James Norton on playing a gangster in new crime drama

2017-12-22 14:33

Cape Town – The global organised crime drama McMafia will launch exclusively on Amazon Prime Video in South Africa on Tuesday 2nd January. 

The international thriller McMafia starring James Norton, David Strathairn, and Juliet Rylance was created by Hossein Amini and is inspired by the best-selling non-fiction book by Misha Glenny. 

Featuring a distinguished international cast it tells the story of Alex Godman (Norton), an English-raised son of Russian exiles with a mafia history, who has spent his life trying to escape the shadow of that criminal past.  

As he starts building his own legitimate business and forging a life with his girlfriend Rebecca (Rylance), his family’s past murderously returns to threaten them and Alex is forced to confront his values to protect those he loves.  

James Norton sat down for a quick Q&A about his role.

What appealed to you about this project?

When we talk about the Mafia, it is so tied up with those portrayals which we're so used to in The Sopranos and The Godfather. But what's so lovely and fascinating and so relevant about this story is that it shows how the Mafia is a totally new phenomenon. 

Tell us a bit more?

The Mafia is now a totally globalised corporate entity. It straddles all these different countries and financial systems. It is no longer just a protection racket. It's the Panama Papers, it's corrupt presidents and prime ministers, it's even in the possible link between the Kremlin and the White House and how that's facilitated. That was what was a real eye-opener for me, and I hope that's what the show will reveal.

Does McMafia show that crime pays? 

No, it’s more nuanced than that. The audience are taken on a journey into the world of crime through Alex’s eyes. It is fascinating, and it's kind of sexy and empowering because there is this whole underworld of people who don't abide by the rules and do what the hell they want - and it's exciting. You get seduced by it, but you're never quite sure how much you're being seduced. 

Can you please amplify that?

Alex convinces himself that it's about protection and it's about survival, but there's another side to it, and the beauty of Hossein's writing is that Alex and the audience are never quite sure. Each choice Alex makes - is it to do with survival or is it a bit more to do with the fact that he just wants to go deeper and deeper and gather more control and money? So, McMafia is brilliant because it’s never about villains and heroes - it's all about that wonderful mess in between.

Does that also contribute to the ambiguous portrait of Alex as an anti-hero? 

Yes. In the beginning, he doesn't have a choice, and you're left as an audience member going, 'OK, I totally understand he has to make that choice'. And then at a certain point you’re not sure, and you're going, 'Would I make that choice? Maybe my choice would be different'. And then later on you're going, 'How the hell did I end up here?' As an audience member, you're never quite sure where you stand.

Do we all have similarities with the outlook of these Mafiosi?  

Yes, these mobsters are all just like us - they're looking out for each other. Of course, they have a slightly warped version, and their moral compass is slightly different from ours, but their priorities are the same. They need to put food on the table, they need to survive. So what's great is that you're never really sure where your allegiance lies as an audience member. You're thrown all over the place.

All the same, doesn’t McMafia run the risk of glamorising criminals? 

No. What's great about the writing is that for every character who's living the high life, you also see the women being trafficked, the drugs going through Mumbai and 50 000 addicts who are suffering. So yes, there is a glamour to it, but equally it's always qualified by the cost.

Finally, what is it about the world of the gangster that remains so gripping to outsiders? 

We're all fascinated by this compelling world of the Mafia. It's that slightly subversive, dark underworld. We're all obsessed about it in various forms - in books, film, TV. Look at popularity of The Godfather. It's the anarchic quality of those people who live on the fringes of criminality which we all as law-abiding citizens find fascinating.   

(Photos supplied: Amazon)

Read more on:    series  |  tv

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.