The first season of Gangs of London was many things: brutal and bloody in its action sequences, operatic in its scope, and twisty both narratively and literally thanks to all that complicated fight choreography. Co-creators Gareth Evans and Matt Flannery crafted a world where subtlety is an afterthought and ruthlessness is a priority for feuding drug-dealing gangs in the English capital — only to explode it all in the season-one finale, reversing hierarchies and unmasking a new threat.
The second season, airing Thursdays on AMC+, picks up a year later: Elliot (Sope Dìrísù), once an undercover cop investigating the Wallace family before shooting heir Sean (Joe Cole), is now working for the Investors, the shadowy and powerful organization that quietly manipulated the gangs throughout season one. Kurdish leader Lale (Narges Rashidi), who’d been allied with Sean before he was shot, faces an uphill climb back to relevance, made harder now that the Investors have brought in Koba (Waleed Zuaiter), whose lone-wolf status makes him both objective and dangerous. Yes, the nuanced negotiations and long-take fights are still there, director Corin Hardy teased at Vulture Fest, but they’ve been raised to new levels of intensity. Joining Hardy were Dìrísù, Rashidi, and Zuaiter, as well as supervising stunt coordinator and second-unit director Tim Connolly, to discuss the stakes of season two and unpack the mechanics of those action sequences. Watch their full conversation below, or read on for the transcript.
The first season was so brutal in its telling of this underground-criminal story. How did your friends and family react to such intensity?
Narges Rashidi: My mom’s turning 80 next year; she fucking loves it. This season she kept saying, “Just tell them not to kill you off!” I’m like, “Mom, it’s not on me.”
Sope Dìrísù: My favorite memory of watching the first series was watching it with my mom, specifically the fight scene in the fourth episode. She was watching it like, “Sope! Sope! Ah, Sope!” That’s when I knew the season was really engaging.
Corin Hardy: I met Sope’s parents at the premiere in London and apologized to them for what I put their son through.
This scene is from the series premiere. I remember watching it and thinking, What in the actual hell is this? This is amazing. The face smear with the blood immediately lets you know what kind of show this is going to be. Sope, what was your reaction to reading this scene? What kind of physical and emotional prep went into getting ready for this?
SD: It was an opportunity for me to exorcize all my demons. But also, when you read it on the page, it doesn’t feel like that. Gareth has a very vivid imagination, so he’s like, I know what this fight is going to look like, so I’ll put in placeholder stage directions for the read-through. The distance between what is on the page to what you see onscreen is incredible.
When I first read the script, I knew it was something I hadn’t seen before. The style of it has drawn a lot of comparisons to Game of Thrones because of the multifamilial nature, the vying for power, and the expansiveness of the world. And obviously I wanted to be in Game of Thrones, so this was the next best thing, if not better!
How many takes does something like this take?
SD: Not as long as I thought. We have a really great way of structuring the shoot so we don’t burn ourselves out by doing long takes every day. We are quite efficient with it.
CH: It’s prepped months and month in advance, though. It’s all been choreographed and rehearsed and pre-visualized and storyboarded, so all these months of work come down to the few days you have to pull it off. You never have enough days, and you have this jigsaw puzzle you have to rearrange under all that pressure. It takes a whole team of people to move together in the same balletic way.
Sope, did you have a favorite moment from this scene?
SD: I’ve seen the fight a number of times, and there are loads of little highlights, like the ashtray. Specifically because, in the modern day, there’s a smoking ban in London, so you never would’ve found the ashtray there. But Gareth was like, “I want the ashtray smashed, so we’re going to have an ashtray there!”
This is a very intimate fight scene. It’s set in a pub and feels sort of contained. But Corin, you come in to direct episode two, which ends in this wide-scale attack on the Traveller encampment. With each episode feeling like it kicks things up a notch, how do you approach that?
CH: It relies on these extreme roller-coaster set pieces. You have to conceive them, brainstorm them. We’re trying really hard to make sure we’re not repeating something you’ve seen before or repeating ourselves.
