Gangs of London Q&A — Lucian Msamati Reveals Ed Dumani's Greatest Weakness
In Gangs of London, acclaimed actor Lucian Msamati plays Ed Dumani, the cautious — but no less dangerous — de facto patriarch of the Wallace-Dumani families. In this interview with amc.com, Msamati talks about Ed's greatest weakness, reveals more of the deep bond between Ed and Marian Wallace, and compares Ed with two of his revered roles: Amadeus's Antonio Salieri and Othello's Iago.
Q: What initially drew you to the Gangs of London project?
A: I got a call via my agent who said, "There's a script, it's by Gareth Evans and Matt Flannery, and they'd like to meet you for this specific role. Give it a read." So I read the script and I'll never forget the stage directions of the opening image, of this body hanging from the ledge of the building. And that was quite shocking, gripping, and interesting. I had never read anything like it before. I had never read an action-based script that was so eloquent and elegant, that wasn't all about blowing things up and kicking people and effing this and effing that. There was craft to it. There was balance. There was a hint of detail. And, I must say, what was also beautiful was that it was unapologetically rainbow-colored, in terms of contemporary London.
I think I was also piqued by, when I met Gareth — it was a bit “bro love” at first sight, to be honest. He is such a wonderful, warm, amazing man who when you look at him, and you spend time with him, you think, "How does this beautiful man come up with such darkness?" [Laughs]
Q: How did you and the creative team work to bring Ed to life? Do you remember making specific choices in crafting your portrayal?
A: What was exciting for me was a specific line that sticks out in his character breakdown. It said that there's a specific story about the first time Ed killed someone, and the honest, dark, and horrible truth was that he was very young when he did it, like almost unhealthily young shall we say, for all sorts of various reasons. But as a result of that, he is a master of making you disappear without a trace, an absolute master at it. There's no trace left. It might as well have been a ghost. I latched onto that because I thought, "Okay, I like this about this guy. He's done the dirty stuff. He can kick ass and throw down with the best of them. He's done it. It's easy. That's easy." What is even more interesting is watching a dark master at work. The idea that this is somebody who knows exactly what they're doing, but also underneath that is the fact that it's not actually his character. It really is a means to an end. He gets no thrill from it at all. It costs him an ounce of his soul.
Q: In an interview with The Guardian, in speaking of your portrayals of Antonio Salieri of Amadeus and Iago from Othello, you said that you try to find the weakest point in any character to find their humanity. What would you say is Ed Dumani's weakest point?
A: Wow. Love. That's a broad stroke, yes. I think it's very evident how much he loves his children. I think it's very evident how broken he is by the loss of Finn; they're brothers, truly. You can see the love he has for all of the Wallace children; they are his children. You understand how much he loved his wife, as well. And again, because I know his background, the actual reasons why Shannon and Alexander ended up leaving for a time with the Wallaces is heartbreaking. It's truly, truly heartbreaking. So, for him, family really is everything. He's built this family, and he will do absolutely anything for it—that is his downfall.
Q: Do you think there are any parallels between the other famous characters you’ve played, like Salieri and Iago, and Ed Dumani? Or would you say there are more differences than similarities?
A: One of the things that struck me about Ed Dumani, Iago, and Antonio Salieri is that [Laughs] they are all men of inscrutable and incorruptible honor. How they deal with it morally in their own particular life, that's another thing all together. But, when it comes down to it, these are men of absolute, strict honor, who live by a strict code. I think that's what makes them dramatically interesting and humanly flawed, because the world in which they operate doesn't work that way.
They are inflexible. They are fatally aligned to their code of conduct, which is beautiful and terrifying. There are times when I think, “For goodness sake guys, just for f—'s sake can you lighten up? Things change in life. Get over yourself. You can't have it all. I'm really sorry.” [T]hose who live by such a rigid code will always give you something interesting dramatically, always.
Q: Because they are struggling with what they thought was their place in the world?
A: Exactly. And they literally live and die by whether those things come to pass or not.
Q: Ed has had to deal with a lot: not only with the death of his best friend and partner, but also with learning that Finn was keeping dire secrets from him (like the murder of the Albanian family). How is he processing this new information? How did you portray him dealing with these things at the same time?
