TV - Gangs of London

With loads of *** SPOILER WARNINGS *** for series 2, read an interview with Gangs of London's Elliott Finch, Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù ...

Press Release

One year after the death of Sean Wallace and the violent reckonings of series one, the map and soul of London has been redrawn. The surviving Wallaces are scattered, the Dumanis broken and estranged, and ex-undercover cop Elliot is now being forced to work for the investors. To restore order, the investors have aligned behind heroin baron Asif Afridi and together they have installed a new ruling force in London in the form of brutal gang leader - Koba. His vision for the criminal landscape is a dictatorship, a world in which old school gangster codes don’t exist and in which he holds a complete monopoly over London’s drug trade. But this monopoly can’t last forever. The gangs are fighting back - who will win the battle for London’s soul?

Series 2 of Gangs of London will see our old favourites and new players fight back against the new order, forcing sworn enemies to work together and family members to betray each other. Full of twists, turns and exhilarating, cinematic action sequences, the series will introduce us to new characters and unexpected leaders will emerge.

The new series sees the return of Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù, Paapa Essiedu, Lucian Msamati, Michelle Fairley, Orli Shuka, Pippa Bennett-Warner, Brian Vernel, Narges Rashidi, Asif Raza and Valene Kane reprising their roles.

Joining the ensemble cast include Waleed Zuaiter (Baghdad Central, The Spy) as Koba, French rapper Jasmine Armando in her first TV role as Saba, Fady El-Sayed (Baghdad Central, A Private War) as Faz, Salem Kali (Un Prophete, Dealer) as Basem and Aymen Hamdouchi (SAS: Red Notice, Criminal: UK) as Hakim.

The award-winning series is created by Gareth Evans and his creative partner Matt Flannery. Gangs of London is a Pulse Films production in association with SISTER for Sky Studios and AMC. Executive Producers are Thomas Benski, Jane Featherstone, Tom Butterworth, Corin Hardy, Helen Gregory, Gareth Evans, and Matt Flannery. Series Executive Producer is Hugh Warren. Series 2 is directed by Corin Hardy, Marcela Said and Nima Nourizadeh. The series is written by Tom Butterworth, Lauren Sequeira, Danusia Samal, Rowan Athale, Meg Salter and co-written by Steve Searle.

What can we expect from the new series of Gangs of London?

Firstly, we’re really glad to be back. We are delighted with the response that the audiences gave to the first series and we really hope to give them more of what they like most. I think Gangs is definitely well-known and well-received and famous for its excellent action sequences and we’ve got those again this year. Also, a lot of the heart. The relationships between the characters. So I think you can expect more of the same and some a little bit better.

When you and the producers and the writers were talking about the new series, what was important for you in terms of content?

It was really important to me that I had loads of fight sequences because that’s my favourite part of the show. Another thing that’s important to me is – and I didn’t realise this until it happened – when I walked onto the set for the first time at the beginning of the second series and felt the family feeling. The same sound department was here, the same lighting departments. It really felt like we’d all achieved something together and we were all coming back to do it again and that was super important.

When did you know series one had resonated with audiences?

Gangs of London series one is one of the first things that I was able to watch myself in and be like, “Oh yeah, that was good.” I wasn’t hyper-critical of myself, and I think the way that Gareth put it all together was just excellent. So a lot of that audience response actually came from myself and my family sitting there watching it: from me watching my dad be really into it; my mum being really concerned for my body. Then it’s stepping out your door and having that being reaffirmed by all of the critical response and also the people on the street, people who were watching it. It came out in the middle of the pandemic and everyone was definitely inside their houses so there was not an initial visceral, tactile response that I felt, walking down the street with people being like, “Oh, Gangs of London!”. But that does happen almost a year and a half since it came out. People say it really lives in their memories and I think that’s a sign of a really good series. So hopefully the second one will leave as much of an impact as the first one.

The producers have said it would have been easy just to chuck in loads more action but they resisted that because the action only works if the drama works.

