'Manboy's the Good Guy': 'Snowfall' Star Melvin Gregg on Playing the Villain and His Future

'Snowfall' star Melvin Gregg speaks on becoming Manboy for the FX series, his journey in the world of Hollywood, and his appreciation for home renovation.

Melvin Gregg

Image via Justin Vaseur

Melvin Gregg

For those of you watching Snowfall, you were no doubt amazed by the work of Melvin Gregg, who portrayed the villainous Manboy, starting back in Season 2. An intriguing character, Manboy entered as a wildcard. Was he down with Franklin Saint and his crew? They sho ‘nuff would ride together; Franklin hooked up Manboy with the supply, and they even tried to take out Scully back in that insane Episode 2 gun battle. Without giving away spoilers, after last night’s episode? We had to talk to Melvin Gregg.

Snowfall is one of the handful of projects that have helped elevate Gregg past being the Vine star many remember him for. From his work on Snowfall to dropping two of our favorite Netflix projects of the last few years—Season 2 of American Vandal and Steven Soderbergh’s 2019 basketball drama High Flying Bird—Gregg has without a doubt erased any notions of him being “that Vine guy”. Dude’s an actor, he’s been an actor, and with Manboy's arc, he’s proved that he can hang with cats doing it today...and outshine them.

During a recent conversation via Zoom, Gregg reflects on his journey from Vine to FX to a number of intriguing projects, including working on the Nicole Kidman-led Hulu miniseries Nine Perfect Strangers, as well as working with Andra Day in The United States vs. Billie Holiday, of which she already won a Golden Globe and could win an Oscar for! Gregg even dishes on one of his latest hobbies: home renovation.

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My homie had put me onto your IG and the home renovations you’ve been doing. Has home renovation always been a thing you’ve been into, or is it you got a spot, now you want to make sure it’s the best it could be?
Nah, it’s never been a thing. I never lived in a house before, so I never really cared. This is my first house I lived in ever. But I feel like something about that … I got a baby. Something about that is, it feel like it’s yours, so you don’t mind putting stuff into it, you don’t got to worry about that deposit coming back. But also too, I had got a production studio maybe three, four years ago, and it was just a warehouse. So I needed offices built. I didn’t have money to hire contractors. So I had a friend who knew a little bit. And between that and YouTube, we built out two offices. I ran electrical, did the painting, did the drywall. I learned a lot at the time. Moving into the house last year, I don’t know, I just enjoy it, it’s therapeutic. I’m not thinking about nothing else other than what’s right in front of you, so I really enjoy it.

I’m not saying you want to do it, but if you wanted to make a home renovation show, like a new school Bob Vila or something like that.
I’ve had some conversations about it, man, with different producer with HGTV and other production companies that have that link. If I can figure out a way to make it make sense, I’m with it.

I saw you were already posting ads
I understand a big part of it.

It’s a blessing to say you finally being able to grab yourself a house, but you’ve been working for it. I want to say, for me, over the last three years—pretty much whenever I saw you on Season 2 of American Vandal—I’m like, “All right, he’s funny, but you’re able to see a little bit more.” And now every new project seems like it’s another level. When would you say you really started seeing yourself as an actor?
I always did, before social media. I started acting in college, in 2007. I dropped out of school, sold everything I own, and moved to California to pursue it. So I was always serious about it. I just couldn’t get the roles, couldn’t get the attention, couldn’t get the attention from the agents that could get me the roles, and couldn’t get the roles, because I didn’t have the agents. So it’s a Catch-22.vI saw social media as a way to put myself in front of a lot of people. Metaphorically and physically, it put me in front of a lot of actors as working. It [also] put me in front of them meaning, with me having an audience, I’m more valuable to a production.

I always felt like I was creative, [I just] never saw myself as the funny guy, never the funny kid in the class, or in my family, nothing like that. But I was always really creative. So Vine was an opportunity to use those skillsets to amass an audience, which I would eventually use to leverage myself into rooms to get bigger and better acting opportunities. It was always part of my plan. American Vandal was the first project … Wait, actually High Flying Bird, I shot them at the same time. 

High Flying Bird, I finished that, the same day I finished that, I went and finished American Vandal, but I had stopped social media a month prior, completely stopped. I was doing Facebook, and I had did 100 million views in a week for four weeks straight. It was at the peak. And I was making real good money, I had a studio, everything was great. But I just wasn’t happy. I was depressed, to be real. And I was like, “That’s not what I came out here to do. I don’t want to get caught up in this.” This was just supposed to be used to be a step. So I was like, “Boom, I’m done with all of it.” I stopped it all. I was like, “I’m just focusing 100 percent on acting.” Because prior, I tried to tap dance in and out, I did a Hulu show called Freakish, and [at the] same time, I’m doing videos. Never giving shit my 100 percent focus. So it was December 2017, I was like, “I’m done. I’m done.” And in January 2018 was when I booked American Vandal and started filming in February. So it had my full attention.

