DUBAI: Let’s make this clear: “Gangs of London,” the hugely popular British series now returning for a second season on OSN in the Middle East, is not for the faint of heart. The multi-cultural mafia drama, which follows a number of crime families across England’s capital as they erupt in conflict again and again, drew in millions of viewers in its first season. And although it launches its second without creator Gareth Evans, it’s still pushing the envelope.
“We have purposefully expanded this world,” series star Sope Dirisu, a 31-year-old actor of Nigerian descent, tells Arab News. “In doing that, we found that it’s bigger and more violent than ever before. But all of that is about pursuing truth. We reached that truth in season one, and I think we did even more here.”
Apart from stellar performances from the cast — a mix of renowned and underrated talents —what made the first season so popular was Evans’ signature style. The director of “The Raid” (2011), an Indonesian thriller considered by many the greatest action film of this century, brought a maximalist, expertly choreographed flair to the proceedings, something which season two showrunner Corin Hardy was determined to continue.
“I wanted to make sure I was preserving and protecting what we created with season one. There’s a certain magic sauce that I think we’ve made, with each sequence, unique, individual and fresh — both from other series but also from film, though we have clear influences. I was heavily inspired by the films of Michael Mann and William Friedkin, or the Korean film ‘I Saw the Devil,’ for example,” says Hardy.
With such a strong focus on action, the actors were surprised at how well-developed each character was in the sprawling ensemble. Michelle Fairley, best known for playing Catelyn Stark in “Game of Thrones,” is once again a matriarch of a strong family, this one, the Wallaces, in charge of a criminal empire.
“They gave us biographies of our characters and they had gone into so much detail, care and time to give these people bones, flesh and sinew. These characters walked on to the page breathing and smelling. That was literally brilliant, and you didn’t question the show’s vision at all. We just worked to execute it to the best of our ability,” says Fairley.
While a show this full-to-the-rafters with evil makes it hard to identify a true ‘villain,’ the season’s chief antagonist is a man named Koba, played by acclaimed Palestinian actor Waleed Zuaiter.
While many of the series’ characters are played by actors of the same cultural background, such as real-life husband and wife Orli and Eri Shuka, who play a married couple in charge of the London branch of the Albanian Mafia, Zuaiter, for the first time in his career, was plays a character foreign to his own identity — the leader of the Georgian mafia who comes to London to bring order to the city.
Zuaiter says he felt it more freeing to play a man outside of his own culture.
“I just want to expand the types of roles that I play. I want a sense of play. They said, ‘Listen, if you want to play him as Palestinian, we can do that.’ I said, ‘No, I played enough Palestinian gangsters. I would love to play a Georgian gangster. That's exactly why I'm an actor,’” Zuaiter says. “Hopefully, there’ll be more of those roles. I just want to be free.”
While the show itself may be brutal, the camaraderie that the cast and crew created in season one under Evans continued to flourish under Hardy, as each reveled in the opportunity, buoyed by the newfound popularity they had found after season one became a phenomenon in the UK and beyond.
“Eri and I have been together for 27 years. We were sweethearts in high school. It’s an amazing opportunity to be, after all these years, still together and in the biggest show of the moment. I feel very proud and very blessed,” says Orli Shuka.
“We feel the love that people have for this show every day, to be honest,” adds Eri. “I was walking my dog in the park yesterday, and people were coming up to me asking when season two was coming out, because they were sick of waiting. They then said that there was a fight in the neighborhood, and perhaps we could get Orli to sort it out. I had to remind them this is just fiction! My husband doesn’t kill anyone in real life.”