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Interview: Paapa Essiedu Talks ‘Gangs Of London’, ‘I May Destroy You’ & More

Gangs of London starring Joe Cole, Colm Meany, Michelle Fairley and Paapa Essiedu (of Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You) is finally available to us here in America. The series debuted earlier this year on BBC and migrated over to America on AMC late this year. In Gangs of London, the city is being torn apart by the turbulent power struggles of the international gangs that control it and the sudden power vacuum that’s created when the head of London’s most powerful crime family is assassinated.

I had the chance to sit down with Essiedu who plays Alexander Dumani on the series. During our conversation, we spoke about his reaction to the show making its debut in America, transitioning from television to theater, and the intense action scenes on the show. We also briefly discussed his work on I May Destroy!

Check out our interview with Paapa Essiedu below:

I am absolutely loving Gangs Of London right now! This show completely caught me by surprise. Now people are actually getting to see it in America, how does it feel to finally revisit this character and getting to see new people’s reactions to this show. 

Paapa Essiedu: It’s really exciting for people to see it and I’m really proud of it. And like, obviously it’s a bit strange you know? Because I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s been quite a weird year [laughs] you know? This show came out in England quite near the beginning of our first lockdown, so it’s kind of nice that I come back and revisit something I’m really fond of and to share it with people at this time.

Paapa Essiedu
(Courtesy of Sky Studios)

Speaking about that, it’s been a while since you filmed this. What has it been like getting to see Alex on screen again? 

Essiedu: Exciting, because like you’re right, we kind of started shooting two years ago now. So, a lot has changed since then. But I feel that the story is strong and I feel like Alex is a really curious, interesting character that I’m kind of proud of the part that I played when bringing him to life. I’m just very interested and curious as to how people are going to respond to them, and what people expect of him in this season and the next. 

What was it like on set getting to film these intense action scenes? Because this is by far some of the greatest action I’ve seen on television yet.

Essiedu: Our two lead directors Gareth Evans and Matt Flannery, and then Karen Hardy and Xavi as well are all truly experts at their craft. They’ve all like come from a background in cinema really, and that’s where a lot of their success has been, and they’ve really kind of translated it from the big screen to a small green screen in a way that I think is really exciting and innovative – in a way that we haven’t seen really before. It was really thrilling to be at the center of those kind of scenes because you’re right, we don’t often get those opportunities to do on that scale in television.

Paapa Essiedu
(Photo by Manuel Harlan/RSC)

You’ve done a lot of theater in your career. Can you talk about going from theater to transitioning to doing more TV?  Was that always a goal?

Essiedu: I’ve always kind of just been led by what I’ve been interested in by design. I’ve been really lucky to be involved in a very interesting place and very interested in screen projects as well. So it feels like the last couple of years that maybe I’ve been kind of leaning that way or maybe leaning a little bit this way, but I’m continuing to build my craft and learn more about the way I perform, and what I’m interested in. And yeah, I just want to continue to continue doing that really.

You also spoke about what it was like being a Black man in theater and just in this industry .Do you have any advice for young people that are going through that as well? 

Essiedu: The times are changing and I think time itself is incredibly critical. If we think about what we thought was important last year compared to what we think is important now. This year is kind of unrecognizable, but I think the thing that remains consistent, is that you have to fiercely know yourself.

I feel like my journey towards where I’m at now and hopefully towards where we’ll be in the future has been about self knowledge, and figuring out what’s important to me – what I’m passionate about and what my own ambitions are, and then fiercely protecting that and not allowing anybody to tell me who I am. They want to tell me what I can and definitely cannot do, but I try to do things on my terms where possible and that’s really allowed me to sleep a lot better. 

Paapa Essiedu
Paapa Essiedu in I May Destroy You (Courtesy of BBC)

Interestingly enough, because we didn’t get Gangs of London here for a while, I May Destroy You was my first introduction to you. So, what was it like going from Gangs of London into a character that’s completely opposite of Alexander? 

Essiedu: Yeah, it was pretty interesting because we filmed them one after the other. It was a really short gap in between those two projects and both characters are just incredibly well written. And that’s kind of the overarching kind of vision, I suppose, even though they were really different. Both characters were really clear to me as far as what I was kind of aiming for and the questions that I was trying to ask, and the provocations I was trying to make. 

Thank you so much for giving us some of your time! We definitely have to speak again when season two comes around! Stay safe! 

Essiedu: Definitely! Stay safe.

About Paapa Essiedu:

Paapa Essiedu is an English actor. He is known for his work in theatre, film and television, including in the 2020 television series I May Destroy You. He won the 2016 Ian Charleson Award for his title role in Hamlet and Edmund in King Lear, both at the Royal Shakespeare Company.

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