Yeah, I think what’s excellent about the sequences is that they mean something to the story. It’s not a case of like, “What’s the most dangerous situation Elliot can find himself in?” It’s none of that. All of the action has consequences and it started for a reason. It’s not mindless, it’s not gratuitous. It’s still artistic, it’s still telling a story, and that’s really important, otherwise it does just become a bit of a mindless WrestleMania. Not that WrestleMania is bad, I loved it growing up [laughs], but that’s not what we’re trying to achieve.

You say it’s artistic. It’s hyper-stylized and has a real sense of humour as well.

Yeah, there’s a sequence this year that I’m really excited to share with people. In terms of different fights having different styles, when we look back to series one we had a Western bar fight and a horror element of the doss house fight, without ever getting too martial art-y. Our influences are from Asian cinema but they have to make sense in the world that we’ve created in London, so without it getting too beautiful.

There’s a fight sequence in episode six which I call the “hush fight” because it’s all about being very silent. Elliot goes to help a member of the Dumani family because they found themselves in a sticky situation, and in order to escape said sticky situation, they have to do it as quietly as possible. There’s a really brutal fight sequence that happens in order to free that member of the Dumani family and the whole fight is all about how quietly you can dispatch someone. How efficiently and how quietly can you do that in a place that is just riddled with basic instruments of making noise?

Watching the previews of the fight, I was like, “Oh, that’s wicked!”. The ingenuity of using items of clothing, for example, to muffle sound, and targeting on the body to make sure that no one screams out. The stakes in that sequence were really high and I was like like [gasps].

The art department on this show and the locations always outdo themselves. They supersede expectations, because it’s one thing watching a fight sequence in the rehearsal room, and another walking onto the set and seeing the dressing and being like, wow. I remember the Dorchester house fight last year, we’d been training in office blocks, and then when we walked on to the abandoned building we were using to shoot, I was just like, “Oh my God.” The atmosphere is created wonderfully by the art department and locations, and that happens again with this hush fight. I’m campaigning for it to be called the hush fight [laughs] because they actually built that set from scratch. I think it really does elevate the sequence when you put it in its setting, and that’s happened again this year.

It’s not the only time they’ve excelled in terms of a unique set built for this series.

No, absolutely not. I think another sequence that I’m super proud of and excited to share with everybody is the Noreabang sequence. Noreabang is a Korean karaoke establishment, and there’s a whole sequence of carnage that occurs in that. I remember walking onto the set built in Holloway prison. I think it was a gymnasium that they just stripped out and built an entire corridor on different levels. I’d been there a couple of weeks before and it was a completely different set. I have so much admiration for all of the crew who are spending their working weekends and evenings building these sets for us because it really does mean that we don’t have to imagine too much. One of the things I love about working on camera as opposed to working on stage is that a lot of the preparation you have to do, the imagination you have to use to perform in theatre, is just given to you in terms of your locations and your sets.

Walking onto the Noreabang, I was just like, “Wow”, because at no point in my vision did I see anything like the set that we were supposed to be performing it on. It reminds me of the first ever time I worked onto a soundstage. It was many years ago now, working on The Huntsman’s Winter War, and we were at Shepperton Studios, and I walked into the soundstage and they built the interior of the Ice Queen’s Castle. I was super inexperienced at the time, working with some excellent, excellent actors, but to see the craft of the electricians and the set builders was magical and there’s still an element of that on this. I think the hush fight and Noreabang sequence show that off in this series.

Can you describe the sequence in a bit more detail?

The Noreabang sequence is Elliot trying to assassinate someone but he can’t just go in all guns blazing. He has to methodically work his way through the different layers of this complex, and he does it by – almost a bit like Altaïr in Assassin’s Creed – by camouflage. He puts on a waiter’s uniform and steals a trolley so he just immerses himself into that world, and he’s being searched at every point, so he can’t carry weapons in. He has to plant the weapon there in advance and he has to elicit the help of another character in order to do that, and then just at the moment you think everything’s gone alright, there’s a little bit of a slip-up and then a massive fight sequence ensues where he has to use whatever he has at his disposal because he’s not allowed to have a weapon. Then, once he’s cleared the area of the first set of villains and he’s finally going to get the boss, he realises the boss isn’t there, and then it’s, “How do I get out of the situation?” When the alarms have been sounded and you’ve got civilians in the way, it’s chaotic and frantic and it’s beautiful and it’s violent and it’s a sequence we’re all really proud of.

