McMafia Q&A — Juliet Rylance (Rebecca Harper)

Juliet Rylance, who plays Rebecca Harper on AMC's McMafia, discusses Rebecca's strong morality, her reaction to Alex's betrayal, and whether or not their relationship has a future.

Q: What aspects of Rebecca's character appealed to you most? 

A: Firstly, I loved the story as a whole. I think that’s the thing, more than anything else, that grabbed me. I never really understood how prevalent this corporate global crime world was in every area of our daily lives. I found that fascinating and it was so thrilling as a story. I really loved the way Rebecca fits into that story. With every story you read and that you’re a part of, your characters are archetypes in a way – from Greek theater, from Shakespeare, from Roman theater – and I just loved the fact that Rebecca really is the touchstone of morality throughout this piece. That really drew me to her particular story.

Q: To what do you attribute her strong morality?

A: The backstory between Rebecca and Alex is that they met in the finance world while working in New York at Goldman Sachs. She knows that world very well. On a personal level, she’s been orphaned. It never really gets talked about in the story, but you never see her family or any close relative. She sort of stands alone both in her personal life and, in a number of ways, her work life. I think sometimes those kinds of characters have a more unique way of looking at the world around them – when you have to rely on yourself and your own thoughts and feelings about things. I think she’s someone that’s built a value system for herself that’s very clear and very defined. She’s working for the Bloom Foundation. Sydney Bloom, who began the foundation as a capitalist, made a lot of money unethically and has gotten to a point where he wants to do something ethical with the money. I think Rebecca really is interested in how to make the system we’re living in better for everyone. She’s a bit of an idealist in that sense. ... As a character, I just like the fact that she’s so well-drawn. She’s strong and intelligent and warmhearted and loving, and very trusting of Alex and their relationship. She has a lot of confidence in him and the relationship. I thought that was such a wonderful thing to see and a great place to start the series.

Q: How would you describe Rebecca and Alex's relationship at the beginning of the show? Why do they make a good pair?

A: I think they make a great pair because I think Rebecca really understands Alex’s need to not be like his family. I think that’s a large driving factor of their value system as a couple in the world. They want a similar life. They want to do things in a better way than perhaps his parents have. I think she really understands that about him. He distances himself at every turn from that mafia family background he’s come from. The relationship starts to go awry, particularly in [Episode 4], when he’s behaving in a way he’s never behaved with her before. He’s hiding things and being very obtuse. That’s very unusual for Rebecca and Alex up to this point.

Q: How do you think Rebecca fits into Alex's family? Does she feel like an outsider at all, especially given their past?

A: I thought about that a lot while filming. She hasn’t had a family for a long time. She loves being a part of the family, in one sense. There’s a need there. And on the other hand, she can see they’re kind of crazy. [Laughs] They behave in a way that’s very irrational and emotional. She both loves and hates the way they interact. I think the family is more meaningful to Rebecca than perhaps she’d allow them to know.

Q: How quickly does Rebecca sense a change in Alex once he starts making some of those murky decisions?

A: I think Rebecca notices the change in Alex immediately, but what’s really difficult about the situation is it’s not that clear-cut. He’s just lost his uncle. His uncle’s been brutally murdered. That affects the way he acts. I think Rebecca gives him the benefit of the doubt a lot based on the fact that this awful thing just happened to the family. There’s a perfectly valid reason for him to be a little off. [Laughs] And her life is as busy as his. I think that happens more often than we perhaps allow ourselves to think. We miss a lot of things going on with the people around us because we’re just a little caught up. We don’t quite catch every nuance.

Q: Is Rebecca surprised by his sudden proposal in Episode 3? Does she feel it's genuine or a way to distract from the other tensions building in their relationship?

A: I love this idea that Rebecca’s always been the person saying, “We don’t need to get married.” Rebecca didn’t fall in love with Alex as quickly as he did with her, which I love. Like in real life, when wonderful things happen in a family or when huge tragedies happen in a family, people suddenly behave differently. They do things they haven’t done before. That happens so often. I think Rebecca really just feels like whatever’s happening in the family has made him want to grab life and live it.

Q: In Episode 4, Rebecca's suspicions fully take over. How does she feel about snooping around? And what does she feel when she realizes Alex has been lying to her? 

A: I think Rebecca’s someone who absolutely doesn’t like doing something as sneaky as that, but by that point, she’s asked the questions and she’s not getting answers that she knows is the truth. There’s a feeling of, “Well I don’t have much other recourse,” which one always does. She definitely makes a choice. It’s very uncomfortable for her. That’s one of the things that’s so difficult about this. Rebecca is slowly pulled into a world and a situation that she has not chosen. That’s a large part of the conflict between them.

It’s a huge shock to Rebecca because up until that point, they were extremely close. This is a very new situation she finds herself in with him. I think she feels quite betrayed at this point. I love the fact that Rebecca deals with this in such a mature way. She has quite a high level of emotional awareness. She confronts him and she’s angry, but tries to show him the right path as opposed to the one he’s going down.

Q: When Rebecca confronts him, is she shocked that he so readily admits what he's done? Does she believe him when he says he's getting himself out of the mess?

A: I think she’s very torn. It’s very difficult when trust is broken like that. She knows that there’s a real choice to be made: Is he going to choose to involve her and allow her to help him or not? That’s a big question mark for Rebecca.

Q: The show shot in so many beautiful locations. Did you have a favorite?

A: I loved shooting in London. Shooting at night in the British museum was just thrilling and seeing it in a way that you don’t normally see it as a member of the public. Walking through the museum on your own at night with a security guard was just amazing. And Croatia was so beautiful. I’d never been, and I fell in love with it as a place to be and live and work. You know a location’s been great when the cast and crew go back and have a holiday there and I think a lot of them have. It was wonderful.

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.