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There’s a certain rite of passage that every British male actor of a certain age who has recently displayed a certain set of skills onscreen must go through — at some point they’ll be talked up as a possible James Bond.
For Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù, this happened shortly after the first season of Gangs of London, the Gareth Evans-created brutal and blood-soaked crime thriller series, which aired on Sky in the U.K. in 2020 and the next year on AMC+ in the U.S.
The first episode alone — in which Dìrísù’s undercover cop character, Elliot Finch, takes out an entire pub’s worth of Eastern European bruisers (with fists, feet, pint glasses, ashtrays and a solitary playing dart) and, in a later more Saw-like scene, battles a man wearing only boxer shorts and rubber boots and brandishing a meat cleaver — showed the actor is more than capable of taking on any sequence, Bond or otherwise. With the second season of Gangs of London now scheduled to land on AMC+ on Nov. 17, his status as the U.K.’s most exciting new action hero is only set to increase further.
According to Dìrísù, born in London to Nigerian parents (Ṣọpẹ́ is a Yoruba name meaning “give thanks to God”), the first talk of 007 actually came when he was just 15.
“I played Macbeth in a school play and my best friend was like, ‘Hey, you’d be a great Bond,’ ” he recalls. While Dirisu dismissed it at the time, the world’s most famous spy (and arguably’s the film industry’s most illustrious gig) began being mentioned again later in life, after he’d joined the National Youth Theatre and later started breaking out on stage (such as political comedy Tory Boyz from Brexit: The Uncivil War writer James Graham) and screen (notably as a warrior in The Huntsman: Winter’s War and the Black Mirror episode “Nosedive”).
“It’s something that has crept up over time,” he notes. “But then you do a Gangs of London, and the world gets to see you.”
U.K. bookmakers certainly saw him, and began adding Dìrísù to their ever-changing lineup of likely candidates. And while he claims he never checked in daily, he did start to see the odds reduce.
“I think the shortest I’ve ever been at any one time is 6 to 1, and that’s too close,” he says, acknowledging that both Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig were total outsiders when they were hired (Craig’s hire was so unexpected it sparked considerable consternation). “I think Bond is the kingmaker — rather than [that] someone who is already king gets to be Bond. So yeah, the shorter the odds are, the less likely it’s going to happen.”
But while 007 gatekeepers Eon carefully ponder who to crown, Dìrísù has spent the last couple of years flexing his acting muscles elsewhere and landed him a promising share of accolades.
In late 2020 came Remi Weekes’ chilling social realist horror His House, in which he played a Sudanese asylum seeker whose temporary London home appears to be haunted by the nightmares he left behind. It garnered him a British Independent Film Award nomination for best actor. Then in 2021 came roles in both the dark Christmas comedy Silent Night and the post-WWI period drama Mothering Sunday, plus a BAFTA Rising Star nomination. Earlier this year, he was the titular Mr. Malcolm in Bridgerton-like Regency romp Mr. Malcolm’s List, playing a choosy bachelor who catches the eye of Frida Pinto in a period drama that went where few have been before with its diverse casting (while Dìrísù says it’s something to be celebrated, he’s “not being complacent about it.”)
Around the time of Mr. Malcolm’s List, speculation began to gather steam online that Dìrísù was to lead HBO Max’s Constantine TV series as the famed supernatural detective. Ultimately the project was shelved in September 2022 when Warner Bros. Discovery announced it would be doing a Constantine film sequel instead, binging back Keanu Reeves (Dìrísù, who never formerly acknowledged any involvement, tweeted a congratulatory note: “Give ‘em Hell, King.”).
His potential trip into the DC world may have been cut short, but Dìrísù notes how “lovely is it to be respected and regarded” enough for people to even consider him for roles such as Constantine and 007.
“If they’re thinking, he’d be a great Bond, I can change the character in my head to fit him and I think he’d do it justice, it’s a vote of confidence that I really appreciate,” he says. “But then any frustration comes the fact that I remember it’s not in my control. I can only do my best work and see what I get offered.”
As for season two of Gangs, he’s set to take on all manner of fight scenes once again, including facing off against a character played by powerlifter Zydrunas Savickas, a four-time winner of the World’s Strong Man competition. It’s not something he shies from. “It’s heightened violence,” he says of the show, “and that’s the stuff that I gravitated toward.”
This story first appeared in the Nov. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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