Can you talk about the preparation for such stunts, and how involved you are in working with the team to engineer those scenes?

Sure. I think I’ve made it quite clear that the action in Gangs of London is something I take great pride in and great joy in doing, so I want to be there right at the beginning, when they are rolling around in their rehearsal room figuring things out. But they won’t let me because they have to protect my body! They go away after the scripts have been written and they have lots of fun dreaming up what this might look like. They try things out and eventually they come together with these previews that Tim Connolly, our stunt coordinator this year, has designed with the help of Mens and Allen, and all the other stunt performers in the series, and they’re like, “Okay, come in and rehearse now.” It’s a bit like Christmas: what are they gonna have me doing this time? They show me the sequence as they’ve worked it out with Mens, the stunt double who plays Elliot, and I don’t think there’s a single sequence that I’ve watched and been like, “Oh, that’s what we’re doing?” – every single time it’s like, “Oh, I get to do that!”. Mens is like, “No, no, no. I get to do that!” and it’s a constant negotiation as to whether or not it’s safe enough or whether it’s necessary for me to do bits and pieces. I love being as involved as possible so I’m always going to push.

There’s a certain stunt that happens in the hushed fight that Tim was adamant that he could never let an actor perform. But I was like, “Bro, it’s really fine”, and I kept being in his ear like, “No, I can do it. Promise, promise”, and then he had to go through all of the right steps to make sure that it was supersafe, and somebody else to do it first, and then there was a crash mat, then they moved the crash mat away. Eventually, we got this stunt whereby you can see that it’s me the whole way through, because it actually is me the whole way through. They showed me previews as they figured it out, and then we just spent a couple of days learning it step-by-step, until we can do it almost with our eyes closed. Then when we get to the location, we still take time as a unit by ourselves, just working through those things so that we’re not delaying the camera on the day. We can have as smooth a shoot as possible if we’ve done all that preparation and exploration beforehand. Hopefully the end product is memorable.

Did you have to do any weapons training or anything specific physically?

I wish I had! I constantly keep asking the armourers, “Can I come down to the range? Can you teach me this?” but we didn’t find the time and I think covid unfortunately got in the way of that as well. But they show me whatever they can on-set in between takes and I can field strip certain weapons, which is great fun. But no, I don’t have any grand experience of weapons training. It’d be really funny, actually, to eventually get the opportunity to go down a range or to a complex and start shooting and realise that I’m really, really bad. Like, I’ve got no aim whatsoever [laughs]. That would be devastating for me, so I’m enjoying living in this dream world where I’m actually an excellent shot. Eventually I will find out.

Where do we find Elliot at the beginning of series two?

I should start by saying this series of Gangs of London skips forward a year from when we left our characters at the end of the first series and, in that year, Elliot has really been under the thumb of the investors. He’s employed by them, but he is coerced to be their gun for hire: an assassin going around the world, making political assassinations that make their life easier. So, we first see Elliot halfway through episode one performing one of said assassinations for the investors. He’s come to the end of his tether with it, and he really wishes he could walk away, but they’re holding his father hostage in one of their facilities that is fronted as an old people’s home. So, Charlie, Elliot’s father, thinks he’s living in the land of luxury being looked after, waited on hand-and-foot, but actually his life is held between the fingers of the investors which is why Elliot has to continue to do these assassinations. But he’s desperate to find a way out, and that’s something he tries to navigate across this series.

How is his new role weighing on his conscience?

It reminds me a bit of the Voldemort conversation in Harry Potter. With every death, his soul splits and I think Elliot is definitely feeling the weight of the actions he’s had to commit over the past year. When we meet him at the beginning of the second series, it’s almost like he needs to break free in order to redeem himself, but whether or not that’s even possible, he’s not quite sure.

