On a summer afternoon, in a villa somewhere in Northern Italy, we spent a few hours with Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù chitchatting about London’s best spots to eat stake and the magic of Italian ice cream, taking pictures on shabby wooden staircases and playing with “ancient toys”. And so, we got lost in the stuffy air of antiquity, in the timeless dimension of performing arts.
After a season packed with great releases, such as the period drama “Mr. Malcolm’s List”, and war drama “Mothering Sunday”, Ṣọpẹ́’s latest project is available from October 26th on Sky Atlantic: the second season of “Gangs of London”. Playing Elliot in an oddly out-of-control situation, Sope promises a suggestive set of events that will turn this second chapter of London gangs’ power struggles into visceral new storytelling.
While learning self-confidence through writing experiments and appreciating relationships, stories, and the people worth being with, Ṣọpẹ́ keeps researching with one supreme aim: working to create “deeper, more lived-in characters”.
What’s your first cinema memory?
My first memory of going to the cinema is to see “Space Jam” at the Staples Corner cinema in London when I was 5 or 6. I went with my best friend at the time and his dad. A properly magical experience. My second was being thrown out of a screening of Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” at 12 [laughs].
You’re back in the second season of “Gangs of London” in the role of undercover policeman Elliot Finch. What’s your experience on this set been like so far? Did you learn any new skills or lessons during your journey?
I didn’t get to write any whole episodes or anything like that but I did more formally re-write a few of the scenes I was in. The best part of it was receiving feedback from one of the executives because it made me understand the process and consideration a bit more and in being critiqued and edited, it made me grow in confidence and believe that I might actually be able to do more writing in the future!
Season one transported us to a London ruled by a group of international gangs; season two promises to deliver even more of the visceral action that we’ve witnessed in the first chapter. Plot-wise, all we know so far is that the surviving Wallaces are scattered, the Dumanis broken and estranged, and Elliot is now being forced to work for The Investors. What can you unveil to us about your character’s development and entanglements in the new season?
We meet all of our characters a year after the events of the first season and when we find Elliot, we see he’s deeply entangled with people he doesn’t want to be with and its weight is heavy on his soul. He’s really out of control of his situation, unlike the first series, and I think there’s a lot of fear in that.
Do the “Gangs of London” London and real-life London have anything in common, in your opinion? Given the most recent political developments, it really feels to be in a movie or video game at times…
I really hope not! [laughs]
How would you describe “Gangs of London” in one word?
You also star in the period film “Mr. Malcolm’s List” in the titular role, reprising it from the short movie in which the novel of the same name was firstly adapted, before being expanded into the feature-length movie. How did you approach your character, Mr. Jeremiah Malcolm? How was reprising the same role from a short film to a feature film? Did something feel different?
Transporting myself into the regency period took a lot of hard work, long research, and help from some really talented people. I read and listened to a lot of Austen, the principal writer of the time, I watched almost all of the adaptations of her work. I spent hours researching the customs of the time and practiced, practiced, practiced poise and posture, customs and courtesies but also, I’m so grateful to Emma Holly Jones for her belief that I could do it because at first, I didn’t believe in myself. That was consistent from the short to the feature.
The only difference was that we had more time to invest in our characters and our choices and each other.
Did you discover something new about yourself while portraying Jeremiah Malcolm?
I definitely discovered that as an actor, and as a person, I can be anything I want to be, and sometimes you are the biggest obstacle to your own success.
Bringing “Mr. Malcolm’s List” to the big screen truly feels like a team effort, what were the main challenges and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenges in creating “Mr. Malcolm’s List” were definitely budget and the Coronavirus. We made (what looks like a very expensive) period drama for a relatively very small budget. All of the heads of department did some exceptional work to make the film possible so I’m so grateful to all of them for that and then all the necessary restrictions to fight Covid made the filming experience so much more expensive and at times lonely. Thankfully we had some wonderful people in the cast and crew that kept us all going.
“We made (what looks like a very expensive) period drama for a relatively very small budget.”
In “Mothering Sunday” you play Donald, a significant figure in the protagonist’s later life, a philosopher whom she meets while working at a bookshop. What was your preparation process for this role and, broadly speaking, for the screen adaptation of Graham Swift’s novel?
As always, if there’s a source material for a project, I’ll start there. However, Donald really only exists in two paragraphs of Graham Swift’s novel, which was actually quite freeing. There was very little character description to adhere to or be constrained by, so Eva Husson and I just had dinner one night and dreamed him up.
You do action, you do horror, and you lead a period film: it seems you can do it all! Are there ever times in which you feel like the opposite? How do you cope with the ups and downs of life and work?
Actually yes! I have this strange hang-up that I don’t want to be pigeonholed as an actor who can only do one type of film or role and then I stop for a moment and look back at all that I’ve tackled, overcome and achieved in my career so far and realize that isn’t something I have to worry about because of the diversity of the work I’ve done so far. I’m excited to keep pushing those boundaries though!
I’m really grateful to my friends, family, and therapist for keeping me grounded and positive. When I’m not working, I like to stay active and travel and find time for all the life events that being on set can take you away from. Invest in those relationships that mean the most to me, while I have the time.
“I don’t want to be pigeonholed as an actor who can only do one type of film or role…”
And what is your favorite genre to play and the one to watch?
I don’t have a favourite genre to play. I love learning the nuances and specificities of each one. But I do love watching fantasy and science fiction.
What is it that usually makes you say “yes” to a project?
I’ve said yes to projects for loads of reasons, but they often boil down to story and people. If I’m excited by the story, I’ll want to be a part of telling it. If I’m excited by the people telling the story, I’ll want to work with them on the project.
How and where do you find inspiration on the job and in your everyday life?
I really look to life to inspire my work. I keep a little journal of questions and curiosities that come to mind generally in life and see how I can apply them to my characters when I’m working to create deeper, more lived-in characters. I like to watch people and answer questions that they inspire in my work.
“I really look to life to inspire my work.”
Are you more rational or instinctive when it comes to building a character?
I have an economics degree, so I think I approach things with quite a scientific mind. I like to find evidence and justification for a lot of the decisions I make, so I would say I was quite rational. I’m excited to try and find a role in which I can throw all of that out of the window and just be really instinctive and impulsive with creating and performing that character.
Your latest binge-watch?
The last thing I binged was “Ms. Marvel” on Disney+.
An epic fail on set?
I was thrown off my horse during a take of “Mr. Malcolm’s List”. I landed on my feet and styled it out though, but I was VERY scared for half a second.
What’s the book on your nightstand right now?
The book I’m currently reading is “Omeros” by Derek Walcott. I haven’t started it yet, but it’s next!
The latest thing/person to make you smile?
The last thing that made me smile was a baby girl on the train who wouldn’t stop staring and smiling at me.
What’s your happy place?
On any football pitch, with the ball at my feet, sharing that moment with 21 other players.
Photos & Video by Johnny Carrano.
Styling by Angelica Corà.
Grooming by Claudia Raia.
Hair by Rella’s Eden Milano.
Looks by Tiziano Guardini & Antonio Marras
Thanks to Narrative PR.