‘Gangs of London’ director Corin Hardy on bringing his genre expertise to TV

Photo courtesy of RLJE Films
Photo courtesy of RLJE Films

Corin Hardy (The Nun) is as hooked on ‘Gangs of London’ as we are. The feature film director was originally asked to direct one episode of the show and soon found himself not only directing four, but also coming back for season two!

For 20 years, Finn Wallace (Colm Meaney) was the most powerful criminal in London. Billions of pounds flowed through his organization each year. But now he’s dead – and nobody knows who ordered the hit. With rivals everywhere, it’s up to the impulsive Sean Wallace (Joe Cole), with the help of the Dumani family headed by Ed Dumani (Lucien Msamati), to take his father’s place. If the situation wasn’t already dangerous enough, Sean’s assumption of power causes ripples in the world of international crime. Perhaps the one man who might be able to help him and be his ally is Elliot Finch (Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù), who up until now, has been one of life’s losers, a lowlife chancer with a mysterious interest in the Wallace family. But as the wind of fate blows, Elliot finds himself transported to the inner workings of the largest criminal organization in London. It doesn’t end with the Wallaces though, there are shadowy higher powers at play.

You are known for your horror, How did you come to be a part of a crime series?

Corin: Good question. I love horror and it was one of my first loves and I have many more horror stories to tell. When ‘Gangs of London’ came through, initially, I sort of got to know Gareth Evans as an admirer of his work and we kind of gravitated towards each other, seeing each other’s Instagram posts on movies and started chatting and you kind of just gravitate towards each other. I think people with a love genre, particularly horror, find themselves pulled together because there’s a certain glue, like certain kinds of bands and music, you know, if you like a certain band you’re all right. And so we started talking. I was preparing to make my version of The Crow and I contacted him and we got together and had a meal to talk about action and during that meal, he also said he’s putting together this show called ‘Gangs of London,’ this was a few years ago, and he asked if I’d be up for directing an episode. At the time I wasn’t available but when I became available, he had just completed all the prep and got the scripts together and he asked again. I thought that I would step up to this challenge of stepping out of the horror genre and into a sort of slightly grounded crime world, which was quite daunting, and I wondered whether I would be allowed to sort of get away with certain aspects of my own aesthetics, but I think because I knew Gareth was behind it and I knew his work, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to. So both of us and then Xavier Gens, the third director, he’s also kind of a genre director. We all aspired to create something that was both this kind of quiet, sprawling, complex, grounded family-driven emotional crime drama but with this ability to bring in our love of genre and horror and Western and war and Asian martial arts and European crime thrillers and classic Godfather gangster movies and pull it all into one sort of world. The world of ‘Gangs in London.’

Was that a huge adjustment having to work with other directors?

Corin: Not really, partly I say that because all my work has been slightly different but also there’s aspects of production that are always going to be similar. Going from The Hallow, which was an independent movie that I had co-written and developed for eight years and struggled to finally get financed and then got financed and made, very much on a low budget, and edited in my garage at home and then getting to do The Nun, which was my first studio movie with James Wan involved, I’ve sort of already experienced working in a Hollywood studio sense. The Hallow, I’d spent eight years creating myself. The Nun, I got it and we shot it 14 weeks later. So I then was working on The Crow. And then when ‘Gangs of London’ became the next challenge, and it was TV, I mean the challenge was, I was hesitant, I think Gareth was and Xavier was too about doing television because we all come from features and we all want ultimately to see feature films at the cinema. But then at the same time, TV has become so evolved in the last five years, you know, these shows like ‘Game of Thrones’ or ‘Breaking Bad,’ or these cinematic shows that also have real budgets behind them, they don’t normally come out of England. But this was a challenge and an opportunity and I guess it was like can we pull off a show that feels big and bold and ambitious, and a roller coaster ride and has a very much his own identity? It was a challenge and an experiment and hopefully we did it.

You had said earlier that you were asked to come on to direct one episode, but then you ended up directing four, which is a huge deal. Was that something that you had initiated or did Gareth?