In season one, I had a sequence in episode four which took place in an alley. Someone’s attacking, and there’s a sniper involved. The characters and the emotions and the relations are all driving the action, so the stakes are really high. The tension and emotion is really important. My favorite bit of that scene is the dart. Gareth, who is one of the greatest action directors in the world, has rhythm. When you see that dart going through, there’s a sort of humor in it, there’s a rhythm to it, and you get these little moments of pop.
I want to discuss the strong relationship dynamics and competitive energy that develops between the characters. How did you build that?
NR: We’re fighting all the time. No. [Laughter.]
CH: If you look at social media, you see all of these deep criminal gangsters hanging out together throughout the last year — you have Waleed hanging out with all his rivals who he’s done terrible things to!
Waleed Zuaiter: We have an incriminating video of everybody dancing to “Barbie Girl,” which is apparently Orli Shuka’s favorite song.
I’m sort of sad we don’t have that!
WZ: Oh, you’ll have it soon.
Waleed, what was the process of coming into season two like?
WZ: When I read for the role, I hadn’t seen season one yet. Then I found out I’d booked it, and I was so excited based on the scenes they sent me. I became a huge fan instantly. It’s all grounded in the characters, and you really fall in love with them. When I got to London and we started shooting season two, I forgot a lot, so I had to watch it again after I met everybody. Then I became an even bigger fan.
When you were watching season one, was there anyone who really wowed you?
WZ: God, it’s a tough question, but everybody here onstage was a favorite of mine.
NR: Because we’re here. [Laughter.]
WZ: No, it’s very, very, very true. I was so inspired to see Narges in such a powerful role. And then Luan — I have to say, Orli really captured my heart. He and his real-life wife play a couple on the show. I got to spend some time with them in season two. I did get to spend some time with Sope too.
That sounds so ominous.
WZ: Oh, yeah.
I’m Iranian American, and there are certain clichés that come with characters from this part of the world. Yet Gangs of London does so much to subvert that. It is not stereotype driven, but you are getting glimpses of different cultures, different ethnicities, different nationalities. Did that appeal to you when you signed on to do the show?
SD: It was super-important for me, especially as a Black man. Gang violence in London and the African diaspora community go seemingly hand in hand. To see nuanced expressions of Blackness in the show was immediately heartening, and I’m so proud to be part of a show that shows London as it is. We’ve had gangster shows before that are basically whitewashed or entirely focused on white communities, so to be able to expand that and be really London, and therefore international, is not only a key component of the show but one of the reasons I wanted to be part of it.
CH: It’s also important to remember that, in Gangs of London, everyone is equal. Everyone is a criminal, everyone’s a villain in some way, so it’s exploring that as a widespread idea. They’re doing it for different reasons. Some of them are doing it for power, some of them are doing it for money and greed, some of them are doing it for the cause.
I mean, true representation is also being able to be a villain. There is space to be good and there is also space to be evil and terrible.
CH: And they are!
We just watched a scene with Lale, and the context here is that she is very mission driven. She is dealing drugs and leading a gang in London because she’s funding revolutionary activities in Kurdistan. Narges, there is so much resentment between your character and Sean, but there’s also a level of respect, right?
NR: Working with Joe is incredible because it mirrors our characters’ relationship. You don’t have to talk much. We did our prep and then we went into the scene and just reacted off each other.
CH: It’s the next part of the scene where you really see that. He’s trying to find out who killed his father and he realizes it’s not you, and he ends up asking you to work with him.
NR: There’s a spark between them right after this, which is weird. It shouldn’t be, but it’s there, which is like real life, right?
CH: We shot this at night in the absolute cold, wet rain.
NR: It was an open field and so windy. Our equipment was flying away. It was, honestly, probably the toughest physical shoot for me. I’m not used to that British weather at night. I’ve done a lot of shoots in Germany in the cold, but this was really tough. I kept meditating and not showing you, Corin, because I kept trying to be so cool, you know?
CH: You’d have to sit in your car, it was so cold. And we were sort of finding it as we went along. We had real rain and blazing fire. It was elemental, and it was a really special night. It was the forming of this relationship between Lale and Sean.
NR: But if you think she’s going through a lot here, wait for season two, man!
When we begin season two, we meet a new villain named Koba. This scene has so many things that I admire about this show, including a ratcheting up of tension and a very clear distillation of where the lines of power are. Waleed, how was Koba described to you? What appealed to you about this character?
