Actor Isaiah John is making a name for himself as one of the most-talked-about characters on the hit series “Snowfall.” In the beloved FX drama, he plays Leon Simmons, Franklin Saint’s (Damson Idris) best friend and his trusted lieutenant in the 1980s drug game.
The Georgia native has improved his acting skills for the past four seasons and expanded his range with various Emmy-worthy scenes.
ABS caught up with John to get the backstory on his breakthrough role, his real-life friendship with Idris, and what fans can expect this season with some potential spoiler alerts.
In season 3’s “brick by brick” scene, Franklin scolded Leon for nearly starting a war with a constituent from another neighborhood. John revealed Idris’ improvised a few lines during that scene, which took “two or three takes.”
“Outside of set, Damson and I have a close relationship. We’re like brothers,” he explained. “So we’re filming that scene and … he improvised a lot of that [scene] that people like. So when he’s just screaming in my face and yelling at me. … I wanted to laugh so bad. It took everything in me to not laugh.”
The 26-year-old said, “That’s why, like, when I turn my head, it’s like I still had to hold that in, and then he improvised [that line], telling me to drive. And, literally, as soon as they yell cut, I just burst out laughing. Like it was so funny to me because I’m like, ‘Bro, like you’re all in my face.’”
In another pivotal scene, Franklin’s mother, Cissy (Michael Hyatt), offers Leon space to express his grief and guilt. Leon took it hard in season 4 after he accidentally shot and killed Skully’s 5-year-old daughter Tianna.
Cissy saves Leon again this season during the episode that aired Wednesday, March 16. She talked some sense into Leon, who declared war on the cops after a drug raid in the projects.
“I think we have a few more scenes together for the rest of the season,” said John about working with Hyatt. “But even that one where she had to come and stop Leon from making the crazy decision, like, that was a big moment for a lot of people because, like, here she comes saving Leon again from whatever he’s going through internally and giving him a different perspective or just being there for him. So, those scenes are definitely important.”
John describes Leon as an evolved “loose cannon” who “did whatever he wanted to do.”
“He didn’t really know repercussions. But of course, with the unfortunate events that happened in season 4, it caused him to look at life differently,” says John. “And now, in season 5, we are just seeing a more intensified version of that and what that event basically led him to be.”
Leon’s character this season reads books and does research about “understanding Black life and how important it is for Black people to basically thrive,” says John.
“His whole mindset in life is just completely different. So right now, he’s kind of conflicted and torn between the street life and wanting to be what we would consider woke in today’s world.”
The actor says he was excited when he spoke with producers about season 5’s script, which aligned with his ideas for Leon’s growth as a character. He also credits “Snowfall” executive producer and showrunner Dave Andron for supporting Leon’s “more conscious” approach.
“I said, ‘I think he’s going to … continue on this path of just wanting to change, and he was like, ‘we agree.’ So we were on the same page already,” John said. “So when I … was reading scripts this season, I was like, ‘OK, I’m loving it,’ because it’s showing the different light on Leon, and I get to stretch and be different as an actor. He’s growing; he’s changing; he’s evolving just how we do in everyday life. So it was very exciting for me to portray Leon this season because it’s very different.”
On what fans can expect for the rest of this season, John hopes fans are just as excited as he is for what’s to come. “All I’m saying is it gets more intense as episodes continue to come in, and episode 8 is one of the best episodes.
Find out how everything plays out when “Snowfall” continues season five this Wednesday at 10 p.m. Eastern Time on FX.