Corin: When Gareth first said, he said, ‘would you be out for directing an episode’ and I, you know, I hadn’t done TV before. I’d heard of the American model of TV, which this really wasn’t it, it was more of a sort of strange amalgamation in the sort of feature film process with a multi episodic TV process, which I haven’t been privy to before. But it wasn’t the American model where I’d heard, ‘TV is great. You can jump on to have a few weeks prep, shoot for 10 days, and then do a week of editing and then you’re off again,’ and I was sort of like, ‘I don’t know if I like that.’ It’s not the way I work. I spent my life falling in love with projects and then spending years and years to pull them off. But at the same time, there was an attraction to this, maybe this is like doing a music video that I can just turn up, shoot, get out. Here I am three and a half years later. I’m still doing it. season two. So it was a different process. I was guaranteed to do an episode. And initially I thought it would be. I thought I’d do my feature in a couple months time after June, and then it was three episodes, in the US that’s three, four and five. And then whilst I was doing them, I got asked to do the final episode. So, I was finishing editing these three episodes, prepping the final one, and then shooting and completing the final one and the other ones. That took me right up to the dawn of the zombie apocalypse, known as COVID. Then season two and was lucky enough to just keep working straight through, from home, with the writers. I’ve just shot my first two episodes of season two.

Photo courtesy of RLJE Films
And I also hear that you have a bigger role with season two, as well. Can you explain that?

Corin: I’m now the lead director to develop the show on. I was finishing season one, the final episode, and as I was doing that I was putting down thoughts. You kind of naturally, in order to plot how the characters, who survive, where they’re ending up in your episode, you can’t help but think what could happen next. So, I’d kept a little list of ideas that then carried on into creating season two with the writing team and Tom Butterworth, who’s the lead writer. I’m directing four of the eighth episodes, so the first two and the final two. 

What were some of your favorite moments from season one?

Corin: I mean, in terms of the episodes themselves, moments that stand out for me were, I guess, overall I was just very pleased to try and pull off this, what I think is quite a unique balance… One of the attractions, I think, of ‘Gangs of London,’ internationally, is this concept of London and crime and the reality and the gangs and the history of them and different types of gangs and how they’re interconnected and the kinds of the way they operate and their criminal activities. This is all very much researched and as grounded in reality as possible, but also given the opportunity for heightening through genre. The other part of it was the kind of family aspect and relatable characters and struggles that we face as humans, and that’s the thing which is critical to keep you invested. And then the third part is this incredible, extraordinary opportunity to create elaborate, inventive, unexpected danger of set pieces and tension and bring in those genres of horror and Western and war… To me, it wouldn’t work if it was just one of those things, it was the amalgamation of more. 

In terms of distilling that, the experience of pulling off the show and working with the actors, who were a really great group of people and who were very committed to their characters and really smart and being able to just really intensively work. I’ve done my feature work with some phenomenal actors; Demián Bichir, Taissa Farmigo, or Joseph Mawle; if you think about those movies, hopefully they feel big. But there are ultimately two or three main characters, with ‘Gangs,’ it’s like 40 characters so I had to really find a way to work with them and really pull out performances… 

Photo courtesy of RLJE Films

Corin: One of the things I’m most proud of is in episode five. It is this kind of boiling pot of tension that starts to build up as Elliot is kind of getting tested by Mark and that he’s thinking he’s a cop and we don’t know whether he is or not and Shawn Wallace is hosting his family dinner and it looks like things are going well and he’s going to get control and find out who the killer of his father is. I loved reading the script because although the story in that episode was kind of non committal and you didn’t quite know where it’s going, I then loved that it kind of wound itself up and tightened itself into this excruciatingly tense sequence that was this alleyway shooter, and that took you all the way back to the Wallace family dinner. For me, as a filmmaker, it was a real opportunity to sort of create something very prolonged and visceral and visual and emotional and and have the opportunity to have almost all the main cast in a scene together, from the alleyway into the family dinner. And that gave me the idea to do this sort of ambitious one shot that took you around the house, i this moment in time, and connected you through all those little traumas that everyone was going through whilst someone’s bleeding out on the table and chaos is ensuing and there’s attacks on Shawn Wallace’s life. Iit was, without sounding pretentious, an opportunity for injecting real cinema into a show like this, which there were lots of opportunities for. That’s one of the reasons I did and I’m still doing the show.

What is one thing that you’re excited for people to see coming up in season two?

Corin: Well, I can’t really say one specific thing, there’s a lot of things I’m excited for people to see in season two. If you liked the first season, we very much honorably continue the story of season one and their surviving characters. That said, we want to continue building the world of ‘Gangs with London wider whilst introducing new characters and to some really phenomenal new actors and characters. But, obviously, ultimately everyone is a villain in some way and they all have a lot of problems. And we want to expand on the scale and the scope and the opportunities for these extraordinary, inventive and brutal set pieces that have nearly killed me to make.

Photo courtesy of RLJE Films

‘Gangs of London’ season one is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.