With her scene-stealing portrayals as the uproarious Rasheeda on the hit HBO show Insecure and the bubbly Nadine on the FX gem Atlanta, Gail Bean has carved out her own patented brand of unrepentant black exuberance that has been missing from our screens. Just take a look at her resume and you’ll find a rarity: an actress who moves seamlessly from comedy to drama. Each of Bean’s roles show the kind of versatility that laid the groundwork for the careers of many of our faves.
With the second season finale of Snowfall airing Thursday, I recently had the opportunity to sit down with the Atlanta native and carefree black girl to discuss her roles on all three shows, code-switching in the black community, the best show she’s ever done and the Oscar-caliber actors and actresses she aspires to work with.
How did your role in Atlanta come about?
I was auditioning for a bunch of things and I got an audition for Atlanta, which I was super excited about because I love that show and of course, I’m from there. It was a self-tape. The casting director was actually in New York. I sent it over, and then a few days later, I get a text from my old director, Kris Swanberg from Unexpected, who said she recommended me for a role in Atlanta. I’m thinking this is a completely different role because it had been a few days. It turned out that the director was her friend. She told me that I was the only one she liked. Immediately, I screenshot the text and sent it to my manager. By the end of Monday, I had the offer. It was mine. I always tell people to be humble and don’t be a diva because you never know how who knows who, who is watching and who can put in a word later on down the line, even if they’re not in the industry. I did Unexpected in 2015, so I thought that was really dope.
Did shooting in Atlanta bring an added level of comfort?
Yes, that’s the great thing about Atlanta. It shoots in Atlanta and it shoots on location. It’s not on a soundstage, or on an actual production stage or studio lot. I feel like that helps with the authenticity and just gives you the whole organic vibe. Atlanta has a feel. Every city has a feel. Shooting it in the city, you have the local crew and that’s a really imperative vibe that feeds into what’s shot. I’m currently on Snowfall and the crew that I’ve worked with, a lot of them are from Los Angeles. They bring that L.A. vibe, but the crew that is here on Snowfall is completely different from the crew I worked with on Atlanta, all the way down to vanity trailers, the people who do hair, makeup and wardrobe. It’s a whole essence. When a show is about your city, you feel good and it allows people who aren’t from your there to get a sense of your city and get an authentic feel for it.
Many people remember you from your role as Rasheeda on Insecure, where you shared scenes with Yvonne Orji. Rasheeda is advised by Molly to temper down her blackness in order to succeed in her predominantly white law firm. What are your thoughts on code-switching? Do you think we’ve reached a point where respectability politics are becoming a bit antiquated?
I feel like right now, we as black people feel like we have to maintain ourselves a certain way, or tuck in our blackness. Some people think differently like you’re not really acting fake or tucking in your blackness. It’s just they don’t need to know everything. They don’t need to be deeply involved in our culture. I feel like we are at a point still in the world where it’s a little sensitive. You don’t want to show everybody all of you and that doesn’t mean you are being fake. It just means, they’re not ready for all of you. I don’t feel anyone is privileged to all of you off the jump.
You’ve been on Insecure, Atlanta and Snowfall. Can you describe your experience on all three shows, how they differed from one another and how they were all similar?
Hands down, Atlanta is the best show that I’ve ever done. Great vibes, great energy, really free and you can tell that everybody’s working together as a team. They invite you in like family. Atlanta is just very organic. I feel like they win every Emmy because they have Emmy-deserving people both in front of and behind the camera. They just allow people to be their authentic and organic selves — and greatness comes from that. Insecure was amazing. I was on their first season. I feel like as black people, we are still at a point where we have no room for air. Insecure was new, coming out with its first season and everybody wanted to get it right. I was kind of everybody’s first shot at it. Melina (Matsoukas) was used to doing videos with Beyonce and Solange. Issa Rae had the webseries, but she had to battle HBO buying it, then shelving it and taking a while before they pushed the green light on it. Everybody was anxious. Everybody really wanted to work and believe in it, but it’s one of those moments where you are all kind of holding your breath. For season one, everybody was like, we gotta be perfect, we gotta get it right and they did. With Snowfall, I came in on Season 2. It’s real LA. So, they invited me in and felt like family. Because it’s a period piece, I want to say people stay in character. It was a lot of fun. I always wanted to do a period piece and it was my very first. I think that’s what was different for Snowfall, taking it back and doing the research. That was the only television project where I say that I was foreign to this and with Atlanta it was natural, because I’ve been there all my life. A piece of home stepped into my television.
How are you similar to character Nadine on Atlanta?
She’s so sweet. She’s really present. You meet people and they’re holding a conversation with you, but they’re really not there. They’re not listening or caring. Nadine is not that. With her, I could tell that she was really present. She’s really kind and she’s really genuine. She just soaks up every second of love and fun. I feel like she’s very go-with-the-flow.
Giving you an opportunity to speak it into existence, what are some things you hope to accomplish later on in your career?
I would like to have my own successful production company. I would like to be a series lead in an amazing television show that breaks barriers for not just women, but women of color and the black community. I want it to spread love and bring us together. I would also like to have my own nonprofit that helps the youth in Atlanta and in other major cities. I want like to have a hit feature film at the box office with an Oscar-winning actor. I really want to work with a bunch of different actors, but I want to accomplish a moment with an Oscar-winning actor. I want to work with Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Halle Berry, Taraji P. Henson…all the greats! I love Taraji. She’s so phenomenal and she’s not tainted by the industry.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.