McMafia Q&A — Oshri Cohen (Joseph)

Oshri Cohen, who plays Joseph on AMC’s McMafia, discusses whether his character is one of the bad guys, his love for Lyudmilla, and what changes when he starts working for Alex.

Q: How would you describe Joseph? What initially interested you in the character?

A: What I loved the most was the fact that he’s a very strong but very quiet guy. He’s a well-trained bodyguard, but he’s like a shadow man. He’s always behind and he’s more of a thinker than a real fighter. I liked his inner power. Also, I think in his storyline he’s a real hero. He’s a good guy. All the other characters are more like anti-heroes, but in his story with Lyudmilla, he’s falling in love with a girl and he’s trying to save her. It’s a dark world, but in this bad world he’s trying to do something good for someone else. His story is like a light in the dark.

Q: How/why do you think he ended up working for Semiyon? Do you think he's ever been conflicted about his chosen line of work?

A: The levels are different, but they’re all bad guys at the end of the day. There’s a nice scene on the boat with Lyudmilla when she’s shouting at him and says, “What kind of job is it? To make sure I’m not going to run away from Semiyon?” and I look at her and say, “Hey, it’s a job.” After talking to the creators, I realized that he – just like Lyudmilla – somehow found himself in this position. He didn’t want to end up doing this, but somehow life has its own tests and he somehow made his way into this world. The way I see it, they share the same destiny. Also, let’s not forget that he’s the bodyguard of Semiyon, so he’s trying to protect. He’s passive. If there’s a problem, he’s there. He’s not really active. You can see when he starts to work for Alex that he starts to enjoy it and become more active.

Q: As someone who has already been sucked into this world, do you think Joseph sympathizes with what Alex is going through?

A: I think so, but he can’t really do that because it’s not his place. There’s a scene between Alex and Joseph when Joseph asks Alex to talk to Semiyon and Alex says, “Why won’t you talk to him? You work with him.” Joseph says, “It’s not my place.” Joseph is very respectful of his place and his position in this world.

Q: Why do you think Joseph takes special interest in Lyudmilla? Is he at all concerned that helping her could endanger him/her?

A: It’s a little funny because if I ask any other person why they fell in love, there would be so many reasons. Let’s face it, there’s a pool of other girls. She’s not the only girl on this same path. So, let’s just say magic? [Laughs] A click between two people. I don’t see any other reasonable answer.

In this world, you don’t hurry to do stuff. You need to think a lot before you do anything because after any little mistake, something bad can happen. I think Joseph, in his very cool and passive way, waits for the right moment. That’s what I like about the character. He takes his time and he’s doing it step-by-step. I think that has to do with him being such a professional soldier who knows you need to be afraid of the price you can pay if you make a mistake.

Q: What does he think when Lyudmilla kisses him in Episode 6?

A: It’s a beautiful moment. She’s kissing him and he says, “You don’t have to do that” – meaning “I’m not doing it for sex or for you to give me something back. I’m doing it for you and only you.” That’s how a real hero acts and that moment shows that they have a real love. I really found this moment very beautiful.

Q: Why do you think Joseph ultimately chooses to work for Alex and leave Semiyon behind? Is it to save both her and himself?

A: Exactly. He’s also going from being passive to being active. That’s a very strong point for the character. For every person, there’s a moment or situation where you need to decide if you are taking control of your life or if you’re waiting for something to happen. I think that’s the point where he decides to do something. He’s not waiting for anybody to save his love.

Q: How does Joseph feel when he is unable to stop Rebecca from being shot? 

A: He almost did! [Laughs] The way he deals with that will be shown later, but he did make it on time. He did try his best. He made it there. This scene shows a very important thing about the character, which is you don’t want to mess with Joseph. He will get there and he will do whatever the f—k needs to be done to make it. I think he was acting professionally.

Q: Which was your favorite location to shoot in for this season?

A: I fell in love with Croatia. It’s a beautiful country with beautiful places. The landscape is just amazing. It’s so clean. We started shooting in London and then we went to Croatia. Something happened when all the production went to Croatia. Everybody was out of their safe zone and out of their home and something happened. We became a group. We truly became one. Good friends for life, if you ask me. In the beginning, you’re a bit afraid because there are actors from all over the world. Everyone has a different method of working and there are differences in nationalities. But something happened. It was the most fun production I’ve ever had.

Q: How has your understanding about organized crime changed since filming this show?

A: Unfortunately, nothing has been changed. It still works the same way. I was in shock when I saw how big it is and how everything we do – our food, our clothes, everything – is somehow connected to these huge corrupted corporations. It’s not fun to hear that. I’ve always had something inside me that wants to make a change, but as you can see in the series, this is too big. This series is showing and reflecting this whole situation and maybe that’s the way I can give to the world. Hopefully being an actor on this series will do something. Sometimes, all we have to do is put light on a subject.

Read a Q&A with Sofya Lebedeva who plays Lyudmilla Nikolayeva.

McMafia airs Mondays at 11/10c on AMC. To stay up-to-date with all the latest news, sign up for the McMafia Insiders Club.