Contains spoilers for season 2, episode 4 of Gangs of London
Orli Shuka is a big lad. Not Žydrūnas “Big Z” Savickas, big (he’s the world acclaimed strong man who we see Elliot take down in the laundrette in episode one in eye-popping detail), but big enough. And Luan, the head of the Albanian mafia is not a character to be messed with – we saw that in season one of Gangs of London when he wiped out the whole of the Nigerian gang in one exhausting and breathless sequence. But in season two the stakes have changed.
“Basically in season one they try to touch the family of Luan and in season two they did it,” explains Shuka. Luan’s storyline is laid out from the start. A year after the events of season one, and London is a different place. Luan is in a powerful position and has been dabbling in arms dealing, partnering with Marian Wallace (Michelle Fairley). But the Investors are very much in control of the city from behind the scenes and send in a Georgian enforcer called Koba (Waleed Zuaiter) who isn’t affiliated with any of the gangs. Everyone must toe the line, or suffer the consequences. “That is not how we do business in this city!” Luan bellows, pushing back against the Investors’ insistence that all heroin must be purchased from Asif Afridi (Asif Raza Mir). So Luan suffers the consequences…
In a horror movie-inspired sequence in episode one Luan is the victim of a home invasion by many masked goons – it’s Koba and his gang.
“This is all Corin’s idea basically. In the beginning when he showed me those amazing videos of his I thought he was going to kill me,” laughs Shuka of lead director Corin Hardy’s detailed plans for this extended fight scene. “After that fight I said ‘I can’t do it any more, my character is going to finish [die]’ but after that he sent me a text that said ‘how good are you with water? How many minutes can you hold your breath?’ So I thought, woah, they’re going to drown me this time. But it wasn’t that…”
If the fighting and the not-quite-drowning (which was done for real) was already intense enough, it is in episode four where Luan, and Shuka himself, are really put through the ringer.
Koba has taken Luan’s wife (played by Eri Shuka, Orli’s wife in real life) and has buried her alive and Luan does not know where. He must give up Marian, and acquiesce to Koba completely to have any chance of saving her. A glimmer of hope comes from Ed Dumani (Lucien Msamati) who takes Luan to the grave, but it’s a trap, the Georgians are there, triggering an almighty mud bath of a fight.
“The main idea was still Corin, but it was Marcela (Said) shooting this, so all credit to Marcela, and the whole amazing stunt team who created that scene,” says Shuka.
“The idea was to create a mud scene in the dark, a fighting scene,” he explains. “It was difficult in the sense it was real rain. They started with two bar rain and they finished with five bar rain into my back.* We shot in Tottenham Marshes, I remember that, it was real mud going inside my body all the time. It was cold. We shot in November.”
The fight scene is just half of Luan’s ordeal shot in this location. The scrap was shot first and then later that night they began filming the grave scene, where Luan, able to escape Koba after a massive coordinated raid led by Sean Wallace and supported by an alliance of the gangs, has finally returned to where his wife Mirlinda is buried. A devastated and broken Luan digs in the mud to try to reach her.
“It took us about 4 hours to shoot that,” Shuka explains. “They put Eri inside the grave that I need to open. It was real, the grave was ‘like that’” he says, gesturing that the lid of the coffin was bent inward towards Eri. “With the five bar rain everything was going into her, as soon as I opened the top she was up to ‘here’ [neck height] with rain, all the time. It was so real, so emotional to film it as an actor and as a human being. It was so emotional to see my real wife in those positions. It was a difficult scene, I’ve had flashbacks from that for a long time.”
It’s an incredibly powerful moment in the series. Luan digs frantically with his hands, finally gets the coffin lid open. He pulls his wife’s body to him and howls, believing her to be dead. But then she splutters.
“It’s the cherry on the top to find your wife you thought was dead, you’re fighting for, you fight, fight, fight, and she’s alive. I was screaming to god, to my faith, to her faith as well!” Shuka recalls. “It was 11 o’clock at night after the fight scene with the Georgians, it was a tough day, it was a hard day, the whole time I was in the rain and the mud fighting for my life, fighting for my wife and then we find out she’s alive and it’s a miracle.”
It wasn’t a bunch of laughs for Eri either. “For Eri it was the most difficult scene of her life, I always give credit to her for how she did that.”
It’s a standout moment in the show and you get the sense that Luan is never going to be the same again.
“It’s going to be a different story for him. He understood how much is at stake in the conflict. We’re going to see Luan thinking differently now in the action scenes that are going to come up soon in episode 7 and 8,” Shuka describes. “After that he understands the most important thing is his family. It’s not London, it’s not the money, he understands how this grief can motivate his character, he’s going to suffer for a long time now. He understands who the enemies are.”
Luan and Ed have a love-hate relationship which further develops as the series progresses. “Ed I have a long previous relationship, we’re around the same age, on the set we’re friends and in real life we are friends as well, it’s amazing how much those two characters have gone through,” says Shuka.
So when the series draws to close with the main players sat around a table yet to reveal their allegiances it could go either way for Luan and Ed.
“You’ve got the two main ones who are going to fight each other – Marian vs Elliot. But we don’t know which sides the others are going to be on. Maybe Luan will be on Marian’s side, maybe Ed is going to go with Elliot, the gangs are going to be still fighting each other,” he says.
While season three hasn’t been officially greenlit, very positive reactions to season two mean it’s certainly not off the table. Shuka is happy with the response he’s had to Luan so far.
“I just wanted to top season one, that’s all I needed,” he says. “They love Luan, they love the way this is going!”
*SFX call relating to water pressure. Bar is short for barometric pressure.
The whole of Gangs of London season 2 is available to watch on Sky Atlantic, episodes arrive weekly on Now. In the US episodes arrive on AMC+ on 17 November.