A: For me, Ed is a coiled spring all the time. That is what I find quite sexy about him, to be honest. [Laughs] Sexy in the sense that it really is the stuff of life and death, blood and guts. Personally if I met Ed Dumani in broad daylight right now, I'd cross to the other side of the street. I really would. Because he's carrying so much, because he knows so much, he's become a master of the trip switch. You don't want to be there when he lets go of it because, you know, sorry that's the end of you. But he's this coiled spring, and once that spring is released, once that switch is flipped, that's it. There is no going back for him, and he knows that. So for me, it's the joy of sitting on a volcano all the time, but of also letting it out when it was necessary.
The beauty of it, with people like Ed, is there's no posturing involved. They don't need to posture. It's the certainty of a boxer. If you've ever shaken a boxer's hand, there's one distinct thing that is really terrifying: their handshake is so light and delicate. You expect that you're going to get a bone-crushing — no, not at all. It is the most gentle, most delicate, the lightest hand sensation you will ever experience. It is because they know what they can do. "I know what I can do. I know that I can kill you with one well-placed blow. I don't need to show you my power. I know my power."
Q: It's the true mastery of knowing exactly where your limits are and how far you can go.
A: But then also the flip side to that is going, "The devil will come for me at any time because of the path I walked." Ed has not slept well for about 30 years. There's a legion of ghosts and avenging spirits waiting for him on the other side, and he knows it.
Q: The Wallaces and Dumanis have an interesting dual-family relationship — can you describe how Ed feels about the Wallace family careening towards the point of no return?
A: There's an interesting inter-generational clash, I think, between Sean and Alex and Ed and Finn, and it is not your classic "well, in our day we did this and you guys are destroying each other." Certainly for Ed I feel that he's thinking, "I started this marathon a long time ago and I've got one thing in mind: to win. The code by which I live, the code that has built this life of absolute, epic privilege that you enjoy is built on the stuff I have done. So when it comes to a handover of power you, little boy, you either shut your damn mouth and let me take care of things because I will make sure that the ground remains. But the thing is you youngsters you think you know it all. You don't know jacks—t. Have you killed anyone in your life? No, you haven't. You've played with guns. You haven't done a damn thing with them. You know what it's like to watch a human being lose their life at your hand? Do you know what it's like to go to sleep with ghosts in the room? Do you know? No, you don't know. But you like your snazzy cars and your big house and your fancy holidays and your fat bank accounts. I know, so give it to me. You go and do whatever you need to do, and when Daddy's ready he'll go, okay now you take over."
But actually in spite of that — again, I never saw it before — there's a bit of a Salieri connection there. You know, the thing is that Salieri actually is dishonest about what he really wants. He's dishonest about it. He loves music. He absolutely adores music, but what he's not honest about is his true ambition. His true ambition is not to be the Baptist; it's to be the Christ. He says, “If you give me this then I will be the Baptist for you.” But that's not the truth, is it, Antonio? That's not the truth. You want what Mozart has. That's what you actually want. Ed may be quiet about this, but he wants his time on the throne. That is the understanding, that when the time comes "I will hold the throne and I will make the way ready for you. But if you overstep me, well, now you've made it personal."
Q: In Episode 4, Marian confronts Ed about Finn's mistress, Floriana. How does Ed justify looking Marian in the eye, knowing Finn was having an affair?
A: There are two things at play here. I think there are sins of omission and there are sins of commission, and there are duties of commission and there are duties of omission. In the case of Ed, I think this is purely about duties of omission, the loyalties of omission, like "I am not going to share this information with you because it's going to hurt you." … [T]his is going back into the deeper history of that triumvirate, Ed, Marian, and Finn. Ed and Marian were friends first. There's a lot of history yet to be revealed in due course.
And of course, as you can imagine, there was a lot of stuff that we shot that got cut away, which is normal. That's fine. But there's such a rich backstory and one of those was the Marian and Ed love story, if you like. I mean, it's a friends love story. I think it was Ed who introduced them or something like that. I'm catching up on the history. Those are the strands that for us make it more interesting to play because we know the layers. That's the beauty of it, when you know the layers, what comes out is even richer.
