McMafia Q&A — David Strathairn (Semiyon Kleiman)

In the world of McMafia, there are no true heroes or villains – which is exactly what drew David Strathairn to the role of Semiyon Kleiman, the shady businessman offering to take Alex Godman under his wing on Alex’s journey of revenge.

“Like Alex, Semiyon straddles the two worlds that collide in this story,” Strathairn says. “He is a legitimate member of the Israeli parliament, and at the same time, a shipping magnate who profits quite handsomely from the use of his ships for international trafficking of illegal substances. The challenge of balancing the dark, loathsome, self-serving side of this man with a seemingly respected public persona was quite appealing.”

In Episode 2, Alex agrees to move forward in his partnership with Semiyon and move his dirty money around the world in an effort to disrupt the businesses of Semiyon’s mob rival Vadim Kalyagin, the man responsible for the murder of Alex’s uncle Boris. But just as Alex cozies up to Semiyon, we also get a glimpse of his dark dealings, as it is revealed that Semiyon purchases women like Lyudmilla from human traffickers. The question remains: Is Semiyon to be trusted?

“One of the characters in the story refers to Semiyon as a cobra with glasses,” Strathairn says. “I wouldn’t go so far as to say he’s venomous per se, but he could certainly be described as possessing a cold and calculating charm — someone not to be taken lightly, particularly when his business interests are threatened.”

So, is Semiyon actually interested in helping Alex enact his revenge against Vadim or is he simply manipulating Alex for his own benefit? Strathairn says it’s a little bit of both. “Semiyon isn't devoid of compassion and feeling,” the actor says. “I believe he is sincere when he expresses his condolences to Alex for his uncle’s death, and when he tells Lyudmilla he will take care of her mother’s operation. But his bottom line has always been the safe, discreet, unsoiled pursuit of his own interests.”

At the end of the day, Semiyon’s interests remain wholly focused on removing Vadim from the picture. But what’s the true driving force behind Semiyon’s war on Vadim? “Money mostly,” Strathairn says. “[He wants] a reinstatement of his influence and freedom to continue his illegal movement of goods and services.”

Read a Q&A with James Norton, who plays Alex Godman.

McMafia airs Mondays at 10/9c on AMC. To stay up-to-date with all the latest news, sign up for the McMafia Insiders Club.