Post Mortems

Snowfall's Gail Bean Offers the Dirty Details on Becoming Wanda

Gail Bean as Wanda

Gail Bean doesn’t consider herself a Method actress. But the way she gets into character on FX’s Snowfall (Wednesdays, 10/9c), is nothing short of methodical.

Her character Wanda is dirty and unkempt because of her life shattering addiction to crack. So, on the days Bean is shooting, she doesn’t shower and the Atlanta native digs her nails in the dirt. And then there are her teeth. Bean has a beautiful mega-watt smile that brightens a room. That’s why the makeup team has to brown her teeth and dry out her voluptuous pucker with the help of cosmetics.

“They put makeup my teeth to make them look like that,” Bean tells TVLine. “They spray my teeth with an alcohol like substance to dry them out and then they put the makeup on them and then they have to let it set. It feels so disgusting.”

“Have you ever eaten spinach and it leaves that film on your teeth? It’s like that,” she adds. “When I run my tongue across, I instantly feel disgusted. I have to brush my teeth to get it off and I have to do that every time I play Wanda. And that’s really difficult during COVID because we’re trying to do as few takes as possible.”

Gail Bean, FX's Snowfall

Knowing the process isn’t exactly fun, producers told Bean that she didn’t have to get her teeth dirtied up in makeup for a wide-pan shot during one episode. But Bean headed straight for the make-up chair anyway.

“I was like, ‘No, no. I need that to play Wanda. I need that to drop in,'” Bean recalls. “It’s not just for me. When I’m in full Wanda makeup, it’s crazy how differently people on the set treat me and look at me. Everyone — from the other actors, who are sharing scenes with me, to the crew. I have to give credit to our makeup team. They 100 percent hit the nail on the head when it comes to Wanda’s look. It’s that good.”

Debra Denson, Snowfall‘s makeup department head, says she appreciates Bean’s commitment.

Wanda crack addiction Gail Bean “She’s such a pretty girl, but it’s so much fun to dirty her up like that,” Denson admits with a chuckle. “The wardrobe helps. She looks so filthy as Wanda. But it is especially important to be authentic with a period piece. I grew up in South Central during the 1980s when crack destroyed our community. I know these people. When John Singleton asked me to work on this show, he knew that I wasn’t going to make the actors look cartoonish. We have to make them look believable.”

Denson, whose big and small screen credits include Straight Outta Compton, Star and Dolemite Is My Name, says using the right materials on Bean makes all the difference in how she is perceived by herself and others.

“It takes about 30 to 40 minutes to turn Gail into Wanda,” Denson says. “She has such nice skin, we have to use latex and shading to make it look blotchy and scabby. We cover her tattoos, because Black people didn’t have a lot of tattoos back then the way they do now, and we use a tobacco color on her teeth. But the transformation is immediate. Damson [Idris] and Isaiah [John] will be sitting there laughing and talking to Gail and the minute she’s finished with makeup, they start talking to her differently and backing away like she’s contagious. It’s amazing.”

For Bean, telling Wanda’s story in an organic way truly matters because she wants to change the perception of crack addiction and the lives it destroyed.

“You most certainly will see more from Wanda this season,” Bean says. “Although I know people want to see her kick her addiction and see her get back to herself, there is no going back. Even if she beats the addiction, she is going to be a new person. Crack changes you internally, mentally and physically.”

“I want to keep bringing humanity to Wanda,” she concludes. “The crack epidemic feels like it happened so long ago to so many people. They don’t really know it. Because of Snowfall, so many people are being educated and so many people are better able to sympathize with addicts who before they didn’t even see as human.”

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