Q: Marian also says that Finn's driver, Jack, "probably knew everything," which sort of begs the question: do you think Ed killed Jack to protect Finn's secrets, or because he was jealous that Jack kept more of Finn's secrets than him? How did you play that scene?
A: Oh no, he was protecting Finn. He has no jealousy over Jack at all. None whatsoever. Jack is expendable as far as Ed's concerned and that is part of his code. There's some people who serve a purpose, and when they've served that purpose, off they go.
Q: His circle of people that he cares about is so small. Everyone else is outside that circle.
A: Which in some ways, some would say, “Well that's brilliant survival, isn't it?” I know the people that actually matter to me, I can count them on one hand, four fingers actually, and everybody else can f— off.
Q: And it sounds like it makes him a master compartmentalizer too.
A: Yes, absolutely, but I think you have to be and that's the reality that they live in. You have to be. Otherwise you will die, quite literally. What I find satisfying about the world that we have begun to build with Gangs of London is that, yes, perhaps it is cool. They're all cool people with cool stuff, and they live in cool places and drive cool cars and do cool things, but there's nothing attractive about that life. There's nothing glamorous about it at all. At all. They live in this world that is policed by the most gruesome and horrid violence, and nobody, except for the psychopaths, comes out unscathed. The psychopaths are actually the ones who die because they have nothing to live for really. Everyone else has something to live for. That's why they're still around.
Q: That reminds me of that scene in Episode 3, when Alex is at the club and pointing out all of the heinous things the people around him are involved in. If you're living that life, you're seeing the ugliness everywhere.
A: Exactly, exactly, exactly. You have to be compartmentalized. As you said, you just have to. I'm sure Ed would love to have just been a teacher or something, living a simple, happy life, but, again, because of who he is, because of the time in which he arrived in this city, there was nothing else for him to do. He and Finn, they were just teenagers. There was literally nothing else for them to do. They thought, we're kind of strong and charismatic and we're a bit fearless, let's take this city, let's do it. And bravo to them, they've done it.
Q: Even if he’s got a similar ambition as Salieri, I don't know if Ed could be a teacher.
A: No. [Laughs] Probably not. He'd have to be the most respected and feared teacher in the school.
Q: Ed seems to think Sean has really crossed a line (multiple lines, at this point) in killing the Welsh travelers and hiring Cole. Do you think their relationship can ever recover?
A: He loves him like a son. He is his son. That's how he sees him. And there are always, moral and emotional blind spots with your own, you know? Think of all the people you know, love, and care about. You can never make a sound, moral judgment because you've got skin in the game. It's your own skin, quite literally sometimes. But also the dilemma of that is that you also know these people intimately. You absolutely know the path that they're going to take. You absolutely know what they're going to do.
I feel that Ed knows Sean is gone. He's not going to listen to me. There was a moment, a window of opportunity, and it's passed. It's closed. He's not coming back. On top of that, I kept information from him, rightly so because that's what I do. But he has also got a one-track mind. There will be no nuance here. He's not going to see the big picture; he's going to go one way. So I have to be prepared to turn my own son against me. It's not going to be pretty but, if you want to play the game against me, just remember I invented it and I'm much better at it than you are, so give it your best shot.
Q: And like you said, have more to lose because you're not willing to burn everything to the ground.
A: No, no, no. So it's sad. I think the scenes that I enjoyed filming the most were actually the family scenes, the scenes where we were all together, the entire clan. We had such a good time. But what's beautiful dramatically is that, when we meet them all together as a family, they are at the point where it's all about to fall apart. They will never be the same again. You will never have them all together again. And if, by some hook or crook, they do manage to come back together, it's going to be in completely different circumstances and circumstances which quite frankly — I mean, who knows? Who knows how many will live and how many will die? Not saying anything. I don't know anything! [Laughs]
Read an interview with Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù, who teases the stellar fight scenes that fans have to look forward to, what drew him to the genre-defying series, and why he decided to do 95% of his own stunts.
Read an interview with co-creator, executive producer and director Gareth Evans here. The renowned The Raid director discusses crafting a dynamic family drama and subverting audience expectations, how much of Gangs of London can be traced to true stories, and that one time he came hilariously close to London's criminal underbelly.
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