Pippa Bennett-Warner has been steady working in stage and screen for a while now. A quiet talented force, Bennett-Warner has a number of new projects under her belt which are fast cementing her as one of the UK’s acting secret weapons.
She can currently be seen as ‘Shannon’ in Sky’s new gangster series Gangs of London. Set in the heart of one of the world’s most dynamic and multicultural cities, Gangs of London tells the story of the city 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…
We spoke to Bennett-Warner about her character, why this particular story was one she couldn’t say no to, and how she’s coping under quarantine.
Hello! I’m Pippa Bennett-Warner and I’m an actor.
You’ve got a pretty extensive cv across screen & stage and radio… do you feel seen?
When I started in the industry I wasn’t seeking recognition or instant success and that still applies today. Recognition and success are great but building a body of work and longevity are the things that really excite me.
You’ve gone through the Holy Grail of acting roles for UK actors – The Lion King, Holby City, Doctor Who, etc.- are they tick box projects that all actors feel they need on their CV or was it a case of, take the role ‘any‘ role and get the experience?
Yeah, I’m quite hot on “right of passage” roles/shows. I learned a lot doing shows like Holby and Lewis. So many actors that I admire have also done them. Of course, however, when you’re starting out there’s absolutely an element of take what you get!
Fast forward to this latest project Gangs of London for Sky, tell us about it, and the character you play …
Gangs of London is an action-packed thriller that focuses on the fallout of what happens when the leader of the most powerful crime families in London gets assassinated. I play a character called ‘Shannon Dumani‘ who is the daughter of a gang leader.
From the trailer alone it all looks very glossy, slick and sexy – however, it is about gangs and violence, what attracted you to the project and what would have possibly been a turnoff?
Yes, it does! I was really taken by the ambition on the page. I was aware of Gareth Evans and Matt Flannery (writers) from The Raid so I knew we would all be in safe hands. I loved the world they had created, I loved Shannon and I really wanted to be involved in something that felt fresh and rich. Possible turn-offs would have been an abundance of stereotypes and bad writing. Luckily neither of those things are in the show.
Black gangster characters in British mainstream projects tend to be bumbling and disorganised. However, seeing brilliant actors like Lucian Msmati, Sope Dirisu, Papa Esiedu and yourself involved I’m hopeful the narrative is different with this project – what was it like working with this brilliant cast across the board?
I had worked with quite a few of the cast before which was great because there was an inbuilt familiarity already in place which is really useful when starting a new series. The clever thing about GoL is that the world hasn’t been glamourised. Neither are the gangs bumbling and disorganised. The scripts are tight and respectful. The show feels like an authentic portrayal of a complicated choice of lifestyle; a happy medium.
How did you manage being a black woman on set of a project like this? Also, women in general, cast in male-dominated gangster projects tend to be relegated to eye candy / strippers, etc. etc.
I felt heard and really looked after. We had the best producers/writers and directors who all wanted the same thing we did which was to make the show as good as it could possibly be. Shannon doesn’t feel like a prop, which is great. She’s not an add on.
It’s regretful that Maxxx will be taken off air for now… how has this lockdown affected you and your career?
It’s such a shame but I get it and I get why C4 has done it. It makes sense. I was saying to someone the other day that lockdown isn’t a million miles away from being unemployed as an actor. It’s the same “going into the unknown” etc. There are obvious differences but I’m not totally unused to just chilling at home.
I really enjoyed Maxxx what were some of your favourite moments on the show, and again why was it important for you to be involved?
So glad you enjoyed Maxxx! It was such a fun job and I loved playing ‘Tamzin’. O.T. Fagbenle is a bit of a genius. Gosh, there are so many, I can’t pick one! I hadn’t done a comedy for a while and the show and part were pretty different from the other things I had been working on so it felt like a no brainer.
I have to mention the brilliant film Real – such a quiet yet impactful piece of work, the chemistry between your character and Aki’s was so ‘REAL‘ (sorry) – what did you take away from working with Aki Omoshaybi (Actor/Filmmaker), and starring in his film?
I am so proud of Aki and so proud to be a part of Real. We shot the whole thing in about 12 days and it was just such a lovely, unforgettable shoot. I like how you say it’s a quiet piece of work. That’s totally what we were going for. Aki is the kindest, calmest, hardest working person I know and to be in his directorial debut is wicked.
You’re stepping into the producer role on a new project ‘Open‘ are you preparing to do more behind the camera or was this a need to get this off the ground move?
I’d love to! Jack Eve and I went to drama school together and we bumped into each other last year at a mutual friends party. He then emailed to say he had a script he’d love me to read, I read it and then two weeks later we were shooting. He asked me to come on board as a producer and I said yes straight away. Producing has always felt like something I’d like to do so it felt like the right fit.
All episodes of Gangs of London are available to watch now on Sky (UK) and Cinemax (US).