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Interview: Gangs of London’s Star Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù & EP Corin Hardy

Gangs of LondonToday, AMC+’s series Gangs of London returned for an action-packed season two, which will introduce viewers to new characters and unexpected power struggles. To promote the return of the series, SciFi Vision recently spoke with executive producer Corin Hardy, as well as Sopé Dìrísù, who stars as Elliot Finch in the series, at a recent roundtable where they chatted about violence on the series, what they are looking forward to fans seeing this season, and more. Read the full transcript below, and be sure to tune in on AMC+.




Gangs of LondonQUESTION:  
One of the things that you notice right away is that the show does not shy away from violence, and that's an understatement. The first season, it was violent, and now you're upping the ante with every single episode of the second season. How have you managed to achieve that kind of balance?

CORIN HARDY:   
I think balance is a word that's something I've had to ensure, that the balance feels right. And certainly we haven't shied away or we haven't kind of reduced something which was an important part of the DNA of the show in season one, something, which, and I don't mean, just people talk about the violence, but it's the whole world of the show of Gangs of London, I mean, that in the sort of narrative of existing amongst a series of gangs and criminals and families and the kind of predicaments that they have to go through to survive in this in this world, all the way through visually making something that has to feel immersive and and grab you. There're a lot of shows out there, and we wanted to make something very filmic, cinematic, and suspend your belief. So, with regard to set pieces and action scenes and violence and tension, everything is like a mixing pot that you're trying to ensure you take the viewers on the ride that they can escape out of their own lives. I think it's part of the the DNA of Gangs of London. It's a dangerous show, and it has to always be that way. It shouldn't feel too comfortable. 

ṢỌPẸ́ DÌRÍSÙ:   
In terms of upping the ante every year, like I think Corin has said everything that there is to say on it. We want our viewers to constantly be on the edge of their seats, constantly engaged. Also, from a production perspective, we want to constantly push ourselves, you know, to what ends can we tell excellent stories? How do we make sure that the action that the series is famed for isn't just, “Okay, cool. Now, there's going to be another fight scene, because we expect that from Gangs of London.” How do we make sure that it's nuanced and progressing the story? We want to challenge ourselves as well as our audiences. 

CORIN HARDY:   
I'd say that we've added more emotion into it in order to also help that, because I think the stakes of an action scene or the tension relies on you really, like rooting for the person involved, whether that's Sope’s character, Elliot, or whether it's someone like Luan the Albanian (Orli Shuka). You still kind of have your kind of heroes within these villains, and we need to like push the limits as far as they can go in these tension filled sequences. 

SCIFI VISION:   
Corin, you made me wonder, though, so I'll ask you. Have you ever though with the show gotten any pushback from making it too violent or anything like that, and kind of how do you deal with that? 

CORIN HARDY:   
I mean, amazingly, I think when we made season one with Gareth [Evans], myself and Xavier [Gens], and it's been something that Gareth had developed, he's famed for his action direction, and he's world class at that. I think there's a reason why you hire certain directors, and if you end up kind of trying to stop them from doing what they do best, there's not really much point. So, what he brought into season one and what we established and what I worked into, also went down really well with the audience. And I think to credit the producers and the networks, Sky and AMC, they also recognize that, and they didn't ever sort of tell us to tone anything down, which was quite a relief [and a] surprise. Actually, you know, I do believe it or not myself also realize maybe that's going too far, or sometimes I'm like, “No, the tone is too grim here.” You're trying to make something that's entertaining, and it is a sort of a thrill ride and is a roller coaster, but it's also grounded emotional, heartbreaking, kind of mildly traumatizing at times. But no, we have very much a lot of support throughout. There're a couple of times when I've edited out, believe it or not, things that feel like they're too relentless, or…you feel that balance when it’s going too far. 

QUESTION:  
This is directed to both of you. I mean, both Jamie and I cover The Walking Dead, which is a show known for characters dying all the time, and you could be rooting for a character and that person isn't there on the next episode. I think you guys follow pretty much the same kind of formula and maybe take it to the next level, because central characters die all the time on this particular show. So, to Sope, I guess, is it scary to be a part of such a show? And for Corin, is it difficult sometimes maybe to write some characters off that you are so immersed in? 

CORIN HARDY:   
Sope, you want to go first? 

ṢỌPẸ́ DÌRÍSÙ:   
Yeah, yeah, for sure. I want to be part of really great projects, and I think The Walking Dead is a really great project, as is Game of Thrones, for that exact reason, if it becomes predictable and safe, then it could be anything; it might as well be a soap. People come to Gangs of London to be on the edge of their seats, to be impressed with the violence, to be unsure, to feel the peril of those characters. So, yeah, I'd love to keep working on it. I'd love to keep playing with these excellent collaborators and in this world, but also, if it's my time, because that's what the show needs, and that's the thing [the audience] is going to expect the least, then it's my time. Yeah, I'd love to keep working on Gangs, but I also respect and am myself entertained by the environment, that no one is safe at any given point in time. 

CORIN HARDY:   
Yeah. No one can be safe. It was  sort of one of the kind of steering points, I suppose, in making this show, is keep it dangerous. I want Gangs of London season two to feel like the most dangerous show on television and at least, I mean, as Sope says in the unpredictable sense, as well as the sort of action sense. I don't want you to feel comfortable and settled that every episode is going to be the same characters every week for season upon season. Good examples, The Walking DeadBreaking BadGame of Thrones. It's thrilling, because you feel outside of your comfort zone, and that's part of the escapism of entertainment, that you're not just settled in, and can know what's going to happen. In terms of your question, it is really heartbreaking. And sometimes and I, as a sort of lead director working with lead writer Tom Butterworth and kind of co-showrunning this season two, sometimes I'd have ideas, or I'd be like, “so and so's character has to succeed, triumph, and survive, because I maybe [had] grown to love them as an audience. Then, one of the writers or Tom would pitch an idea where - and it's not all about who dies, obviously, but it would be this idea that this character is actually going to meet their end. And I would in my initial reaction would be “no, you can't do that,” or “we can't do that” or whatever. Then, you sometimes realize if I'm feeling that passionately about it, it's the right decision, because it's going to cause such an effect. So, there are some pretty full on twists and turns in season two…and I don’t want to spoil anything, but no one's safe, so enjoy watching them while you can. That includes you Elliot! 

