BAZ BAMIGBOYE: The secrets of how Joe Cole keeps his cool in the Gang!

BAZ BAMIGBOYE: The secrets of how Joe Cole keeps his cool in the Gang!

At school Joe Cole learned lessons he’s put to good use in a scorching new television action thriller.

The 31-year-old is the star of Sky’s ten-part Gangs Of London, in which he plays Sean Wallace, a public school-educated, cold-eyed scion of a crime family who takes over the business when his father (Colm Meaney) is assassinated.

Sean takes revenge on his rivals in order to find out who killed his ruthless dad.

Joe Cole (centre) and Michelle Fairley (right) star in the new ten-part drama  Gangs Of London

But Sean’s at his deadliest not when firing a gun or dangling a man from a high-rise before setting him ablaze. No, he’s at his most lethal when silently scanning a room.

I mentioned that Anthony Hopkins once told me that standing still is one of the most difficult things for a screen actor to do. Cole waited a beat, then told me about his time at Hollyfield School in Surbiton, when he was 12.

‘It was an ordinary state school,’ he said.

‘It was a real melting pot, with kids coming in from Clapham and Vauxhall. I feel like a fair bit of what I learned was just picking up on how to get through, day to day.

‘I think you learn so much as a kid about how to be. So as not to get into trouble with the wrong people — or to get in with the right people. You just observe. 

The new show, which also stars Sope Dirisu (second from right), Lucian Msamati (left) and Michelle Fairley (right), will see the 31-year-old actor play Sean Wallace, a public school-educated, cold-eyed scion of a crime family

The young actor was initially wary of taking on the part because he didn’t want to wade back into the world of family crime

It was a gift in a way,’ he told me from Brixton, where he is shacked up with two of his four brothers — Rory and Finn — who appeared with him in Peaky Blinders.

Cole clearly studied well in the playground because he’s terrific in Gangs Of London, which broadcasts from April 23. 

It also stars Sope Dirisu as an outsider who becomes Sean’s lieutenant; Lucian Msamati and Paapa Essiedu, who oversee the global property empire that washes the Wallaces’ dirty money; Michelle Fairley as his Lady Macbeth of a mother, and Brian Vernel as his dope-addicted younger sibling.

Cole said Sean is ‘a boy in a man’s world. He’s emotional, reactive and impulsive’. Not to mention unhinged. ‘This is a guy who probably needs therapy sessions,’ Cole agreed.

But Sean’s at his deadliest not when firing a gun or dangling a man from a high-rise before setting him ablaze. No, he’s at his most lethal when silently scanning a room

Actor Colm Meaney (pictured) in Sky’s brand new series which launches this April

Sean’s damaged psychology is brilliantly drawn by Gang’s creator Gareth Evans. In a flashback, we see Sean’s father pushing him to shoot a man who is buried up to his neck. 

‘He’s probably got a certain degree of PTSD because of that,’ the actor commented.

Cole’s own upbringing was the complete antithesis of Sean’s. His dad, a one-time management consultant turned sailing instructor, was supportive. ‘He wanted his kids to do well. It was never about him,’ he told me.

The young actor was initially wary of taking on the part because he didn’t want to wade back into the world of family crime. 

Cole clearly studied well in the playground because he’s terrific in Gangs Of London which broadcasts from April 23

‘I’m a softie!’ he protested. But then he saw the calibre of the talent being assembled, and read the script. ‘It was a page-turner,’ he said.

So far, he and his brothers have coped pretty well with lockdown. 

They watch movies his American agent forwards him and do a weekly quiz, and there are cook-athons. Risotto was on the menu the day we spoke. Living with two siblings was fine, he said. ‘Five of us would be a little bit much.’

I wondered if there would be a second series of Gangs Of London. But Cole went back into playground mode, and remained silent.

 

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