Gangs of London Q&A — Valene Kane On How She Channels Jacqueline Wallace's Rage and Guilt
In Gangs of London, Valene Kane plays Jacqueline Wallace, the fierce eldest daughter of the Wallace family, committed to turning her back on the nefarious dealings of her family's organization. In this interview with amc.com, Kane talks about channeling Jacqueline's Wallace rage with music, how she relates to Jacqueline's struggle with her family, and what it was like shooting that chaotic surgery scene at the end of Episode 5.
Q: What attracted you to Gangs of London and the role of Jacqueline?
A: I was definitely attracted to the creative team. A lot of the other actors were cast before I was. I was definitely a fan of a lot of the actors. I'm always attracted to family drama. It's the thing that most attracts me to scripts and to art in general. I think it's something that we can all relate to, and, for me, there was something very familiar about the family dynamic. No matter what your family is involved in, at the end of the day it comes down to blood ties and loyalty, and that's something that I understand.
Q: How did you work with the creative team to flesh out Jacqueline's character?
A: I suppose I did my own work, and then when I arrived on set, we were really lucky that the first day of shooting for all of us was the funeral scene in the first episode. What was unique and brilliant about that, is that we all got to meet each other that first day, which doesn't always happen. Obviously we had the read-through, so you kind of get a sense of "Okay, so those guys are my brothers, these are my parents and this is the vibe." When you hear the whole first few episodes read aloud, any ideas that you had about your character and the genre and style are either solidified or not, and they were definitely solidified for me. I thought, "We're all on the same page with this style, which is really human and pared down." So when we arrived on set and we filmed the funeral scene, it was really nice to meet everyone, and we got to formulate our family dynamic during those first few days. When you have brothers, sisters, and parents on screen, it makes it so much easier for you to base your character on some kind of reality.
Q: It's interesting that the funeral scene was the first thing you shot. It's very meta, because presumably Jacqueline hasn't seen her family in a long time.
A: Yeah, exactly. That was really helpful and really good for me to immediately come in and feel that otherness. We all feel that way when we start a project; we don't know anyone and they're all new people and you've got to mesh with the creative team. So it was really easy for me to have the feeling of being outside the family since it was our first scene. Sometimes you start a movie with a sex scene with a guy that you've never met and you've had a relationship for two years! So, it was really helpful in creating the world. It made it easier.
Q: You mentioned that you did a lot of work before coming on set. What does that work look like for you?
A: I'm a little kid when it comes to how I create my characters. I like to make a mood board of images, that as I'm preparing ignite something in me. I always have a playlist for my characters, so when I'm in my trailer before I start shooting, I listen to the playlist over and over again to get the idea of who this woman is. And obviously I had to do some research on what being a doctor is. My best friend is a doctor so that was really helpful. I went over the script with her asking, "Is this all real? Does this all make sense to you?" Because sometimes, and obviously the scriptwriters checked everything, but sometimes when you're playing a lawyer or a doctor or something it isn't always based in reality. So I did some work with my friend to make sure all my terminology was right and my actions synced, especially for Episode —I was like, "What would you do in this situation?"
Q: I'm curious if you remember any of the songs that were on Jacqueline's playlist?
A: Oh my God, I don't! Because I'm preparing for another character now, so I'm making a new playlist for her. God, I don't know! A lot of rage. I had a lot of angry, rage-filled songs. But I can't remember. I think there was lots of Muse and Radiohead. That was my idea for Jacqueline.
Q: It seems like the perfect way that she would manifest her Wallace rage, through music.
A: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Because she really wants to get away from the anger and the rage in every way. She's turned her back on that aspect of her life and that aspect of her family, so I think there was something about her internal world being quite fraught, but us never seeing that.
Q: How do you think she navigates through her feelings for her family and her strong feelings about what they do? It definitely seems like she still has a lot of love for her brothers, but obviously they're still inside the system of the family organization.
A: I really understood her, because I come from a very complicated Irish Catholic family where there's things I've disagreed with. There's just something about Irish Catholics, which Jacqueline is. They were raised in England, but they have Irish parents. Loyalty is really important, so for me there was a certain fine balance between "I disagree with everything that you do and who you are, but you're my family and I love you." I think that she finds it too difficult with her mother because she's now carrying a child, and the idea that she could subject her own child to the violence that she was subjected to enrages her so much. It actually deepens the rift between her and her mother, even though we see a glimmer of hope between the two of them. There's disappointment that her brothers have gone down this road, but it was inevitable. So I think that there's distaste but also deep love, and that's a very Irish thing.
Q: It sounds like a lot of empathy too.
A: Yeah, and respect. I think she respects the difficult life that her father must have had when he first came to England and set himself up. But she just wants to do it in a different way. She wants to help people, rather than kill them. [Laughs]
Q: It seems like she sought out the perfect job where she could clean up her family's mess, so to speak.
