Ac­tress JULIET RY­LANCE prac­ti­cally grew up in Lon­don’s Globe Theatre, and is thrilled to have landed a star­ring role op­po­site James Nor­ton in the hotly an­tic­i­pated BBC thriller McMafia. She tells Char­lotte Pear­son Methven how her fa­mous fam­ily and per­son

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Ac­tress Juliet Ry­lance is set to be the envy of many women. Although she comes from a Bri­tish act­ing dy­nasty – her step­fa­ther is ac­tor, di­rec­tor and na­tional trea­sure Mark Ry­lance – she has so far fo­cused her th­es­pian en­er­gies across the pond, where she has spent most of the past eight years with her Amer­i­can ac­tor hus­band Chris­tian Ca­margo. All that is set to change, how­ever, when she hits our screens play­ing heart-throb James Nor­ton’s girl­friend in the much-an­tic­i­pated new BBC minis­eries McMafia, about a man try­ing to es­cape his Rus­sian fam­ily’s links to the un­der­world but, in­evitably, get­ting sucked in. The premise is, says Juliet, ‘that or­gan­ised crime has be­come as preva­lent as McDon­ald’s – part of the fab­ric of our lives, like fast food’.

Hav­ing pre­viewed the first episode, I can con­firm that it is eerily re­al­is­tic – with a cast as in­ter­na­tional as Lon­don it­self fea­tur­ing two of Rus­sia’s most revered ac­tors – and to­tally ter­ri­fy­ing (a scene in­volv­ing a panic but­ton left me trem­bling). Juliet shines, per­fectly cast as the prin­ci­pled Re­becca who is in de­nial that her boyfriend is go­ing over to the dark side. James was ‘a joy’ to work with, she says. ‘I ab­so­lutely see why ev­ery­one fan­cies him, but to me he is just lovely James. He does an in­cred­i­ble mouth trum­pet, which is his party trick. But, most im­por­tantly, he is a gen­uinely good per­son, and when you have a lead­ing man who is gra­cious and sup­port­ive of ev­ery­one, it’s gold.’

And, for Juliet, this was cru­cial be­cause, she says, ‘The stage has al­ways been my com­fort zone – I feed off that re­la­tion­ship be­tween ac­tor and au­di­ence. I am ex­cited to be widen­ing into more screen act­ing now, but I do get re­hearsal jit­ters.’

On first im­pres­sion, Juliet, 38, seems to­tally self-as­sured. She has a hearty laugh and ex­udes warmth and open­ness as she jumps up to greet me. We are meet­ing on a bright win­ter’s day in the bar of Lon­don’s Tate Mod­ern, a stone’s throw from the house she is ren­o­vat­ing (with the help of her fa­ther, who hand­ily hap­pens to be an ar­chi­tect) in Bor­ough, the South Lon­don en­clave fa­mous for its food mar­ket and, sadly, for be­ing the site of last sum­mer’s ter­ror­ist at­tack. Juliet had planned to dine in the mar­ket on the night of the atroc­ity in which eight peo­ple were killed, but can­celled at the last minute ow­ing to an ‘over­whelm­ing urge’ to see a friend in the coun­try.

She is en­sconced at a cor­ner ta­ble when I ar­rive, her blonde hair plaited wreath-like around her crown. There is some­thing faintly old-fash­ioned about her, with her con­sid­ered


in­tel­li­gence and enun­ci­a­tion be­fit­ting a proper th­es­pian (she trained at Rada and uses the Shake­speare canon as bed­time read­ing).

Her role in McMafia, an eight-parter based on the book of the same name by jour­nal­ist Misha Glenny, marks Juliet’s re­turn to work­ing in this coun­try for the first time since she ap­peared on stage in 2010 at the Old Vic, play­ing Ros­alind in As You Like It, di­rected by Sam Men­des. ‘Shake­speare is sacro­sanct to me,’ she says. ‘My in­tro­duc­tion to sto­ry­telling was through him: the words, the me­ter, the rhythm ab­sorbed me.’

Juliet vir­tu­ally grew up in the Globe, the Thames-side mod­ern replica of the theatre built for Shake­speare in 1599, where her step­fa­ther Mark was artis­tic di­rec­tor for a decade. She acted in her first play by the bard aged 11 and has since ap­peared in pro­duc­tions of Othello, The Tem­pest, The Win­ter’s Tale and Romeo and Juliet, to name a few. It was also at the Globe that she met Chris­tian (whose act­ing cred­its in­clude The Hurt Locker and House of Cards), when he was per­form­ing in Henry V with Mark back in 1997.

