It's been three years since the hugely successful return of Hackney-set Netflix drama Top Boy.

The gripping new series airs this week – with Ashley Walters returning as Dushane Hill, the drug kingpin from the fictional Summerhouse estate, based on Haggerston's De Beauvoir estate.

In the new season, Dushane picks up where he left off – on top. He has the dangerous and ambitious Jamie (Michael Ward) under his control, a blossoming relationship with Shelley, played by Little Simz, and a business proposition in Spain and Morocco which promises to make him even more money.

But soon everything threatens to come toppling down as the anti-hero contemplates a way out.

Walters said: “From the beginning, I’ve always said this show has to ring true. If you embark on this journey in life, the drug game, there’s only three places where you’re going to end up: where you started, in a grave or in a cell for the rest of your life.

“I felt it wouldn’t be right to show success all the time. I think we have to make it difficult for him, but at the same time make you guys still root for him, whatever you’re rooting for. A lot of you will be rooting for him to make all the money, but I think most people are rooting for him to wake up, take care of his family and do the right thing in life.”

Created by Hackney writer Ronan Bennett, Top Boy shines a spotlight the effect that gangs and drug crime has on a community – and how the lifestyle springs from deprivation and inequality.

Walters said: “It’s mirroring exactly what’s going on throughout our communities right now in London and around the world and it’s important that we make that point. It’s not just glitz and glamour, there are people that are damaged by this and there are people that have their lives ruined by this."

He said the characters of Jamie's brothers Stef and Aaron who are doing well at school and university "are a way of showing the world you don’t have to take this route".

"Even thought it may seem it's the only thing to do, there are other options."

The new series is driven by strong female characters in a male-dominated underworld.

Saffron Hocking who plays Lauryn, says: "The name of the show is Top Boy, therefore it might seem that female characters are only there to facilitate the storyline of the men but actually this season especially is so female-heavy and led. The female characters aren’t one dimensional, they've got all this scope to show heart, fight and purpose and I think that’s an amazing thing for any actor.”

Jasmine Jobson returns as Lauryn's older sister, Jaq, one of the Summerhouse dealers – a role which saw her nominated for a Bafta. With a reputation as a no-nonsense pusher, the new series sees a more conflicted and complex side to her character, including scenes that Jobson had difficulties filming.

“I pride myself on being a method actor. I wear my heart on my sleeve when it comes to my work so I had to channel some dark emotions that I haven’t actually felt or experienced in a long time," she said.

"I realised there’s some issues I haven’t actually dealt with. I found there were days where I’d need five minutes to myself where I would sit in a corner and cry and just figure out what’s going on, what emotion is she feeling at this point?”

Joining the cast as Becks, Jaq's love interest, is model Adwoa Aboah in her first TV role. She said: “I’m so grateful that this is my first opportunity in the acting world just because of how it aligns with me and my personal life, how raw the storytelling Is, how authentic and honest it is and the way in which is represents society now and what is going on in the world around us.”

Cancelled by Channel 4 after two seasons, and revived by Netflix with the help of rapper Drake, Top Boy has gone through quite a journey, with Bennett now the showrunner and other writers on board. Many scenes – from Victoria Park, to a Stoke Newington snooker hall – are shot in the area, and Walters has been there from the beginning.

“I’m proud to have been a part of it and part of the foundations," he said.

"One of the most important parts of the show is the platform for not only actors but directors, wardrobe and costume designers. In all different departments we seek to give people opportunities that they’d be struggling to get elsewhere. This is about discovering new talent. To see people from Letitia Wright to Jasmine Jobson to Michael Ward come into this show and then shoot into the stratosphere with their careers is amazing."

He added: “All I can hope is that some of that love comes back to me now, it’s my turn!”

TOP BOY Season 2 starts on Netflix on March 18.