A: For sure, there's definitely some deferred healing going on. There's definitely some guilt happening there. I think it makes a lot of sense that she cares deeply about saving lives, rather than ending them.
Q: Speaking of Jacqueline's dynamic with Marian, you get to share a lot of poignant scenes with Michelle Fairley, especially in Episode 4. What was it like working together and crafting the dynamic that you have together?
A: I was really excited about working with Michelle. I've grown up watching her and there's not a lot of successful Northern Irish actresses, so I was really excited and looking forward to that dynamic. I think we both fell in very easily and had a really easy working relationship that was a good balance between being total b-tches to each other and being warm as actors to each other. There's a certain delight that one can take in having difficulties on screen, because we don't often get to experience in real life that kind of hatred, so it's quite nice to be able to do it on screen. I can't tell my sisters how I really feel most of the time, but I was able to do that on screen with Marian, so yeah it was really enjoyable.
Q: That sounds really cathartic.
A: That's the reason why I'm an actor. I just can't express myself in real life and I get to do it on screen! [Laughs]
Q: Speaking of those deep difficulties, in Episode 4, Marian appeals to Jacqueline and says that she wanted to "make a daughter so good that she would turn her back on her own family." Do you think Jacqueline believes that? Do you think the comment changes anything about their relationship?
A: I don't know if she believe it, because I think she has so much distrust of her mother. I think that she sees that her mother will do whatever it takes to keep the business afloat, and I think that she's seen her mother choose the business time and time again over her own relationship. All that's from her perspective, so I suppose, when she hears that, she thinks, "Is that the truth?" but really I think there's a softening when she feels like she doesn't want her own child to be completely removed from the family. We see that her marriage isn't working out, and I think that she wants her child to have a family. I think the softness comes more from wanting the lineage of her family to be present in her own child's life, rather than really believing her mother.
Q: It must be so hard too when Sean comes to her in the hospital and she says ,"My baby will not be learning the ways of the world from his uncle."
A: I think so, yeah. She doesn't want her kid, especially if it's a little boy, to grow up like Sean. I think that throughout their childhood she would have done -- as the oldest sibling -- she would have wanted to try and protect her little brothers. I think she would have done everything that she could have to stop them from getting into the business, and not only have they not gone and forged their own paths, but they're deep into it, especially Sean. In a way, Alexander has followed the route that she might have taken if she had stayed in the family business. She would have eradicated herself from the violence of it and maybe done something more on the business side, whereas Sean is very much entrenched in the violence.
Q: Especially trying to go on the rampage after Finn is killed.
A: Which I think all of us understand. Then there's Billy who's just such a lost soul. She sees what it's all done to him, so I think that there's parts of her that feels she maybe could have done more to save them. If you have younger siblings you feel like you have a certain responsibility to protect them. I don't feel like she feels like she did, but she will definitely protect her own child.
Q: There's a glimmer of hope at the family dinner. It feels like there's an externalization of all of the chaos, but then Sean and Elliot burst in and there's a surgery scene. What was it like filming that frenetic sequence?
A: With those kinds of scenes, it becomes choreography. It becomes like a dance, and I'm a dancer. I was a dancer when I was younger, so I really understand the idea of rehearsing a scene and keeping the exact same shapes and movements so that the camera can follow each. And Corin [Hardy] is just a genius. He was really specific and knew exactly what he wanted to do, and our director of photography (D.O.P.) was just a gem, so it was really like a dance.
All of us knew that it was going to be a tough day, but it was fun. You rehearse something enough, but then it becomes fun to play the scene out every time that you're shooting. It's fun and full of energy because you know exactly what you're doing. I do a lot of improvisation work where you really don't know what's going to happen, and there's a beauty in that. But with this, the freedom comes from knowing exactly what you're going to do, which is its own kind of freedom.
Those things are fun, and we all loved each other. It's one of the best casts I've ever worked with. We really, really got along, so it meant that those kinds of days where you were all on set were really fun. We all wanted to be together, and we all hung out. We're all still friends! Those are the kind of days on set when you think, "This is a fun way to spend a day."
Read an interview with Brian Vernel, who plays Billy Wallace, here. Vernel chats with amc.com about playing the black sheep of the Wallace family, how Billy struggles with his dark past, and why Billy is one of the only characters in the show with a conscience.
Gangs of London airs Sundays at 10/9c AMC. Check out the full schedule here. Full episodes are available to stream now on amc.com, the AMC apps for mobile and devices, and on AMC+. The entire first season is available to watch now with AMC+, which is available through a variety of providers, including AppleTV, Prime Video Channels, DirectTV, Dish, Roku Channel, Sling, and Xfinity. Sign up for AMC+ to stream Gangs of London now on amc.com, on mobile for iOS and Android devices, and on your TV streaming device with the AMC app, available for Roku, Apple TV, FireTV, Xbox One, Android TV, and Chromecast.
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