I felt good on set, I felt like things were working, it was clicking. And then when reviews [come], and New York Times, and all these write-ups, [were] actually validating what I had felt, it was reassuring, and it was like, “Cool, I made the right decision.” And from that point on, I was just trying to continue to level up, as you say.

I’m noting that now, especially with a lot of Black YouTube stars specifically, and I don’t know if this is true, but it feels like the more they stay attached to the platform, the less their star starts to rise. But when I see them basically just delete the app and really start to focus is when you’re able to start being taken seriously in those next arenas. You’ve also picked some amazing roles. Even for your work on #blackAF, the conversations you’re having on there in your episode, I was already like, “This my favorite episode.” It was funny, it was raw, and it felt so real, it felt like people I know. I think with you in particular, I feel like you hone into that, but it also seems like that’s all you. I saw an interview you did a couple years ago talking about embodying characters. You said you essentially imagine that the character is you in a different universe. Is that your central approach to every role?
Yeah, man, personally, I feel like you got to ground yourself. You got to ground the character in something. You can’t just be picking at, “Oh, I want this to be this way for whatever reason, this was for whatever reason.” Because they’re not consistent within anything. So I try to ground them in a reality. And the only reality I know is mine. Of course, you can [be] put in different places and different relationships, but the only way to be consistent is to be myself.

I got friends that are actors, so we talk about this stuff all the time. I feel like that’s what differentiates one actor from the next; it’s not the ability to act, because there are so many actors who can act. You give them lines, and they could be natural, and be believable. That’s what acting is, essentially. But the things that separate one actor from the next is the choices he makes, how he decides to deliver those lines, the little things he does like the colors. And they come from who you are, essentially. It’s not 100 percent of who you are, of course, but the commonality in between your characters is who you are.

If you look at every character Will Smith has done, there’s a piece of who Will is in there, because the reason he makes these choices is because it’s him. And that’s how I feel like the stars are made, with Denzel, to Leonardo DiCaprio, to Tom Hardy, it’s you get a sense of who they are. That’s why if you see a new Denzel movie come out, you want to go see it because you know you. You don’t know what you’re getting, but there’s something that you saw, that you liked before, that you want to see again.

Something in him specifically.
Yeah, something in him. You don’t want to see Denzel do a movie where he trying to act like Will, because it ain’t going to be that. You don’t want to see Will do a movie where now he trying to act like Denzel. Come on, man, that ain’t your thing. The sooner you can find what works for you, just hone in on that, and make that the best you can possibly make it.

Melvin Gregg as Manboy in 'Snowfall'

That last statement is really true in what you’ve been doing with Manboy. Watching Season 4 of Snowfall specifically, we really start to see how Manboy’s mind works. When you initially read for this role, what was it about Manboy for you that said, “I need this role, I need to be a part of this”?
There were a few things, man. One of them, the first one, Snowfall is my favorite show. I grew up on gangster movies, I guess you would say, Boyz n the Hood, Menace II Society, Juice is my favorite movie. And that was my reality. I lived in the projects up until I moved to California. So that was my reality, that was more, like I said in #blackAF, I don’t know what Citizen Kane is. In real life, I don’t know what Citizen Kane is. You know what I mean? That wasn’t my world. So to have a show like Snowfall, that fits into the same wheelhouse as those projects that I grew up on, and a show that’s crafted as well as it is, and performed as well as it is? Everything about it was great.

When I got the role, just reading the breakdown, and the characters, I feel like there were a lot of attributes that I naturally had, there’s nothing I got to reach to have, it’s naturally in me. So I don’t have to fake to be charming or charismatic, I could just exist in that world. Again, he was a villain, man. If you ask my agents, I’ve been wanting to play a villain for the longest just because, on TV, light skin characters always fit in a box.

That’s facts.
All of us are not like Shemar Moore. I know I’m not! And it’s just, I want to play something with some different colors that people not going to expect me to do, but I can win them over. I can completely win them over, because a lot of my auditions, it’s just the good boy next door, or he’s in love with a girl, heartbroken type. And it’s easier for me to relate to Manboy, because of how I grew up. I feel like I tell people now, I feel like my dad raised Manboy. My dad taught me how to cook crack when I was 11.

