Theo James and Kaya Scodelario discuss 'The Gentlemen' and keeping up with Guy Ritchie

This article contains spoilers for Netflix's "The Gentlemen."

Despite having similar careers, Theo James and Kaya Scodelario had never met before being cast in “The Gentlemen,” a Netflix spin-off of Guy Ritchie’s 2019 crime comedy. Both have starred in young adult book adaptations, appeared in popular TV shows and toyed equally with big studio films and eclectic indies. So joining the series, created by Ritchie and co-written with Matthew Read, was another tandem step.

“I feel like he makes good choices,” Scodelario says of James. “It’s quite good to know on Day 1 that you already respect the person without having worked with them yet.”

On the show, James plays Eddie Halstead, a member of a British aristocratic family who becomes a duke when his father suddenly dies. He soon realizes their estate is home to a weed empire run by Bobby Glass (Ray Winstone) and his daughter Susie, played by Scodelario. Eddie finds himself descending deeper and deeper into the criminal underworld with Susie’s help, eventually discovering that he “has the heart of a killer,” as James says. It’s a wild ride served up with signature Ritchie flair.

“In Guy’s world, you have to straddle, very acutely, humor and comedy, but it can't tip into the ridiculous because then all the stakes become completely lost,” James says. “He undercuts your sense of expectation as an audience continually, which I quite enjoy. Nothing is totally serious, and I think that's crucial. It’s not ‘Succession.’”

In the eight episodes, which exist as a standalone story separate from the film and are now streaming, Eddie and Susie first collaborate, then backstab each other and eventually realize they are better as a team. Much of the series shifted and evolved on set during the lengthy production process, which took place in England.

“You have to be on your toes, and you have to be willing to oscillate with what Guy’s feeling on the day,” James says. “And that can be quite liberating.”

“As it progressed, we were able to enjoy it a bit more because we got used to the rhythm of how Guy works,” Scodelario adds. “But the beginning was quite anxiety-inducing, just because 101 for an actor is to turn up and learn your lines, and that goes out the window with him. It was an interesting experience.”

Here, James and Scodelario discuss how they developed their characters for the series, why Eddie and Susie never become romantic partners and whether there might be more episodes. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What was exciting to each of you about this series?

Kaya Scodelario: I knew the film and I enjoyed it, but I was curious to see what the female character would be. Once I was offered the role, I took a second to speak to the creatives involved just to make sure that Susie would be a part of the show the whole way through. I only had two episodes to read and I wanted to make sure she was going to really make an impact. I always feel like I owe it to whatever character I'm playing to make sure they have the best possible story, and I was hyper aware of that being a female in the Guy Ritchie universe.

Theo James: I liked the melding of two worlds, the aristocracy and the criminal underworld. Guy Ritchie has touched on that in the past. But the idea that it was part of the focus, of smashing these two genres together, was exciting. At the end of the day, it’s a piece of entertainment. But some of the conceits behind that were very interesting, like the British aristocracy being criminal in the essence of controlling land and being able to pass that down for generations. We’re still very class-led, so sending that up in the most bombastic way possible was interesting.

Theo, was “The White Lotus” already streaming when you were cast?

Scodelario: The first episode aired like the day before we shot, and I felt so bad for you. It was Day 1 on set and you were on the biggest show at the time. And your d—’s in it.

James: Yeah, it came out literally the day we started. [But] they’re very different roles. With Cameron [in “The White Lotus,”] I wanted him to be as vivacious and as consuming as possible. Whereas, Eddie’s the opposite. He represents Britain. He’s quite closed in, both metaphorically and physically. He’s a watcher rather than a statement-maker, while Cameron represents that interesting part of Americana. It was almost going to the polar opposite.

Read more: Let's break down that 'White Lotus' finale: Our biggest surprises, disappointments

How did you determine how restrained to make Eddie?

James: It was deliberate, in a way, although I have to say that with Guy, we had a lot of heated conversations. We would constantly talk about Eddie's motivation because he wanted him to be more reserved, but I wanted to make sure he was active. Not that we'd ever emulate “The Godfather,” because it's one of the best movies of all time and this is a comedy, but the idea of Michael Corleone evolving from a person of moral standing to one whose soul is corrupted was always a touch point for me and also for the writers.

Kaya, what kind of arc did you want to ensure Susie had? 

Scodelario: I wanted it to be multi-faceted. I wanted to see her adapt and go toe-to-toe with [her father], and I think we did that ... She’s the first actual woman I’ve played. It’s been a long line of teenagers and young adults. It was really f—ing cool to play someone who was already there, who is at the top of their game, who is confident and who is unapologetic.

It feels significant that Eddie and Susie never have a romantic relationship over the eight episodes. 

James: We spoke about the idea that [Eddie and Susie] have chemistry, but it’s never realized or actualized. I think you lose the chemistry and you cheapen it the moment you have them—

Scodelario: Bonk for the sake of it.

James: I think at one point they were going to do some bonking. But luckily, we were like, “No, thank you.”

Scodelario: It’s also realistic. They’re busy. There's stuff going on all the time, and it's really intense s— that they're going through together. It wouldn’t fit in this world — sex isn’t funny. This is a comedy, and the humor comes from the high stakes and the journey the characters are on.

As the series progresses, Eddie and Susie become adversaries. How much did you discuss that tension?

James: The scripts were different, actually. The show spans eight episodes, and we were very keen to show them go through a breakdown of their relationship, otherwise, the stakes are unaffected. We had to establish them being successful as a team to tear them apart and make them enemies.

Scodelario: It’s my favorite part of the show, actually, that we go toe-to-toe for a bit and then see how important one is for the other. It’s also honest. This is a new, vulnerable relationship and problems are going to come up. It was fun to play with the idea of “Is there anything there romantically?” and put it into their working relationship.

James: I almost wished at a certain point they’d go farther and betray each other to the point of no return.

Did you have all eight scripts when you started shooting?

James: Oh God, no. They weren’t written.

Scodelario: They weren’t even an idea yet.

James: We had an outline for where the characters were going, although it didn’t go there. I mean, we knew there was going to be an assault on the house at the end. But it really evolved during the process … But I feel like it’s emblematic of Guy’s world. Even if they've had every single episode polished and ready to go, it would have changed anyway. It’s certainly discombobulating. But there is a freedom sometimes in the unknowing as long as you're in a collaborative space, and luckily we were all up for the challenge cast-wise.

Was there ever a conversation about connecting the series to the movie or incorporating any cameos?

James: No, actually, and I was very glad that wasn’t the case. It’s set in the world, but the characters have no overlap. It would have been too tricky to cross-pollinate them. The movie exists in its own space, and the story is very different. This is [about] melding two worlds. It’s a clear, linear story of ascension and betrayal. It felt better that they didn’t have any connection. Don’t you agree?

Scodelario: I agree. I mean, it would have been nice to meet Matthew McConaughey, but in some respects it would have been more confusing. You’d have to really lean into that and go full throttle. To have two or three people from the movie come into this world looks a little half-baked. It’s more interesting to have an entirely blank slate to go on this journey with these people. And those decisions are well above our pay grade. I don’t get to call Matthew up and say, “Come on, come down for a bit.”

Has there been a discussion about a second season?

Scodelario: Not one that we’ve had yet.

James: I felt like it was quite capped off, actually.

Scodelario: You never know what’s going to work until it’s out there in the world, so there’s no point in overthinking it. It does feel like a full story to me. I’m content with that and I’m proud of it. They’ve come full circle [as characters]. But if there were to be more, maybe that could be really interesting.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.