suit and force me to marry her doll, who was my height. The doll’s name was Wendy, and she had a string that you could pull that would say “I love you.” It was the first person that said “I love you” to me after my mom. So I fell in love with tuxedos very early. And today I always say a tuxedo makes me feel I’m at my greatest level of excellence.