Gangs of London Q&A — Pippa Bennett-Warner On Revealing Shannon's True Nature
In Gangs of London, Pippa Bennett-Warner plays Shannon Dumani (Ed Dumani's daughter), and gets her hands spectacularly dirty in the Season 1 Finale. In this interview with amc.com, Bennett-Warner talks about why her chemistry with Lucian Msamati and Paapa Essiedu was so effortless, how the show depicts London as it really is, and what to expect from Shannon in Season 2.
Q: What initially drew you to Gangs of London and the role of Shannon?
A: I think for me it just felt like such a departure from what I'd been doing at the time. I'd done Harlots and a drama [MotherFatherSon] with Richard Gere and the wonderful Helen McCrory. Gangs of London just felt like something really different and a cool project to be a part of. As soon as I started reading it I was like, "Oh my God, the script is fantastic and so ambitious on the page." I just thought, "Gosh, I can't wait to see what this would look like on TV." One of my favorite bits in the show is the first 30 seconds when London is flipped upside down. There's something about Gareth [Evans] and that script that was just so compelling to me that I thought, "Yeah, I'd love to be part of this."
Q: It was also amazing to see such diversity in the cast.
A: That was the thing! I felt like for the first time a script really tapped into what London's like, and what it's like when you're living here. Everybody's here—everybody's so represented. I remember going to the read-through and thinking, "Oh my God, I'm not the only person of color." It was so refreshing and actors were able to speak in their mother tongue. It felt like the version of London that I love and adore, the one that I'm lucky to live in.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about how you worked with the team to bring Shannon to life?
A: Well, I have to say it was the most collaborative I've been at work. They were so open and so brilliant, and we all felt really supported. I remember we had lots of rehearsals and conversations with the team, with Gareth, with Matt [Flannery], with all the producers. We were all on the same page because we all wanted to make it as good as possible, so there were lots of conversations. It was an open forum for discussion which I really appreciated, and I think it could have easily gone the other way. It's a very male, heavy testosterone-led show, and as a woman, I never felt unsupported or unheard. I felt like the team were very open to any thoughts and suggestions I had about Shannon. It felt nice going on set and thinking, "I feel safe and comfortable because I feel like I haven't just been pushed to the side."
Q: It seems that Shannon is shielded from a lot of her father’s business endeavors, but she knows enough to understand the gravity of his work. There’s a real tenderness in your scenes with Lucian Msamati, even when he’s being quite harsh with her. Can you talk a bit about working together and creating that relationship on screen?
A: My first job out of drama school was Lynn Nottage's play called Ruined. Lucian played my uncle in that, so we already had an existing relationship. So it was pretty easy, because we just tapped into that. It was the same with Paapa [Essiedu] actually! This was the third time Paapa and I have played brother and sister, so we were fortunate because the foundations of those relationships were already there. We just went with it and used the script and the brilliant writing, playing the scenes with this lovely chemistry that already existed. Plus Lucian is just the most brilliant actor, and the most brilliant person. I adore working with him. He's so generous and a brilliant scene partner. The same with Paapa too!
Q: How much do you think Shannon’s relationship with her dad impacts the way she raises Danny? She’s definitely trying to protect him from so much when it comes to his family.
A: In rehearsals, we talked about the fact that Alex and Shannon's mother had died, and the decision had been made that when Shannon turned 18 she would be left out of the family business. She wasn't going to be part of it in the way that Alex was going to be part of it. As we learn in the Season 1 finale, not everything is as it seems with Shannon, but her main focus and the love of her life is her son. I don't think there's any kind of resentment from her dad about not being a part of the business up until this point. I think she doesn't want to make any mistakes with Danny. Danny is everything. There's a scene in Episode 8 when they're in the cafe and she says, "My bags are packed. We're good to go if anything were to happen." She's a lioness. She's protective. And she just loves her son and wants to do the best by him.
Q: Through much of the season Shannon is able to keep her hands clean… but that definitely changes this episode. How did it feel to play out the intensity of this amazing season finale with Vicky's death at the hands of Shannon?
A: I remember reading it for the first time and thinking, "Wow, this is so cool!" because you just don't expect it. Up until that point, she's been the daughter of a very dangerous man. She's been having an affair with an undercover cop that she doesn't know is an undercover cop, she's got a son, she lives in a nice house, she has all this stuff, and she's sweet... and then suddenly she's got this massive gun! I mean, it's such a brilliant twist, and where she's going in Season 2 is really, really exciting.
Q: No dainty little handguns for Shannon! Were you surprised when you saw that massive weapon?
A: If it had been a different show, probably. But because it was Gangs, I was like, "Of course I'm going to have this amazing big gun." I did laugh when I saw it though. It's a brilliant moment when the truth comes out about Shannon and who she actually is in this episode. And what I've read of Season 2, it's just cool that the women get to be bad too.
Q: What would you say is the truth about Shannon? That she's as ruthless as her father?
A: Yeah, that she's just a badass bitch! That's what I'd say. I just love when you get those twists and turns with characters that you're just not expecting. It's genius because nobody would have suspected her. I had a lot of people text me and be like, "Oh my God, we didn't see that coming! Shannon!" It's really, really cool.
Q: How did it feel to get one of these brutal scenes, just like your male counterparts on the show?
A: I had a nice feeling when reading that in the script, and also thinking about how to play it. How to approach her in that episode and track back her actions. Thinking "Oh, well that informed that decision to play that beat that way, or that beat that way," and piecing her story together. Her backstory about her ex and all of that stuff. I thought, "This is so good. If we get a Season 2 — because at that point we didn't know if we'd get a Season 2 — I wonder where it could go." Shannon is now firmly in the game, so I was really thrilled to see that they decided to do that with her.
Q: Some very interesting elements are at play leading into Season 2. What are your hopes for Shannon moving forward?
A: I think people should watch out for Shannon. That's all I'm going to say.
Full episodes of Gangs of London are available to stream now on amc.com, the AMC apps for mobile and devices, and on AMC+. The entire first season is available to watch now with AMC+, which is available through a variety of providers, including AppleTV, Prime Video Channels, DirectTV, Dish, Roku Channel, Sling, and Xfinity. Sign up for AMC+ to stream Gangs of London now on amc.com, on mobile for iOS and Android devices, and on your TV streaming device with the AMC app, available for Roku, Apple TV, FireTV, Xbox One, Android TV, and Chromecast.
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