Tom Connolly is one of the busiest stunt coordinators in film and TV. His credits for performing and developing some of the most insane action sequences of the last 20-plus years include Daredevil, Arrow, Jurassic World, John Wick and Logan to name but a few, and while he is undoubtedly one of the most in-demand experts of his kind, the opportunity to make his mark on Season 2 of the ultra-violent crime drama, Gangs of London was a chance that he simply couldn’t pass up.
M&F sat down with Tom Connolly to learn about how those Gangs of London action sequences come together, and why he simply couldn’t say no to this exciting project.
“I was an athlete at the U.S. Olympic training center in Colorado Springs and started doing a couple of commercials for my sponsors,” says Connolly, who practiced Taekwondo. “I realized ‘this is kinda fun,’ this might be something I can do after I retire from competition. The commercials led to acting and I was asked like ‘hey, can you do a couple of stunts?’ and then a fight scene, and I realized I’m kinda good at this, and I enjoy this, and here I am today.” In truth, “kinda good at this” is an understatement, since Connolly’s resume is a stunt professionals’ dream. He’s even doubled for the likes of Gerard Butler, Vin Diesel, and Ben Affleck. But in addition to being seen on camera, Connolly has built a reputation as a premier stunt and fight coordinator too. Gangs of London, however, posed a challenge even for Connolly; in part because of the positive way that fans had received the first season, and also because each fight scene is designed to look as real as possible, making it about as far removed from a Marvel movie as you can get. Fortunately, he loves to mix things up.
Tom Connolly relishes the challenge of creating memorable action
“It’s a challenge to do something different from what’s kind of out there as the norm, right now,” says the 6-feet-1-inch stunt pro. “And something that brings you into the action, and makes you feel almost like you are participating. (In Gangs of London) When everybody’s tired in the action, you feel tired too, versus… you know, I think some of the Marvel action, they do some amazing things and some new, great camera work, a lot of CGI, but you walk away and you don’t remember anything from the action. It’s just a lot of moves and a lot of visual stimulation. That’s the big thing, I think, with [Gangs of London] type of action, you have those memorable moments and you plan them carefully and when you walk away, people remember that stuff and they talk about it.”
💥💥🔥 A . C . T . I . O . N . 🔥💥💥
Shout outs to the master of mayhem @timconnolly & his incredible stunt team & Alex Gunn & his @arcadiasfxIt wouldn’t be possible to make @gangsoflondon without their dedication to pulling off extreme carnage.. pic.twitter.com/RzpqSjoLTe
—CORIN HARDY (@corinhardy) October 25, 2022
Indeed, there are numerous action sequences in Season 2 that will stay in your mind for quite some time. In a particular grizzly moment, a man is hooked by the neck and dragged along a window sill that is adorned with broken glass. While such scenes are brutal to watch, you can’t help but appreciate the creativity that comes up with such mind-blowing concepts. “It’s a collaborative effort,” says Connolly. “So, when we come in and design something like that, Corin Hardy (the lead director) has an outline of what we want to do. So, we’ll sit down with him and go over everything, and then once we get into our rehearsal space, that’s when the real creative juices come out. That’s when you can find things in that environment to make it feel very realistic.”
The success of an action sequence is all in the preparation
“I think it’s different with every director, and that’s the amazing thing about Corin, he’s so visual,” says Connolly. “If Corin gets an idea, he doesn’t necessarily try to explain it to you. He’ll sit down and draw it at a professional artist level, right in front of you. It helps so much, because what we do is such a visual medium. Usually, within the action, we’ll work on some moments and we’ll shoot it as a pre-vis and that becomes the real story board.”
The previsualization is shot with stunt doubles, and with stunt actors too, since actors who can perform their own stunts can be cast in the show and don’t need to be edited out later. This saves time, especially on a project like Gangs of London that uses extended fight scenes. Camera’s are able to focus on the actors in the majority of the shots because they are doing their own stunts. Connolly says this not only adds to the realism of the scenes, but gives the camera crew more freedom to experiment with different shots and angles. “We can be a little bit wider on the camera and we can do longer takes,” he shares.
When it came time to complete the scenes with the headlining stars, Connolly found that he had a team that were more than willing to contribute. “Every cast member that came in, put it all out, they were amazing,” he says. “I’ve never worked on a show where every cast member was so excited to come in and do the action. You have Sope, there’s nothing that he cannot do. He’s so physically gifted. Everybody just put it all out there.”
Tom Connolly loves that ‘Gangs of London’ is ‘outside of the box’
The level of violence in Gangs of London is so jaw-dropping that there really is nothing like this show on television. For Tom Connolly, choosing a favorite scene is like picking a favored child. “It’s tough, because of the behind-the-scenes moments that go into this,” says Connolly. “The underwater sequence, to try to do a longer take under water presented some challenges that made it really interesting to do. It’s something that was very enjoyable for me to try and pull off. I don’t know that I have a favorite. I think they all offer something special. We thought we were going to fail, because of the schedule. Each one of those scenes is a feature level action scene. To do that for television is great and the reason I took the job is because ‘Gangs’ is one of the few shows that has such strong action-drama, because they don’t live in a box. They were able to think outside of the box, and do things that were unexpected. I think everybody is excited, and everybody is proud.”
Season one of the BAFTA winning series is available to stream through AMC+ with Season two dropping on Nov. 17.