Oh, wow.
He taught me how to shoot guns when I was a kid.You know what I mean? I been around that. I got so many relatives that are drug addicts. It was all outside my front door. I could bring realism into this character, and not just create a trope of what a drug dealer is. So I was like, “Man, it checked every box.” Going into it, I was excited.

That parallel you talk about, when it comes to what you’re reading for versus what you ended up getting in a Snowfall; a lot of that is partly because of who’s in the writer’s room. I don’t know the makeup of the entire Snowfall writer’s room, but I’m imagining there are people in there who, like you, understood that life or at least have people to call on. It helps. It’s good to be able to have guys like yourself who may not be the stereotypical master villain for a show. In our world, that guy right there who has no problem cleaning techs and Uzis while he’s answering the phone, setting up murders, or whatever… In our world, that’s real. That’s what people have seen. But you need the people who-
Have seen it.

-and understand that. Seen it and understand that that could be a thing that could work on television.
I attribute that to John [Singleton], man, because I mean, I went in that room, when I went into that … I only had one audition. And it was the producers, writers, director, and I could be mistaken, but I think John Singleton was the only person of color in the room, so who’s to say, but I feel like if he wasn’t in the room… The only image of that character they know is the ones they have seen on TV, and the ones they seen on TV all look the same. So they probably would have fallen into that same box, and the character would have been… I don’t know what he would have been, because he changed when I left the room. The Manboy you see on TV is not the Manboy that was on paper. But John, being from the neighborhood and being a real guy who understands that role, saw something in me that he felt like he could entrust the character in my hands.

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What’s been some of the most fun that you’ve had working on Snowfall? Or what are some of your favorite moments to end up shooting, or being a part of on the show?
All of them, man. All of them. It was always exciting to go to work just because it’s not even just me being in this world, it’s the characters in it. I said it was my favorite show, and it’s not just the world, it’s the characters, man, and the actors that portray these characters. I think I was watching Season 2, and Franklin had a line, someone was like, “You paranoid.” And he was like, “I’m a black man in America, you damn right I’m paranoid.” And I was like, “Yo, he’s a beast, man.” So I looked him up on Instagram, and I was like, “Bro, man, I don’t know you, you don’t know me, but I just got to say, you killing this. You killing this show, man. Just respect.” And he hit me back, he was like, “Oh, man, I really appreciate it.” So it just speaks to how humble and grounded he is. But also to me being a fan of his work. Same thing with Isaiah John, that scene when he was in jail, talking to Franklin, that scene was crazy. All of the actresses, Angela Lewis, Amin Joseph. I was a fan of everyone’s work. Michael Hyatt, who plays Cissy, she [goes] back to The Wire.

I was a fan coming into it, so whenever I get to go to the set is a masterclass. And to be in a world that I enjoy being in, man. Part of my childhood, I wanted to be a gangster. I feel like most kids do. Seemed fun. But that’s not the lifestyle that I wanted when I realized the repercussions of the crimes. But in this show, I get to live [in] that universe, which I was that guy in. I don’t have to suffer the consequences. I could clean Uzis and shoot people up, and go home to my baby at the end of the night. I get to be a kid.

Are you Manboy from the moment you put on those clothes to the moment you take them off? How much does that character sit on you when you’re working?
It sits on me when I’m working. Not to the point where I’m aggressive, vicious, or walk around being maniacal or manipulative. But just the energy, just that sly energy. Same way you feel after you drink some Hennessy.

Word. (laughs)
I’m in that energy while I’m in character. It ain’t even on purpose. It’s just, as far as my Method when it comes to acting, I like to submerse myself into the characters so my choices are grounded in something, like I said before. So yeah, I sit in them a little bit, and I got to try to shake it when it’s over with, get out of it, and get back to who I am. That’s where my family is most important because that’s my constant so I can get back to who I am, and not like Tupac, who’s one of my favorite actors, who remained Bishop.

Right, getting so lost in it-
Long after they wrap.

What do you think about the moves Manboy has made on the show?
He’s ambitious. I don’t think there’s anybody who can argue with me that Manboy is a bad person and he makes bad decisions and that he’s a snake. Everything in my mind that Manboy does is justified, and it’s in the right. They say he’s a snake, I said, “He’s done nothing worse than what Franklin has done.” They saying he’s crazy, he’s off edge, he’s hot-headed. When? Every time shit hit the fan, he brings it to Franklin, from the first scene, “Look this what happen.” He didn’t come shooting the spot up, he came with no guns, smiling, “Look, this the situation, this how I’m willing to make it right.” [When there was beef over the corners], Manboy said, “No, let me talk to Franklin first, I ain’t going to go to war because one of mine gets some cuts and bruises.” When his niece got shot, what he do? He brought it to Franklin, “Look, man, let’s make this right.” So he’s not hot-headed.

