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McMafia, Misha Glenny’s best-selling book about the world of international organized crime, is set to hit the small screen as an eight-part thriller series inspired by the book and created by Drive screenwriter Hossein Amini and writer/director James Watkins, best known for helming Daniel Radcliffe horror hit The Woman In Black.
Co-produced by the BBC, AMC and Cuba Pictures, in association with Twickenham Studios, the series will chart the journey of Alex Godman, played by Happy Valley star James Norton as he is drawn deeper and deeper into the world of global crime.
David Strathairn (The Bourne Ultimatum), Faye Marsay (Game of Thrones), Juliet Rylance (The Knick), Aleksey Serebryakov (The Method, Leviathan) and Maria Shukshina (Yolki 3) co-star.
The Hollywood Reporter talked to Amini and Glenny about the upcoming show.
How closely did you guys work together on adapting the book?
Hossein Amini: Very closely. First of all, you have to love the book, which I did and I was desperate. I loved the world it created, and it was so new to me. I have always watched lots of gangster movies and series, and it seemed to be all about how the Italian mob was almost finished and it was almost like the dying breath of the gangster. And suddenly I read this book, which is all about how gangs are now global and they are thriving and they are making more money than they ever have. And they are competing and collaborating like big corporations. And I thought this is an amazing way to start retelling a different kind of gangster thing. The tone and authenticity of Misha’s books is the most important thing to capture this. It was great to have that resource.
Misha Glenny: I knew (McMafia) was a sort of documentary book mapping this emerging world of global organized crime. I knew that if it were to become a film or TV series, it would not a simple representation of my book, but that it would be creating that world. There are one or two stories in the book that made it into the TV series, which I am very pleased about. But it’s really a question of finding somebody or some people — along with Hoss it’s James Watkins, the director who was in from the very beginning. I knew Hoss’ work and had seen a couple of films that James had made. But having met them, I knew that these people I could trust with representing that world faithfully.
The BBC and AMC are your TV partners on the show. How was it working with them and what notes did you get?
Amini: They have been fantastically supportive. We are doing some quite bold things. A lot of people are speaking their own languages, and we’re in like 10 different countries. And there is a degree of violence, but balanced by very loving relationships and families. The thing about all these characters is they are gangsters some of the time, but they have ordinary lives the rest of the time.
Glenny: The BBC and AMC have been developing a relationship, which is looking quite fruitful over a number of projects. We went to the BBC first of all, because we are in London. Hoss’ reputation preceded him, and I for quite a few years was a BBC correspondent in central Europe. So I am a known quantity within the BBC. So they felt, I think, confident that this was the kind of team of people who would be sensitive to what the BBC criteria are for a drama. They had notes.
Amini: They have been really good notes. For me working in television has been very liberating in that sense. So many of the notes were about character and not so much about plot. The beauty of having eight episodes to tell a story is that idea that you can develop this world. These characters are so complex and contradictory and alien that sometimes the problem with movies is that you just don’t have time to tell those stories, particularly something on such a big canvas. They have allowed us to be as bold and brave as we want to be. They have guidelines on swearing and whatever, but nothing in terms of emotional violence or saying this country is in cahoots with that gang. They have sort of left us alone.
Do you plan to go beyond eight episodes?
Amini: The thing that’s exciting is we can either follow James Norton’s character, Alex, and his saga could keep going or you could start with a minor character. The thing with this whole global mob world is that you could start the next episode in Africa or Colombia and you could start with someone at the very bottom, a sort of foot soldier, or a top cartel boss. It feels like you could have a whole lot of spinoffs and it’s really that the world is the story. This series is very much the James Norton character.
What’s next for you two?
Amini: I am doing a script for a feature for Universal and Working Title with Cary Fukunaga, who did True Detective. It’s about Hiroshima. It’s based on a book called Shock Wave. It’s a lot of stories that are converging.
Glenny: I am writing my first pilot script for a TV show, which we are calling Rio Noir, which is a noir set in Rio de Janeiro. The production company has commissioned me to write a pilot.
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