Gail Bean is living many a young actress’ dream, almost by happenstance.
The 29-year-old actress comes to millions of screens weekly on one of network television’s most binge-able crime dramas, FX’s Snowfall, as one of its most tortured and nuanced characters, Wanda Bell.
Though Wanda’s arc – from young fun-loving drug dealer’s girlfriend to the dregs of crack addiction – has been a beautifully written, heartwrenching tale that is sadly all-too-familiar for many in our communities, Bean actually had no clue she was signing up for something so affecting when she landed the role.
“I’m going to be honest, I had no idea Wanda was going to be such a full circle, well-rounded, beautifully painted character,” she said. “I honestly thought I was just coming in playing and around-the-way LA girl. I was just
excited; I get to wear nails, I get to be cute, I get to have my little LA accent. It all caught me by surprise, how far it took her down the rabbit hole.”
Despite her surprise, Bean has stepped up to the challenge with grace, bringing a nuanced authenticity to the role and a sensitivity to the character that makes viewers root for her even when she’s at her lowest, attempting to sell her own avulsed tooth on the streets for drug money.
“Some people don’t even get to see a character arc like Wanda’s in a whole series, let alone a season or an episode,” she said of her good fortune with this amazing role. “I’m so, so grateful.”
Now that her character has been to the darkest depths of addiction, Bean is eager for fans to follow along for her climb to redemption as Season 5 progresses.
“I’m excited for fans to see Wanda as more than just a drug addict. To see how she’s put herself back together,” she says. “I think everybody’s kind of been waiting on the whole Wanda/Leon situation. Because in love, we go through a lot of stuff sometimes. You could never imagine loving someone who was an addict, but then also loving them once they beat the addiction.”
Not one to stay content with just one layered role in a rabidly-beloved drama series, Bean is also joining the cast of Starz’ pandemic-era megahit stripper fable P-Valley for its long-awaited season 2 return. The actress will take on the role of Roulette, a wild new dancer unafraid to break a few rules and turn The Pynk even further onto its side.
“I’m on the pole. I trained for this!” Bean said of her P-Valley character while chatting on the red carpet for Snowfall’s season 5 premiere. Without giving away too much, Bean simply says “she’s nothing like any of the characters that are already on the show.”
While so many actresses struggle to find roles that allow them to stretch to the far reaches of both positive and negative, Bean has managed to land TWO roles that allow her to show the softer side of Black women who society is often ready to judge harshly or disregard.
“I honestly think it’s just the universe, and ancestors, and God blessing me with something that’s so dear to me, because I respect everybody regardless of what they’ve been through, regardless of their past, their present, their future, who they are now. And, I don’t think everybody comes from that space,” she said.
The Stone Mountain, GA native has spent much of her life in the company people in these positions, thus giving her a unique vantage point of seeing the other side of the coin when it comes to taboo topics like addiction and sex work, and the lives of those who walk said paths.
“I also feel that a lot of my work mirrors some of my own life,” she shared. “With Snowfall, I have family members who were Wanda, who were definitely deep into the drug game. With P-Valley, I never danced, but I’m from Atlanta. The strip club is very prevalent here. And I used to work in Onyx as a shooter girl. I used to sell shots. So I think God just blessed me with stuff that’s real, so I can genuinely and truthfully speak from a non-biased place.”
With her firm belief that God and her ancestors are looking out for her, Bean considers herself that much more fortunate that she was able to connect so closely with legendary director and Snowfall creator and showrunner, John Singleton.
“He was such a light and so much fun. He would be so excited about Snowfall,” she says of Singleton. “He was always open to listen to anybody’s ideas and give you advice and encouragement on how to fulfill it. How to just navigate the industry, especially even as a black person in the arts and entertainment, things to be prepared for.”
“He told me specifically one time, ‘I got some good stuff for you’ on Snowfall but also non-related to Snowfall. He was telling me about some projects that he had in the works with Taraji [P. Henson] and another series he was going to do. So I felt very happy to have connected with him. And even though we didn’t get to see projects that he had in mind through, I know somewhere down the line, there’s going to be a project I book that he personally sent my way.”