He has said he does bad things for good reasons. Does he still think that in this series?

I think it’s fair to say that Elliott has done bad things for – are they good reasons? Is there ever a good reason to hurt someone or to kill someone? That’s a moral discussion for the individual. But, in Elliot’s circumstances, yes, they are good reasons. He’s doing it to protect his father and protect other people. At the end of series one, it was to protect Shannon and Danny. When we meet at the beginning of series two, it’s to protect his father. There are a series of things that he has to do in order to extricate themselves from that situation. There is a greater good, or maybe the end justifies the means. But as we go through the series, he starts to do some things that perhaps we can’t justify regardless of circumstances, and it’s going to be an interesting moral wrestle for both Elliot and his audience in this series.

Is there a turning point in the series?

Midway through the series, Elliot’s father is killed because Sean sent an assassin to go and kill him and his father, but Elliot wasn’t there. It’s another member of his family, another person he’s loved who’s died in his absence because of him. So, that causes this massive break in Elliot, and he goes on a sort of mission – a revenge mission. He can no longer find any political ways out of this. He’s now a man of action and he goes and takes out his hurt and pain on Ms Kane who is the voice piece of the investors. The investors are his contact point. He blames them for what’s happened, and he dispatches of her quite brutally, in a way that we’ve not seen him behave before. There are other actions that he goes on throughout the series to do that in a way we try to justify: does he do bad things for good reasons? I don’t know if those reasons are good enough at that point. I think grief and loss can make people do strange and difficult things and it will be an interesting discussion point to see if we can forgive him for certain actions because of his grief, and loss, and anger, and pain, or if we can no longer sympathise with the action that he’s taken.

Why do we still root for these characters when they do such bad things?

I think a lot of what we watch in Gangs of London are things that we can never fathom doing ourselves so it’s a lovely little cathartic, “Ah yeah, if that guy annoyed me I’d punch him in the face like that. But I’m not gonna do it, so I’m happy to watch somebody else do it”. I think that’s why sometimes, if we feel strongly aligned with their motivations, but not necessarily their actions, we can justify it. You know, forgiving them for mass murder [laughs]. But it’s always interesting to talk to fans. I’m like, “You do know Sean definitely threw a burning body off a building, but he’s your favourite character? Yeah that’s fine, that’s okay.” “He killed seven men in a bar, but that’s your favourite character? Yeah okay, that’s totally fine.” “Shannon killed her husband, hid the body, killed a police officer, hid the body, served a very short jail sentence for it, and is now, like, wielding a machine gun in the next room. But that’s your favourite character? Yeah, that’s cool, that’s cool.” There’s an interesting dissonance that you get with fans of Gangs of London, but as an actor who has to empathise with their character, I sort of romanticise their actions as well.

When did you know that Sean isn’t really dead?

When we were shooting that sequence at the end of episode nine, it made no sense to me why Elliot would not kill Sean at that distance. He was just over an arm’s length away. Someone doesn’t miss at that distance. So it was very clear to me, and – well, I know for a fact a lot of people who’d watched it had been like, “He can’t be dead because you wouldn’t miss at that distance. Why has he shot him in the face and not the head?” So I think it was obvious to me that they were interested in bringing that character back. I think that’s my answer to that question. [laughs]

What does Sean’s return mean for the show? What does it mean for the families?

First and foremost, obviously, it’s really wonderful to have Joe Cole back. He’s a really talented performer and good friend, and when I spoke about that ‘family feel’ of coming back to the show, it wouldn’t be the same without him. So, whilst it may be a nice surprise for our audience it was really comforting for me to have a friend and another really excellent performer as part of the show. What does that mean for London? It’s interesting, you know. All of the players in this game thought that they were free of a volatile loose cannon, and for that person to come back and be operating in the shadows is bad news for everybody, including his mother.

And what is he doing: what’s his mission?