WZ: There was one sentence in the description that just resonated: “Koba at his core knows that you’re either predator or prey, and he’s always one step ahead of his adversaries.” I’ve always wanted to play a character like that. Right off the page, this guy is an animal. He’s primal. He lives in a world of kill or be killed and survival of the fittest and he’s thrived. It’s so alien to my own life; the closest I could compare it to is war, which I and my family are unfortunately familiar with. In war situations, you don’t know what the next day will bring, and something kind of clicks in your mind; our primal nature of, I have to protect my loved ones, I have to protect myself and survive. The pandemic was a little bit of that, too, so it was very familiar in my mind-set.
Season one was so established in terms of the gangs and feuds and alliances. How did it feel to read the scripts for season two, where there is a wholly new threat?
CH: There wasn’t a central villain in season one. Everyone’s a villain. And you get to meet the Investors very subtly. But in season two, you need a central villain. What’s nice with Gangs is that it’s like throwing a bomb in the viper’s den, and everyone can respond to this character with fear or hatred. As the season goes on, it’s not as straightforward as a goodie or baddie. Waleed really shook the gangsters up.
WZ: What was clear to me when I became a fan of season one is that family is the central theme. Everybody’s doing something for a greater cause. Koba was the exact antithesis of that. His code is “no family.” Season two is about the struggle between power and family, and power is a drug.
For those coming back from season one, is there anything you learned about your approach to these fight scenes?
NR: It always feels new to me. Two years later, you have to go back to this character. I had stopped smoking, I’d gained weight, and I had to train really hard to look like Lale again. It’s not that easy to go back to a project and a character that you already created. There is a challenge to answer new questions: Where is she a year later? Where is that leading to? What new color do you want to give this character? It was almost harder this time.
SD: Yeah, coming back is not something I’d experienced before. Every other show I had been a part of either got canceled or they killed me off. You have to work within the confines of something you’ve constructed already. You can’t be like, Oh my God, why is this character like this?, because you made it like that! But there are new facets. How does the character change? They can’t be unrecognizable as a character, but you have to mine new things. We were given excellent scripts that put us in the right direction.
CH: For me, the thing that needed to be preserved was danger. In season one, there was a mantra, which is “Is it dangerous enough?” I didn’t want to do a TV show where you get comfortable and you know how it goes. Every episode has to keep twisting and subverting and feel really unpredictable, so you never know who’s safe. It was trying to make the most dangerous show on television.
In this scene from the second season premiere, Elliot is, once again welcoming us into this criminal underworld with an extremely over-the-top fight scene. It takes place in a laundromat using what looks like a single take. Sope, did this feel like a proper return to the character for you?
SD: You know what? I felt that fight more than any other one!
CH: The guy he’s fighting is the strongest man in the world in real life. Žydrūnis is literally made of steel.
SD: I’m genuinely glad to say that, over the course of the series, I haven’t picked up any bumps or scrapes or bruises. That’s a testament to the action team of both seasons. But, yeah, seeing him lying on top of me is an experience that I am triggered by every time. I can feel his weight on my chest again! It’s like a night terror.
Did Žydrūnas actually fall upon you? Is that practical?
SD: No, because I wouldn’t be here to speak to you now! That was composite. But everything else, he’s there on top of me. There was no acting required for Elliot suffering in suffocation underneath the guy he’s trying to suffocate.
We’ve talked about the action sequences a lot, and I’m excited that we have a special guest joining us: supervising stunt coordinator and second-unit director, Tim Connolly! Tim, when I was taking notes on this clip, I wrote 14 times, “How the hell did they do this?” So, tell me, how the hell did you do this?
Tim Connolly: If it wasn’t for the cast, that wouldn’t have happened. They come in and put their heart and soul into that action. You can push the boundaries and the limits with them, and it allows us to do action in a very visual way. We can pull the camera back and see everything happen and have less cutting. You feel the fight.
CH: When we’re forming the scripts, I’d be having side groups with the writers, then meeting up with Tim and going through the parts I had envisioned in my head. Then Tim would go away and start putting things together with the stunt team. With Tim and his team, it’s a bit like sculpting in clay; I would see the shape of something coming together, and then we could pinpoint specific things.
