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July 16, 2019

Ready to Rise

Angela Lewis and her Snowfall character Louie are both fighting for their place - and winning.

Virginia Pelley
  • Lan Doan

On her first trip to Europe last fall, Angela Lewis marveled at the snowy view from the top of Switzerland’s famed Jungfrau.

Meanwhile, critics have been marveling at Lewis, cited as a standout as Aunt Louie in FX’s Snowfall, where a very different kind of snow blankets 1980s South Los Angeles.

The series, which returns July 10 for season three, traces the origins and CIA orchestration of the crack epidemic. Louie’s nephew Franklin (Damson Idris) plays a central role in bringing the drug to L.A., and she both protects and corrupts him.

Lewis hails from Detroit, where supportive parents and an extended family helped spark her early love for the arts. She earned her BFA in acting at the University of Michigan and has had guest roles on such series as The Good Wife, The Last Ship and Code Black.

To develop Louie (short for Louise), she watched videos of drug use on YouTube. “I had to work backwards,” Lewis says. “We first see her very high and beating some woman up for a random reason. How do you get there? I can’t see myself in that position, but I couldn’t judge her. I had to find a way in.”

Many black women endure the tragedies and restrictions that Louie has in her life, Lewis observes. “It’s not uncommon for us to be abused and told no,” she says. “I’ve had plenty of privilege and opportunities, and people still look at me like I’m something less than I am. It’s assumed I must not know the finer things in life; I’m undervalued and underestimated.”

Intelligent and ambitious, Louie is also underestimated. But toward the end of season two, she’s fighting back — and winning. “She has gotten a taste of real power,” Lewis says. “And for the first time in her life she’s been entrusted with major responsibility, when Franklin asks her to meet with [CIA operative] Teddy [Carter Hudson]. I don’t think she takes that lightly.”

It’s full speed ahead for Louie in season three, as she assumes a bigger role in Franklin’s crack operation. It’s full speed ahead for Lewis, too. “I’ve learned to ask questions when I’m uncomfortable in a scene, like, ‘What’s my angle?’” she says. “I’m learning I belong here.”

Snowfall is available on FX+, iTunes and Amazon.

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 7, 2019

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