The Raid director previews his bone-crunching crime show Gangs of London
The series stars Joe Cole, Colm Meaney, Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù, and Pippa Bennett-Warner.
When director Gareth Evans (The Raid) was developing the AMC+ crime show Gangs of London with cocreator Matt Flannery, he was determined to avoid the criminals-fighting-in-pubs-type cliches of the UK underworld genre. So, why does the first episode find actor Ṣọpẹ́Dìrísù's dart-wielding low-level mob member Elliot demolishing eight guys in a metropolitan drinking establishment?
"There’s been so many cockney crime gangster films and TV shows that have covered this stuff over the last ten, twenty, thirty years," Evans tells EW, from his home in Wales. "Me and Matt used to say to each other, 'Let’s avoid all those cliches, let’s not have Cockney gangsters in this thing, let’s have it be about lots of different diverse cultures, let’s do away with the conventions of the genre.' But then, when it came to our first action scene, we were like, we should tackle this head-on, the first fight scene should be in a typical London boozer, but let’s show our version of what that is."
That version features a level of mayhemic, bone-crunching violence with which fans of Evans' 2011 action classic The Raid and its 2014 sequel will be familiar.
"Gangs of London was going to be a return to my more sort of pure action roots (after the 2018 horror movie Apostle)," says the director. "When it came time to design the action for Gangs I knew that there’d be a level of expectation. What I wanted to do was play into some of the tropes that you would expect from a show called Gangs of London. I kind of started thinking about my teenage years in pubs, and what you see around there, and obviously back then [they had] thick glass ashtrays and or darts and stuff like that. We were like, well, how can we use them differently? How can we use them as weapons? But mix it with a certain rough knockabout version of martial arts still. We took inspiration from wherever we could. So, with the dart, it was the spike in the glove from Robocop which was the thing that inspired me and made me think, Okay, well, we could do something novel with this. Personally one of my favorite lines in the show is when they’re asking Eliot 'How many, six?' and he goes 'Eight, but I had a dart.' I'm almost certain Ṣọpẹ́ came up with that line himself."
In addition to Dìrísù, Gangs of London stars Peaky Blinders actor Joe Cole as Sean Wallace, a British mobster who becomes unglued after the death of his gang leader father Finn (Colm Meaney). How unglued? In the show's opening moments, we see Sean encouraging someone to tell him what he knows about his dad's murder by dangling the guy off the top of a skyscraper, dousing him in gas, and setting him on fire.
"Sean has found himself in a situation now where he is not only mourning the death of his father, who he reveres and hero-worships, but is about to fill his shoes, while the rest of the city is circling around him like vultures," says Evans. "He's caught in a situation where he’s trying to keep the engine running in terms of the business empire, but at the same time, trying to get to the bottom of who is that killed his father."
The show's large cast also includes Lucian Msamati, who plays Finn's business partner Ed Dumani, and Pippa Bennett-Warner, who portrays Dumani's daughter Shannon.
"She’s very independent, motivated," says Bennett-Warner, whose previous credits include Harlots and Doctor Who. "She runs her own interior design business that operates alongside the Wallace organization. I always describe her as sitting in an ivory tower. She's Daddy’s princess, but she’s definitely not without her own steel. I was so happy to get it. I was ready to do something action-based."
Gangs of London is based on a PSP video game, originally released in 2006.
"Pulse [Films] had the IP for the video game and suggested it as a film franchise," says Evans. "One of the things I always loved about London was the idea that you were in a big massive metropolitan city that had ten-to-fifteen different languages all going on at once on every street corner. I found that fascinating, I found the diversity was really important to that city. So, when they talked about it as a film franchise, I got really freaked out and worried. I was like, I don’t know if we could do justice to how diverse the city is if it’s a film franchise. I pitched it back to them as a longform narrative. Because at least then you would be able to have the odd episode which starts completely outside of our supposed ‘A’ story and goes off and explores different characters, different cultures, diverse backgrounds."
To help him direct the show, Evans recruited two other filmmakers: Corin Hardy (The Hallow, The Nun) and Xavier Gens (The Divide).
"I’d known Corin and Xavier before working on Gangs," says Evans. "As with most connections with filmmakers these days, it was all through online at first. We’d all follow each other on Instagram and chat there. They were both filmmakers I really admired. Then Gangs came about and we were looking for other directors to do some of the heavy-lifting on some of the other episodes. Myself and Matt Flannery, as cocreators of the show, the one thing we really wanted was that the show should always feel cinematic and understand its placement within genre filmmaking. When we got together it was basically a meeting of minds, and they embraced it, and ran with it and elevated it even further."
The result is far removed from the average British drama — and not just because of its extreme violence.
"When I watched it I felt, I don’t think I’ve seen anything like this on telly before, especially coming out of the U.K.," says Bennett-Warner. "I feel America’s really good at putting blockbusters on telly and England is always slightly, I feel, behind. But, with Gangs, each episode could be a film."
It was recently announced that Gangs of London has been renewed for a second season, but Evans reveals he intends to return to the big screen and make an action-thriller called Havoc.
"It's a bit more commercial than what I’ve done in the past but still very much my own thing," says the filmmaker. "We’re in the early stages at the moment. We've done all the action design and hopefully, we’ll be in pre-production soon. Obviously, COVID’s knocked everything sideways but we’re hoping to shoot sometime early next year.
The first three episodes of Gangs of London will premiere on Oct. 1 on AMC+, AMC’s new premium subscription bundle. New episodes will debut weekly on Thursdays.