When we first met Snowfall’s Jerome Saint, played by Amin Joseph, he was a small-time pot dealer in South Central and a gruff, wisecracking father figure to his sister’s son, Franklin (Idris Damson). When his nephew first expresses interest in joining the drug game, Jerome’s paternal instincts compel him to turn Franklin away, but Franklin is headstrong and ambitious: As he builds connections beyond what his uncle could have imagined, Jerome goes from guide to bodyguard to rival.
Now in its fifth season, the show is exploring the bittersweet aftertaste of the luxuries the business has afforded Jerome and his family. Unprocessed trauma of the game’s casualties and personal toll has begun to weigh on him; after his close friend and Franklin’s bodyguard, Peaches — a veteran who was secretly struggling with heroin addiction — betrays the family and flees with their money, Jerome oscillates from hot-headed to heartbroken. Propelled by his former friend’s fall from grace, Jerome decides that he needs to change course. His plan begins with two acts: a declaration to pursue his dreams outside of his extralegal profession, and, in this week’s episode, marrying Louie (Angela Lewis), his longtime girlfriend and business partner.
Vulture spoke with Joseph about the show’s five seasons, Jerome’s dreams deferred, and the aesthetics that make his character one of the most iconic uncles on TV.
One of my favorite things about Jerome is his eye for the aesthetic: His hair, his fits, and his chains are always on point. Does his fashion kind of help you tap into his character?
My all-time favorite look is where we meet him in the pilot with the fishnet blue tank top and the gray sweats and the white socks. That’s the foundation. That’s the guy who maybe had a little rope chain but wasn’t doing it too much back then. It represented him being the godfather of his community, commanding everything within those square blocks. That’s who I see Jerome as. With more money, you have to spend it somewhere. He’s becoming a version of himself that he has to look in the mirror and deal with whether or not that’s who he really wanted to be. With all of this newfound money, opportunity, and access, is he really reaching his full potential or are there dreams deferred within him that he has dared not to strive for?
Jerome laughs, he cracks a lot of jokes. He yells, but he smiles a lot, too. In episode seven this season, where he’s going out to find his friend Peaches (DeRay Davis), he starts crying when he can’t find him at the heroin house. It’s a really striking scene. How do you think about Jerome’s tonal shifts?
To be frank, Jerome doesn’t drive the narrative, so as an actor I’ve always tried to find ways for him to fill his space. And very early, I asked, in an ensemble as huge as this, Where could I fill his space and still be true to this type of man in this type of circumstance? Humor was, early on, a way for me to do that. I would find ways to lean into being that uncle that may not be driving the story, but he’s there, and he feels authentic to the environment, to the circumstance.
As he evolved, I was able to find a cantankerous side of him, a substance-abusing dependency, a part of him that is quick to say things, who is rash and quick to explode. There’s been development to show a more three-dimensional portrayal of him. With that, I’m able to layer in some of the things that I feel like this man had been feeling — these dreams deferred, the love, and the compassion. In the earlier parts of the series, you could see Jerome fiercely lash out at Louie. Dysfunction on a billion. But the writers afforded me the opportunity to show redemption and a change in the character, for him to profess his love to her and to propose to her. I’m thankful that I’ve been able to show the contrast in a Black man like him. We can love, we can cry, we can hate.
I’m really ecstatic to be able to play a character like this because I honestly don’t feel that many characters, especially on television, get to play this many tones and flip from hot to cold the way I do. And it’s because the groundwork was already there.
We have to talk about the wedding. The turnaround from the proposal to the wedding is very fast, from episode seven to episode eight. What do you think inspired or compelled Jerome to propose when he did?
Jerome has a code. It’s just that the code was murky in the beginning, made up of the skeletons of dreams and deferred pasts of things that did not work out. Remember, he was a man willing to stay on his stoop and live his life out as a small-time drug dealer. That was the amount of ambition he had. Jerome is funny, Jerome is charismatic, and Jerome is tough, but he is also smart. He has a heart. Is he getting enough out of his life force? He isn’t. He is wasting his life. You could put on whatever fucking jewelry you want to put on or you can have the latest car but then you realize you’re wasting your life.
So what’s the first thing he can do to get that back on track? He can make a decision to properly respect the people in his life. Louie: He needs to make her his wife. Why would he shack? He has the money. They’re common law already. Why wouldn’t you make that solid? With life going out of control, he’s looking to bring control back. He’s looking to be able to say, Okay, this is something tangible. I love this woman. Let me propose to this woman. This is a new determined focus, and that’s why I also think the wedding happens quickly — because he hasn’t done all the work yet.