The two were friends for years, ‘un­til it felt right to be more. I was young when we met, and my dad was the boss, so for a long time we just went to see plays.’ They mar­ried in 2008 and now split their time be­tween Bor­ough and their home in the stark land­scape of Joshua Tree in Cal­i­for­nia’s Mo­jave Desert. ‘We love each other pro­foundly and em­brace our un­con­ven­tional life split be­tween two such dif­fer­ent places.’

Juliet’s child­hood was also far from con­ven­tional. When she was seven, her mother, mu­si­cal com­poser Claire van Kam­pen, split from her bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther Chris van Kam­pen, and started see­ing Mark who, as well as play­ing the BFG in the re­cent film adap­ta­tion of Roald Dahl’s much-loved book, starred as Thomas Cromwell in the BBC’s adap­ta­tion of Hi­lary Man­tel’s Wolf Hall and won an Os­car and a Bafta for his role in the Cold War thriller Bridge of Spies. Juliet and her late sis­ter Nataasha – who died in 2012, aged 28, from a brain haem­or­rhage – grew up calling both men ‘dad’ and di­vided their time be­tween their par­ents’ homes on op­po­site sides of Lon­don, al­ways meet­ing up for a meal on Sun­days. ‘At Dad’s house in Hamp­stead we had struc­ture, while at Mum and Mark’s house in Brix­ton it was wild and un­struc­tured. They were of­ten in re­hearsals; Tash and I would sit in the cor­ner draw­ing and tak­ing it all in.’

The split was am­i­ca­ble from day one. ‘Ev­ery­one de­cided to em­brace the chal­lenge; there was some­thing about the com­bi­na­tion of peo­ple in­vested in our fam­ily unit that worked. I don’t have step - or half-sib­lings, but I don’t think that would have made a dif­fer­ence. The first time I met Mark, he picked me up and car­ried me on to the stage at the Na­tional [theatre], where he and Mum were work­ing to­gether. We could feel that Mark was Mum’s boyfriend, and it felt right. Chris was there too, and we were fine with it be­cause he was. Hav­ing three par­ents – three role mod­els – has, in hind­sight, been the great­est bless­ing.’

Juliet opted to use Mark’s stage name – his real sur­name is Wa­ters – be­cause she wanted ‘to have both a pub­lic and a pri­vate iden­tity’. She likens it to when a son joins his fa­ther’s com­pany, ‘and the com­pany name be­comes so-and-so & Son. I felt as though I

was join­ing Mark’s trade and should take his name.’ She uses both van Kam­pen (her mum’s sur­name) and Ca­margo pri­vately. None of this has been an is­sue or caused any sen­si­tiv­ity, be­cause her two fa­thers are the best of friends; they go hik­ing and are think­ing of buy­ing a boat to­gether. ‘Hav­ing Mark cast in The BFG was so special, be­cause Chris read it to us as chil­dren. He was al­ways the one who seemed like the BFG: he is su­per-tall and has this won­der­ful lop­ing walk. Mark mod­elled his por­trayal on Chris, and now the BFG feels like a com­pos­ite of both my dads.’

While Juliet is happy to talk about her hap­pily un­con­ven­tional clan – who just cel­e­brated Christ­mas to­gether in New York – the topic that is more dif­fi­cult for her to dis­cuss is the sud­den loss of her sis­ter five years ago. Nataasha, who was five years younger than Juliet, was ‘a bril­liant woman: a film­maker, an artist, a pro­duc­tion de­signer, a di­rec­tor – won­der­fully tal­ented. As chil­dren, we shared a bed­room, as teens a flat, and in our 20s we both made our homes in Bor­ough. I feel con­nected to her be­ing here. I think that when you lose some­one…’ she trails off, search­ing for the right words. ‘I think who they were in their life comes into sharper fo­cus. I now feel Tash’s pres­ence in such a joy­ful way. She gives me gifts ev­ery day and teaches me. Pain is an op­por­tu­nity to grow, and we are never given more than we can han­dle.’

Her al­ready-close fam­ily be­came even closer fol­low­ing this tragedy, which prompted a griev­ing Mark to with­draw from per­form­ing in the Lon­don Olympics open­ing cer­e­mony. ‘We are all now aware of each other in a more height­ened way. It has made me more fo­cused on be­ing in the mo­ment. Sadly, it seems that we have to ex­pe­ri­ence loss to be present; it’s a shame that we can’t just be born that way. I see so clearly now that life is a pre­cious spot of time.

‘I of­ten think about the Sec­ond World War in Lon­don. My grand­mother used to talk about the Blitz, and how they would go to bed at night with black­out cur­tains and won­der if they’d be there in the morn­ing. And then, when they did wake up, there might be bomb craters out­side, but they would run out and play among them. All that mat­tered was that you were there. We saw the same thing af­ter the at­tacks in Bor­ough last sum­mer, the way ev­ery­thing falls away but the com­mu­nity ral­lies around; it was so heart­en­ing.’