TC: When we were conceptualizing it, your question was “How do we do something different, a one-on-one fight that wasn’t seen in season one?” And we tried to play the sumo route: Let’s have someone so massive that Elliot struggles in a way that is so different from before. We ended up with the world’s strongest man.
CH: We knew we wanted you catching up with the action, like a wake of death. You were going down through the carnage just off-screen. There were some logistical reasons, as well, because of the amount of time we didn’t have. So, actually, Sope and the stunt team were filming the fight sequence in part of the location while I was filming the single shot that traveled down the other side of the wall.
Once you get the shape of it, and you’re planning the camera moves and all of these sequences, you put together a pre-vis, and then Sope will come in and rehearse it all with Tim. Eventually, you’re on a set with the actors, and you have very limited time to pull it off.
For the cast members: Do you have a favorite stunt, or something you’ve learned from Tim?
SD: There’s a fight in episode five, the boiler room. Tim praised me in a very specific way when I did this stunt; he was like, “It changed the way we could shoot it.” Because it was me rather than the stunt department having to cut away or do anything fancy. They could have this massive impact and go straight in on my face. And every time the stunt happened, Tim would run over and go, “Are you okay?” “Yeah, man, I’m okay.” “Okay. Can we do it one more time?” “We can do it loads more times!” Because I’d found a way to fall that was okay for me. I was really proud to be able to elevate his work by putting my body on the line.
TC: In the rehearsal space, my heart was down here, and I was trying to hide it so much. Literally, he is being body-slammed from six, seven feet in the air, and he’s taking that full impact each time. That’s actually him doing that!
NR: The stunt room was my happy place. There’s one specific fight scene that takes place in a bathroom, and you had the entire thing built out of hard rubber so the boys could smash me against everything and I wouldn’t die. And there was one bit of it that we were like, “Okay, maybe the stunt girl’s gonna do that,” and then you told me, “Can you please do it yourself?” Because they didn’t want to cut in between. And it was, like, jumping off of this huge table and then landing on the ground without a mat. And we did it!
TC: The shower, yeah!
NR: I’m really proud of it.
TC: That was a tough one because it was unforgiving. It wasn’t padded because we were going to have the stunt double do it. And it’s in the shower, and it’s a harder floor because we needed the water to be able to go. To really take those cords and whip and throw her over the table and have her hit the ground like that, it was definitely a stunt-double moment. And when we were shooting it, we made some last-minute changes to carry longer takes, and you see she really does it.
CH: I’ll say that I always wanted to do an action scene set in a karaoke club themed around music and inspired by Korean movies, and so we have an extended sequence of that involving Sope. And also, something in the final episode, we did a four- or five-night shoot, this time in England in late November or December. The ground was freezing, and it was brutal, and I just want to thank you for putting up with it, because it’s phenomenal.
SD: It’s all good, man.
In our last 30 seconds, I have two rapid-fire questions for people: If you have a favorite weapon, traditional or untraditional, that you’ve used over the two seasons, and if you have a favorite insult that you’ve called someone else over the course of the two seasons.
CH: I’m going to start with the weapon. It’ll be to do with the karaoke sequence, and it was one of those little moments where you have a devilish, Ooh, could we use a mic stand as a weapon? I actually have a band, and having a mic stand with a heavy base, I thought, You could use it as a club and a ram and, if you broke it, a spear. And all of those things happened. It was quite nice to see that put to use.
SD: Right at the end of the second series, Elliot uses a ratchet clamp. And the reason that’s my favorite weapon is because it reminds me of Jackie Chan in Around the World in 80 Days with the horseshoe on the rope.
NR: I’m a big guns person. Really big ones. I hope they give me one of these Rambo ones. And my favorite insult is “Fuck you, Sean Wallace.”
WZ: My favorite insult was mispronouncing “Sean Vallas.” I did it as often as possible because the guy doing my dialect mispronounced it, and I was like, That’s perfect. I’m stealing that. And then my favorite weapon in season two was soup.
WZ: You’ll have to watch to see how I use soup to my advantage.