When it comes to being a snake, he went out to help find Melody when they couldn’t find her. Louis was like, “Get rid of Wanda, we don’t want her around.” Cool, I’ll get rid of her. It’s just, in my mind, as Manboy, I guess you could say, that’s where I’ll still be in character, I’m like, “Franklin snaked the old people at the book store, he done shot his homeboy up. He done lied to his mama every chance he gets. He supposed to been got out the game, you ask her. Lying to everybody else.” You know what I mean?

And now people low-key know that he’s in bed with the CIA. There’s-
Yeah. He went to the cops and was like, “You know, that shootout last week, I could show you all the players, where they at.” Damn, you done went to the cops? The cops was like, “No, we don’t want nothing to do with it.”

That’s facts. (laughs)
He tried to snitch, and they turned him down. So in my mind, I’m like, “But I’m the snake. All right, Manboy the snake. But then I got to remember, it’s a TV show, and he’s the protagonist. But I get wrapped up, I’m like, “Man, Manboy's the good guy.”

Melvin Gregg plays Manboy in 'Snowfall'

That’s funny. I can’t wait to see how your career is going to grow. I didn’t even realize when I was watching The United States vs. Billie Holiday, I’m like, “Oh, shit, Melvin’s in there shooting dope with Billie Holiday, that’s crazy!” Andra Day put in work. What was it like working with her on that?
Man, first time I seen her, I just went to visit set, I wasn’t working that day. When I met her, she was in character, and she didn’t break character, and that just shows how serious she was about it.

When I finally got a chance to link with her and just kick it, I met Andra, and she just a Cali girl. She’s just down to Earth, cool ass chick. And we were just talking about who we were, really. And then briefly we talked about the characters and their relationship. It was a lot to the relationship that we didn’t see on camera, but just trying to ground it in something so we know who our characters are and their relationship.

But man, she’s a force, as everybody could see. Her dedication is crazy. She lost so much weight, she cut her hair. That alone speaks to her dedication because it’s not like she was just an actor looking for an opportunity. She’s a Grammy-nominated artist. To completely abandon her image in her career that’s thriving, to take a chance on something else, it just shows her dedication. And it didn’t stop with just the look. The commitment to her dialect coach. And she did that, I think, for a year up to it. Of course, she got the vocals down pat.

She put so much into it, and she gave it her everything, man. We did a scene where she was vulnerable, she had to take her clothes off. And man, I feel like she did that scene maybe 15 times. I felt uncomfortable just being there. Damn, she really put her body, her mind, her soul, everything into this. So to see her get all of the accolades that she’s getting, I’m so happy, but it’s well deserved. It’s not like she won the lottery. She worked for it, she deserves it.

You’re a part of a Hulu miniseries with Nicole Kidman, right? What can you say about Nine Perfect Strangers?
It’s a great cast, you got Nicole Kidman, Melissa McCarthy, Regina Hall. You got Luke Evans, Bobby Cannavale, Samara Weaving, Tiffany Boone, Manny Jacinto, Grace Van Patten. It’s a great cast, and to be a part of it is a blessing. To get away from America during the time of the re-election and COVID, to be able to work in beautiful Australia, and bring my family out, it was a blessing. But it’s a cool project, man. It takes place at this retreat resort for people with issues that they want to work on. Nicole Kidman’s character is helping people with that. Then it takes a turn. It’s cool, man. If you’re a Manboy fan, don’t watch it expecting to see Manboy. You not going to see any of that. (laughs) But it was a fun project to be a part of, and I learned a lot working with those actors, man. The second half of Snowfall, we did after I shot [Nine Perfect Strangers]. So I feel like I came back to Snowfall, in Episodes 5 to the rest of the season, with a different type of confidence after working with those people.

Any word on what’s to come after Nine Perfect Strangers?
I’m about to do an indie. I’m about to do a cool indie that I’m producing in the next week, so trying to get all of that stuff together. We’ll be able to do that in the next couple weeks. It’s a real cool concept, man, sci-fi type thing. I feel like as an actor, it’s definitely going to be an exercise for me, which I’m always down for the challenge. So that, and then just developing stuff, man. I got things that I’ve been developing over the years that [I] now I feel like I’m in the position to get them made. I’m still a creative. A lot hasn’t changed. A lot has changed since doing social media, but that part of me just been dormant, but is ready to move.

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