McMafia star Juliet Rylance on playing a strong female role in a gangster drama

“I’m starting to feel comfortable in front of the camera... but it’s taken a long time”

McMafia (BBC, EH)

“You don’t usually get good female parts in gangster scripts — or any scripts really,” says Juliet Rylance. “You’re vulnerable and weak, or sexualised, or you’ll be the strong one — but real women are all of those and more. Screenwriters need to wake up to that.”


Rylance jumped at the chance to play McMafia‘s Rebecca Harper — Norton’s upstanding, campaigning girlfriend — as “she’s all of those things.”

The 38-year-old certainly has a rich theatre CV, as befits the stepdaughter of one of Britain’s finest stage actors, Mark Rylance. She’s played many of Shakespeare’s heroines – including Juliet, Desdemona, Miranda and Rosalind, for which she won an American Obie award. She’s also notching up an impressive range of roles on US TV, from Steven Soderbergh’s The Knick to serial killer drama American Gothic.

While keen to avoid comparisons with her stepdad, she concedes it was growing up in the Globe Theatre when Rylance was artistic director that steered her towards acting. “We’d go straight from school to the Globe, have dinner in the office, sleep in the attic and it really became home. But my parents were having trouble making ends meet so I was scared to say I wanted to be actor. I secretly auditioned for Rada and only told everyone once I’d got in.”

She brings a stillness to Rebecca that many Rada-trained Brits struggle with on film. “I’m starting to feel comfortable in front of the camera,” she says, “but it’s taken a long time.”

It may reflect the peace she’s finding after the shocking death of her sister Nataasha van Kampen, who suffered a suspected brain haemorrhage on a flight from New York when she was just 28, back in 2012. “I think how you deal with people not being here any more has a lot to do with the way they lived their life,” she says softly. “With my sister, she was so full of life and laughter… it makes it easier to think of her that way.”

Married to American actor Christian Camargo, she spends most of her time in the US, mainly in the hipster Californian desert town of Joshua Tree. “But I do own a house in London, in Borough, which I bought before gentrification, when the area was all just derelict warehouses and Banksy graffiti,” she grins. “You can take the girl out of south London…”


McMafia airs on AMC on Mondays at 10/9c