I mean, you should ask Joe [laughs]. Sean’s mission in this series is what he’s always wanted: to own London in the way that his father didn’t, and supersede his father. He wants to come out of his father’s shadow and be his own man but he’s been set back massively by the actions of Elliot and the events that happened in series one. So at the beginning of series two, he’s taking a different tack. He’s working in the shadows, he’s picking up his enemies one-by-one, very tactically, until he comes out to announce his return. But his return is not welcomed in the way I’m sure he expected, and there’s still a lot of fight, and a lot of effort he has to go through, and a lot of alliances that he did not expect to make and compromises he has to make in order to achieve his aims. I think his journey over the course of the series is really about: “What are you willing to sacrifice?”

How do Sean and Elliot meet in series two?

Sean and Elliot don’t actually spend that much time together in series two. I think they meet twice. Elliot stalks Sean onto a hill overlooking the city, just to let him know that he knows that Sean is here, and he’s giving him an offer like, “I don’t want anything to do with you while you’re here. Just letting you know that you’re not moving on as subtly as you thought you were.” And then they meet again at the end after Sean’s killed Elliot’s dad. I think there’s a line in the script that says, “There’s a reckoning elsewhere tonight”, and their meeting is the reckoning at the end of the series.

What happens at the end of this series?

The second time Elliot and Sean meet each other is the big face-off. There’s a lot of bad blood between them by this point, it’s fair to say. Sean killed Elliot’s dad, Elliot shot Sean in the face at the end of the first series. They don’t like each other, and so you want it to be this final confrontation between the two. They’ve been intertwined since the beginning of series one, and this is it finally coming to a head. They have a really awful clash, a really bad fight, and I suppose Elliot coming out victorious … it’s interesting. At the end of the first series you thought Elliot came out victorious but Sean’s still here. At the end of the second series, Elliot comes out victorious, again, but Sean is not dead. So it’s a bit like Batman and Joker. It’s almost like this blood-bond of antagonism between each other. If Sean died, what would Elliot’s purpose be in this world? It might not be as deep but it’s an interesting parallel.

There’s a big new character in series two - Koba. Who is he?

When I was told that Waleed Zuaiter was joining our cast, it was one of the most exciting moments I had since seeing the cast list of the first series slowly being built. He’s an excellent addition to our company of players, and he’s going to elevate Gangs of London series two in a way that not very many other actors can. He comes in to play the role of Koba, a Georgian mercenary who’s been hired by the investors to keep London in check after the Danish paramilitaries from the first series were rendered somewhat useless. Koba has different plans. Koba sees London as an opportunity to take power for himself, and he works in a way that many people aren’t willing to: attacking people’s families, people who aren’t directly involved in the game, because he sees families as a weakness, and doesn’t keep any of his own. He has no wife, no children. We only hear of siblings right at the end. So he’s a dangerous prospect for all those involved.

He makes them all look really old-fashioned, doesn’t he? Because they’ve got their gentlemen’s club rules, and he’s like a hand grenade.

Yeah, he is. He has no respect for the old ways: the handshakes, and the nods. He rules with an iron fist and you’re either powerful or you’re not, and I think that does shock a lot of the players. It makes them uncomfortable. But he’s not interested in their comfort.

But he’s also charming.

I think he is quite disarming. Elliot’s quite wary of Koba from the first time they meet but I think he’s definitely going to charm our audiences. I think they may find a new favourite character in Waleed’s charisma. But underneath that rose is a thorn, and he’s more than willing to bring that thorn out if the conversation is not going the way that he wants it to.

What is Koba and Elliot’s relationship?

Koba and Elliot meet in the series because whilst Elliot is under the thumb of the investors. They want him to work for Koba, as Koba is having an issue with someone killing his men, and Elliot knows London better than Koba does, so they create an unlikely alliance to serve Koba’s needs. But Elliot’s wants and needs are not necessarily considered in that relationship.

He’s also got a very particular sense of personal style.

Sure [laughs]. Every time he comes on set I’m just like, “That’s interesting! But if you’re comfortable, man, that’s you.”

Who’s the most stylish gangster in Gangs of London?

Probably a toss-up between Ed Dumani and Shannon Dumani, because Ed’s suits are so beautifully tailor-made for him. He just looks so well put-together and then Pippa, playing Shannon, looks gorgeous in everything she wears. I think they’ve really found an interesting – not distressed, but muted chic – for her. The Dumani family have definitely got something going on.