SCIFI VISION:   
Without spoiling too much, can you both sort of maybe talk about some of what you're looking forward to fans seeing this season, maybe some of your favorite bits that you can kind of talk around without giving things away. 

ṢỌPẸ́ DÌRÍSÙ:   
At first, I was a little bit salty. I was a bit annoyed because I'm selfish, [laughs] and I really enjoy the the action that I get to do in this series. So, when it was a was democratized this year, I was just like, “Hang on, how come they're getting this really excellent fight scene and I'm not in that?” But I've come round, I'll be honest, and I'm now able to celebrate the excellent sequences that I'm not in. I was able to sit back and watch them and be like, “Ah, this, this show is really great,” even if I have nothing to do with it. It’s still great. So, I'm really excited to share as  well as to for the fans to see the great action sequences with Michelle Fairley and Orli Shuka and Narges Rashidi. I think they're just some of the most beautiful, and intense set pieces of the of the series this year. 

CORIN HARDY:   
And I would say, just to clarify, when you use the word democratized, it's not like there's some kind of like, “okay, let's make sure we even out this equally.” It’s definitely driven by the narrative of where these characters sort of find themselves in, but we did want to sort of - yeah, the actors are so phenomenal on this show. It's quite exciting, for me, my point of view to sort of see what it would be like to put a character like Marian, a sort of a woman of her stature, into a kind of insane fight sequence that you'll get to see, or see a Dumani fighting back, as well as, obviously, Elliot doing his fair share of brutality, but I don't want to spoil anything, but we worked hard to try and dream up some fresh, unseen action sequences and set pieces. I wanted to explore different environments from places like the Billingsgate fish market in London, which is a very kind of historic location, [and] what would it be like to stage a shootout in a place like that? You'll see, Elliot in this laundrette sequence to introduce him. And one of my favorites comes a little later in the season in Episode Seven. I won't give too much away, but I'd always wanted to stage an action sequence in a kind of karaoke bar. I'd had this idea to do sort of inspired by Korean revenge thrillers and a kind of Korean style, karaoke labyrinth that you'll see later in the show and do a sequence that also incorporates a lot of different music styles, because people are singing different karaoke. It's a sequence that involves Elliot sort of infiltrating and fighting his way out. One of the things in Gangs [that] informs the fight sequences and the imagination in them is inventiveness in sort of using improvised weapons, and I came up with this idea of using a mic stand as a weapon, which actually you can use it in a number of different ways. 

SCIFI VISION:   
What has working on the show taught both of you? What have you learned since season one, since you've been doing it for a while? What have you brought to season two that's kind of helped you out that you learned? 

ṢỌPẸ́ DÌRÍSÙ:   
I feel like, for me, as an artist, like as an actor, sometimes you're the last person to know what the script is, what the changes are. You're the last person to have any sort of authority or power over the trajectory of your character. You’re just sort of [told], “Okay, this is what we're doing; do it.” [laughs] Whereas, I'm really grateful to everybody at Gangs of London, Sky, and Pulse and AMC and also the directors that I've worked with this year and last year, including Gareth, but definitely Corin and Nima and Marcela, to give me like, agency as an artist in creating this character, to allow me to sort of help edit scripts or talk about where the character should go. I think I was able to grow a lot as an artist in the second season of Gangs in a way that I didn't necessarily feel like I had the power to all the time in the first one. So, yeah, this has been a delight. 

CORIN HARDY:   
I will say three things. I mean, I really kind of had to step up after Gareth’s incredible action in the first season. So, staging action for me, I sort of really relished the chance to get into the meticulous planning that involves kind of brainstorming ideas with action designer Tim Connolly and myself overseeing it into the scripts and working with the stunt teams, the actors, the art department, production designs, special effects, visual effects, prosthetics, and being able to really plan all of that stuff. So, when we're shooting, sometimes for only two or three days, to be able to pull something off, because it is such a kind of an ambitious show, I just didn't want to drop the ball and make sure that it was continuing that sort of scale. Working with the actors just has been a real continuous pleasure and they're so good, and they know their characters, working with new actors on the show, like Koba, who's played by Waleed Zuaiter, and and Jahz Armando, who plays Saba, and just really working closer and closer with them, to know who needs what to get the best performance out of them. Then, also just what it's taken to oversee a sort of an eight hour story on screen. When you do a feature film, you're largely doing a ninety or like ninety minute or two hour story, and this is a case of sort of having to meter that out across all these episodes and just much more complex, especially with all these different characters. 

QUESTION:  
You touched upon it Corin. How is Koba different from every single villain who's come before? 

CORIN HARDY:   
I mean, I'll just say that was a conscious thing. We wanted to put a lead villain into the show. I mean, they're all villains in Gangs of London; everyone's a criminal. Everyone's doing it for different reasons: family, power, greed, or the cause. Writing a character like Koba, we were really conscious of not wanting to have a kind of cliched villain, but we wanted someone who had charisma and magnetic quality, an animal, [with] almost a chameleon like quality, and Waleed just took it and ran with it and just brought something incredibly special. I love watching him, and he's almost terrifying and lovable somehow at the same time. I'm really excited for audiences to get to meet Koba.

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