Before Jerome proposes, he does tell Louie that there are going to be some changes and he’s going to start pursuing his own dreams. For a person who is typically very comfortable or accepting of a position of service and accommodation for those that he loves, it felt like a really important moment for Jerome to choose himself, even prior to choosing Louie in particular. How significant do you think this moment is in terms of him putting himself first? And what are your big hopes for him as a character?
Big hopes for him as a character? I would love for Jerome to find success outside of crack cocaine. I would love for him to find success that is not necessarily being tethered to his nephew or the ambitions of his wife. And he’s had that already. Jerome is his own man, but because of his unconditional love for Louie, that’s the point at which you compromise, right? So there’s the big compromise: “I’m going to be here for you, but I can’t be here for you.” And that’s impossible. You’re going to end up making the choice. And I think that is so smart, the way the writers are creating a little conundrum here that we are going to navigate. In between Jerome and Louie is Franklin and his ambition. It would all be different if it were Jerome that was so hell-bent on being powerful, but that’s not his hot spot. His hot spot is actually more communal.
Jerome has already been through a lot. Even before he got into business with Franklin, he had been in the streets to a certain extent, had experienced incarceration, and had otherwise been exposed to violence. This season, we’re seeing Jerome really confront his mental health, which is scary, perhaps in a different way than his life is already scary. What leads to Jerome having this kind of break?
There wasn’t a huge build here, right? Leonard Chang wrote that episode that focuses on my character in that particular way because mental health is something that plagues society and Black men. We definitely have our fair share of mental ills that go untreated and unacknowledged. Jerome was really rattled by Louie almost being taken from him. He did a lot of work to rehabilitate himself in the first place to treat Louie as an equal. That was one of the first watershed moments. Then his pride got the best of him in wanting to confront Manboy (Melvin Gregg). Then the first person he had ever killed was this young boy he shot in the head early in season four. And then he exacted revenge on Khadijah, Skully’s baby mother (Geffri Hightower and De’aundre Bonds, respectively), and ended up killing some of the corner boys. All these things really have taken a toll on him.
I feel like there can be a glorification of those things, but mental-health-wise, for a man to feel like he was losing the thing that was closest to him and then to enact that type of revenge, he can’t be mentally healthy. Now he and Louie embark on this kind of Bonnie-and-Clyde thing where Louie is the boss and I’m the muscle, and I feel like he’s a ghost of himself. At least that’s how I’ve tried to convey it. You might get the same little slick one-liners from Jerome, but he’s not the man we saw in the first season or second season, carefree and cackling. Now, those one-liners are usually coming with a punch at someone. It’s very vicious. It’s got venom on it. All this anger, all of this built-up frustration and lack of clarity is really him trying to untangle this mental and emotional web that has become unbearable for him, and he can no longer go on.
I’m most proud of the scene at the end of the episode when he goes back to his neighborhood. That was something I asked the writers to actually write in, because I felt that he needed to be grounded again. Like that mesh in his wardrobe, that is who he is. For him to be able to say, You know what, I want to get back to my people, I want to get back to building businesses, there’s newfound energy and vitality to Jerome. He’s been reborn, and you’ll start noticing a different beat about him. He doesn’t need the exterior mask as much going forward.
What would you say is different about what season five is giving in comparison to earlier ones?
For me, this season is an aberration of some of the past seasons. Season three was so much about the community and how crack was destroying families. You could see what was happening on the ground. You could see Franklin’s childhood friend and girlfriend, Melody (Reign Edwards), and what it did to Wanda (Gail Bean), and you could see the effects of it, what it did to Andre Wright (Marcus Henderson), right? Trying to protect his community. Season four was war. It was turf. It was who has the plug. So many people were killed. Season five is a more abstract approach, more abstract than we’ve dared to go. We did that in, let’s say, season three, episode ten, but since then we haven’t been very abstract. And that is what this season feels like. It’s almost like individual capers, silos of experiences the characters are going through. I like the season, but I’m waiting to really see it through all ten episodes.
Did you ever expect the show would have both this kind of critical acclaim and longevity?
I remember Isaiah John (who plays Franklin’s friend Leon), John Singleton, Idris Damson, and myself being in a hotel room on our initial press run in the first season. We were kind of sulking, like, What’s going on, it doesn’t seem like we have an audience. Why haven’t they responded to the show the way we thought they should have? And I remember John, the late, great John Singleton — he was like, “Hey, man, y’all, actors are just too impatient.” Our show came at a time when we weren’t yet at the height of streaming. It was still about cable. It still was a lot about broadcast. During the pandemic, we were put on Hulu and people could binge the content, whereas on FX you couldn’t do that. We had a core audience, but it really expanded once it was put on Hulu and people could binge it. We always thought we were doing good work and that this was a story that needed to be told.