Heed’s resident journalist and Noted reviewer, Namon Eugene, had the opportunity to sit down with rising star, Isaiah John. The young actor is currently portraying Leon Simmons, in John Singleton’s latest television pursuit on FX network entitled, Snowfall.
- You’re so great in Snowfall as Leon. Do you feel as if you found the role, or the role found you?
Thank you! I feel that some things are just meant to be. It was perfect timing for me and I would say it was perfect timing for the production of Snowfall as well. So I would say we found each other.
- Leon is kind and caring, but doesn’t think twice about taking very ruthless actions. How did you figure out how to balance that and keep him likable?
Leon is a protector of the people in his life, especially his childhood friend, Franklin Saint (played by Damson Idris). In my life, I am a kindhearted person and my years of acting classes taught me how to develop a character and make that character my own based off of the description that is given to me. I take a little of me into Leon when it comes to being kindhearted. This allows me to balance Leon in that way and also allows me to keep Leon in a place where he could go into protective mode and protect the people around him. Leon is a product of his environment.
- The time period Snowfall takes place in feels very authentic. Did you have to do a lot of research about the 1980s to figure out how your character would’ve lived and maneuvered in that decade?
Absolutely! Although I booked the role a few days before filming, my time was limited on how much research I could do to prepare for my first day on set. For one, my mom is a good storyteller. She immediately began telling me how it was back in 1983 and gave me insight on what she remembered when the crack epidemic hit New York City. Although New York was different as far as my character, but the problem was the same. Again, my training helped me prepare in a short time and as I began filming, I continued my research. I had to quickly learn how to speak like I am from South Central, how to walk, how to stand. Having a short time to get ready for the role, John Singleton introduced me to WC who is a west coast legend. WC called me in my hotel room and we immediately got to work and when I met him in person, he showed me how to walk and stand. WC told me I was a fast learner. I also immediately watched YouTube videos and of course, The Boyz N The Hood (which is one of my favorite movies) helped me prepare. I am from Atlanta, Georgia getting ready to transform into a young kid from South Central, Los Angeles.
- As things got crazier and crazier for your character and Franklin, instead of motivating him to get out of the crack game, Leon encourages him to continue, despite how dangerous it has shown itself to be. Leon clearly loves his friend, so why do you think he continued to push that route?
Wow, you have me diving deeper into Leon’s mindset. Again, Leon is a product of his environment. Leon has not seen the other side that his best friend, Franklin, got to see. So when Franklin pulls Leon into what he was building, Leon looked at it as an opportunity, a way out. He looked at it as a way to make a lot of money. Leon grew up poor. Just like any kid growing up poor, you see that there are people living great with nice things and your reality is very dim. At a young age, you learn there is no way out and Franklin showed Leon a way out, a way to be able to make fast money. Leon has been in the juvenile system, so all he sees is a way out and to be by the side of his best friend whom he trusts very much.
- Your character lived with a ton of people in his house. Will we learn more about his family life?
I believe the viewing audience will be interested in Leon’s family life. What is his relationship with his mother? Where is his father? Why Leon has a short temper? How did Leon end up in the juvenile system? As the storyline of Snowfall unfolds, the viewing audience will learn a little more (hopefully) in season 2.
- Do you still have your job as a janitor? Why did you keep it for so long?
No, I am no longer a janitor at my neighborhood gym. However, my job as a janitor allowed me to earn just enough money to pay my car note and insurance. I was making about $520 a month. There were times I scraped up pennies to put gas in my car. I had no choice but to keep my job because I wanted a car, which I bought after filming Barbershop: The Next Cut. Even when I was called to fly to LA for a callback/chemistry read, I took a chance because if I did not work, I did not get paid. My employer did not provide time off with pay. I took a leap of faith and I’m happy I did.
- Do you have a favorite John Singleton film? If yes, why that one?
First and foremost, John Singleton is brilliant! He has a God given talent that knows how to tell a story. John knows how to tug at your heart and make you feel all kinds of emotions when you see his work. I have several, but the one that stood out with me is Boyz N The Hood! Boyz N The Hood was so authentic and so real to a point it made me feel like I was right there. He made the audience fall in love with the characters, have compassion for the characters, and I got to understand the friendships and families struggles, which is the core of many black families today. The audience related to everything in that film, and it didn’t matter where you lived, it was the same story about many communities.
What’s next for you?
I did a movie called Downsized with my sister, Racquel Bianca John, where we played fraternal twins for TV One, coming this Fall. I have been auditioning for some major projects and hopefully I will have an announcement soon. One day, I would love to be a part of the Marvel franchise family.