This series has really amped up the style. It’s a very stylish show.

Wolfie, our costume designer, has done an excellent job in making us all feel good. When you’re given the materials to do your job and you’re just like, “That’s perfect, that’s exactly it.” He’s got such a great eye to what the character needs and what the camera needs, what the aesthetic of the show needs, what the atmosphere he is trying to create with his costumes are. I don’t think he’s presented me with a single garment where I’m like, “I don’t really think that’s Elliot” or “I don’t think that’s right.” He’s done an excellent job with the aesthetic of the show and I’m really happy that we have him this year.

How would you describe Elliot’s style?

It’s always based on practicality because his primary function is as the assassin: he’s always ready for a scuff, so he can’t be going around in Gucci shoes because you can’t kick someone in the face with Gucci slip-ons, y’know? That’s not functional. At the same time, he’s been earning a lot of money from performing his assassinations for the investors, so Wolfie wanted to find a way of combining the two: practicality and comfort but also smart and someone that looks like he earns a lot of money. All of the different outfit combinations that Wolfie put together for Elliot made sense and give him a really interesting and clean silhouette. Someone who was clearly ready for action, but had also been to Selfridges. I think he’s got a personal shopper now. He goes to get his nails done every week. There’s a comfort that comes from being an intellectual assassin [laughs].

You mentioned Shannon. They’re the Shakespearean romantic couple from series one. Everyone wants them to come together and everything is stopping them from coming together. Where do we pick up with them in series two?

The first time Elliot and Shannon meet in the second series is just before the halfway point. The things that have been keeping them apart have continued to keep them apart for a really long time and they’re shocked to see each other. They’ve had no contact for the best part of a year, and Shannon really feels that betrayal, but Elliot feels like his hands were tied and there was nothing that he could. At the end of series one, he’s gone off on this journey in defence of Shannon and her son, but I don’t think she appreciates that at the time of them meeting. The romance between Elliot and Shannon has had to be put on the back burner for a bit in this series because of the things that they’re having to deal with: predominantly Koba, and the death of Elliot’s father. That redefinition of their relationship is something that’s really interesting for audiences to see.

Tell us about the scenes with Billy and Elliot in this series.

Billy and Elliot’s relationship tops and tails this series. Right at the beginning, Billy is trying to assassinate Elliot because he wants to take revenge for the loss of his brother who he believes to be dead. The last thing that Billy said to Elliot in the first series was that if any harm came to Sean, then on Elliot’s head be it and Billy will kill Elliot. Now, that didn’t go very well for Billy!

Elliot ends up saving Billy’s life, where he sees the return of Sean pulling him out of the Thames. But then, by the end of this series, Billy is the only way that Elliot can get to Sean. So, in this new version of Elliot, Billy becomes a pawn in the struggle between Elliot and Sean, and it doesn’t end well for him.

Tell us about the final scene in the series.

At the beginning of the series, Elliot is a mole who is trying to bring this world down from the inside. By the end of the second series, he has fully subscribed to the world of crime, and is looking forward to carving out his own place in it. One of the final images of this series is him taking his place at the table, sitting in his seat, allied with the Dumani family, and sat directly in contention with Marian, the last standing Wallace, or so we think. This police officer-comevigilante has become – or is looking to become – a crime boss in his own right, and that’s an interesting teaser for what’s to come.

Who’s wearing the crown out of the three of you sat at the table?

I’m sure each of the actors you ask playing each of the roles would say it was them, but I don’t think Elliot is under any illusions as to what his position at this table is right now, and how he’s going to have to fight a battle for the respect that he feels he is due. I would say that Shannon is wearing the crown at that point in time because without her, Elliot’s not there, and Ed never had aspirations for it. She seems to be the one organising and orchestrating all the machinations of the backgrounds to get them to that point. So, yeah, I think Shannon is wearing the crown.

Gangs Of London, series 2 is now on Sky Atlantic and Now TV

Images - Sky

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