Liv­ing in the desert is another thing that has given Juliet per­spec­tive. ‘That harsh, beau­ti­ful, ex­pan­sive land­scape – where you can see the stars so clearly and have true si­lence – has shown me how small and frag­ile we are in the great scheme of things.’

Juliet also ex­pe­ri­enced loss, and the learn­ing that comes with it, when vol­un­teer­ing for a hospice be­tween leav­ing school and start­ing at Rada. ‘I look back and think it was an in­ter­est­ing choice for an 18-year- old, but I took so much from it. I was teach­ing art classes to peo­ple with can­cer and Aids. It was hard, get­ting at­tached to them and know­ing they only had three or four weeks left to live. But I think it was help­ful for my act­ing – to see what comes into peo­ple’s con­scious­ness when they’re that close to the end.’

Juliet’s char­ac­ter in McMafia is hugely be­liev­able and full of in­tel­li­gence, no doubt a by-prod­uct of all she has ex­pe­ri­enced. Not a to­tal screen be­gin­ner, she ap­peared op­po­site Clive Owen in the US med­i­cal pe­riod drama The Knick (di­rected by Steven Soder­bergh) for two sea­sons; and she pro­duced and acted in Days and Nights, a film adap­ta­tion of Chekhov’s The Seag­ull, which Chris­tian wrote and di­rected, her mum wrote the mu­sic for and Mark acted in, along­side a starry cast in­clud­ing Wil­liam Hurt, Ben Whishaw and Katie Holmes.

But work­ing for the BBC for the first time has been a dream come true for Juliet. ‘They were just bril­liant and gave us all so much free­dom to in­ter­pret our roles.’ James is stun­ning as Alex God­man, the Bri­tish-raised son of wealthy Rus­sian ex­iles, who runs his own fi­nance busi­ness and tries to make an hon­est liv­ing away from his par­ents’ mafia con­nec­tions, with the sup­port of his up­stand­ing Bri­tish girl­friend. There is some­thing of The God­fa­ther about it, and Juliet agrees: ‘That is one of my favourite films. What I think McMafia shares with it is that sense of how, when some­one first en­ters the un­der­world, they tell them­selves they are do­ing it to pro­tect their fam­ily, but then their base na­ture comes out and they start to en­joy it and be­come cor­rupted. For most of the story, Alex is liv­ing a dou­ble life. James plays the man car­ry­ing a se­cret so well.’

Juliet’s char­ac­ter Re­becca ‘has strong val­ues and works for a foun­da­tion de­voted to sup­port­ing eth­i­cal busi­nesses. She be­lieves cap­i­tal­ism should be trans­par­ent and work for ev­ery­one. At the be­gin­ning of the se­ries, she and Alex have built a life forged on those val­ues, but then you see their paths di­verg­ing. She gen­uinely trusts him. She was an in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ter to play be­cause, on one level, she is in­tel­li­gent and strong and makes great choices, but she’s also a vic­tim. You look at her and think, “Why can’t she see what he’s up to?” But so of­ten when you’re inside some­thing you don’t see it clearly.’

Juliet and I catch up again a week af­ter our first meet­ing, when she in­vites me to an ex­hi­bi­tion, again at the Tate Mod­ern. Her sched­ule is packed with act­ing and pro­duc­ing projects, but ‘It’s so im­por­tant to carve out space where you don’t work,’ she in­sists. ‘You have noth­ing to draw on in act­ing if you haven’t made time for real life – to be in a gallery, ob­serv­ing peo­ple look­ing at art. The more you can just be, the more you bring into your work. Mark’s ad­vice to me has al­ways been that you can be as big or as small as you want in a pro­duc­tion as long as you are truth­ful, and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing life is vi­tal to that.

‘The key is to be ever evolv­ing and re­spond­ing, not to make too many de­ci­sions or hold opin­ions that box you in. Far bet­ter to be soft and mould­able like the wax from a lit can­dle.’

And with that, a truly bright light in her own right dis­ap­pears off into the South­east Lon­don dusk to meet her fam­ily.

McMafia is on BBC 1 to­mor­row at 9pm


Clock­wise from left: Juliet per­form­ing in Romeo and Juliet with San­ti­ago Cabr­era in 2008; ap­pear­ing inMcMafia with co-star James Nor­ton, and with her mother Claire van Kam­pen and step­fa­ther Mark Ry­lance at the Golden Globes last year

Juliet with her hus­band, ac­tor Chris­tian Ca­margo

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