The Peaky Blinders actor plays the new head of a powerful crime family in Sky Atlantic's action-packed thriller
He was gunned down in cold blood as Tommy Shelby’s younger sibling John in the hit BBC period drama Peaky Blinders. Now Joe Cole is a member of another powerful British crime family in Sky Atlantic’s contemporary thriller Gangs of London – and this time it’s his job to head up the family firm after his own father is shot.
Joe plays Sean, the headstrong youngest son of capital crime kingpin Finn Wallace (Star Trek actor Colm Meaney), an Irish immigrant who has built up his underworld empire from nothing.
Finn is in the process of making his business more legitimate by moving into construction. But the delicately balanced truce between the city’s rival gangs is suddenly upset when Finn becomes the victim of a contract killing.
“Sean is tasked with taking over and heading this gangster organization,” explains Joe, 31. “He was always in line to do it, but it’s forced upon him sooner than he expected because of the sudden death of his father. And it comes with its own problems.”
One of which is caused when, going against the advice of Finn’s closest advisor Ed (Lucian Msamati), Sean tells the assembled heads of the various crime syndicates that they won’t be doing any more business until his father’s killer is found.
As he clamps down on his rivals while at the same time trying to establish which of them is responsible for Finn’s death, he finds an unlikely ally in Elliot (Sope Dirisu), a small cog in the family’s money-making machine who shows his mettle in a series of exciting – and very violent – fight scenes. However Elliot appears to have his own agenda, and Sean is unsure who he can trust.
“Sean is finding his feet in this adult world, this privately educated son who has various levels of PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] from a quite horrific upbringing in a gangster’s family,” says Joe.
“But he’s not just this posh kid who’s been thrown into the hot seat and shouldn’t be there. Which made it more interesting to play!”
The show’s brilliantly choreographed – and very violent – action scenes are sure to be a talking point, and Joe recalls that his first day on set was spent in a field in Kent, working on a large-scale, cinematic set-piece that sees Sean and his gun-toting gang raid a travellers’ camp.
“A lot of blanks got fired that day!” he laughs. “We had mud up to our knees and we got to fire guns for three days straight. I thought: ‘I’m getting paid to do this! This is why I wanted to become an actor!’”
Gangs of London starts on Sky Atlantic on Thursday 23 April at 9pm, is available as a box set on Sky Box Sets and NOW TV from that date.