Do some families embrace the perception of being gangsters?

Amini: What I was told was the Balkans were saying that they taught the Russian Mafia everything it new. That’s why they were slightly annoyed that we hadn’t included them. I think it was true when The Godfather came out. Obviously a lot of Italian-Americans felt uncomfortable with being portrayed that way, but apparently the gangsters themselves started quoting The Godfather.

Watkins: People like to see their lives mythologized in some way.

Having adapted novels before, were there any similarities in adapting McMafia?

Amini: There was no story. It was nonfiction.

Watkins: It’s less of an adaptation than an inspiration.

Amini: What’s exciting though is the book gave us a wonderful world and a tone. That sort of made it easy to write. When we were discussing story, it was very easy to break down. I did a Henry James adaptation where there were no scenes really. The way he drew characters was so extraordinary it was very easy to invent scenes that felt true to the tone of the book. It was the same with this.

Are there any limits to what you can show with the violence on AMC?

Watkins: Also limits in terms of what we want to show. The philosophy behind it was violence in this world is only used really strategically.

Amini: As a last resort.

Watkins: Violence brings attention and brings the police. So these mobsters are much more subtle than that and they’ll use it if needed to send a message. But also when violence explodes in our world, you want it to be short and sharp and shocking but not gratuitous. We don’t want to rub people’s face in violence. That kind of defined the aesthetics of the approach.

Amini: It’s used as a last resort but it’s often used as a message as well.  Or to set an example. The murder in episode one was something we took directly from an Iranian exile politician who’d been killed by the Islamic regime, the current government in the’ 90s. They came in and used stuff they found. It was almost taken beat for beat from that. We’ve tried to be as authentic as we can about the violence. It’s not heightened. It’s based on the research.

Are the episodes going to be around 55 minutes plus commercials?

Amini: We’re not taking material out so I guess it will be longer.

In this age of binging, did you design McMafia to air week to week, with a cliffhanger at the end of each episode?

Amini: It’s got cliffhangers in every episode, and what we’ve been very careful to do is to build it as an eight part story.

Watkins: It’s slow burn and slow build.

Amini: And to make sure the payoffs in the end are very, very strong and emotional.

Did developing McMafia keep you out of film for a while?

Amini: Yeah, for a long time. Now I feel, as someone who does a lot of adaptations, is that it’s the material that best suits. What’s great now is there are certain books, there was a book for example I always loved that had nothing to do with this. The Black Dahlia, the James Ellroy, for me that’s so clearly a TV series because it needs a sense of time. It was the same with McMafia. We need length. Some movies can’t do that but there are other things where you need to be stuck with an audience for two and a half, two hours and you don’t really want to ever leave because you know that story’s just contained in there. It’s kind of exciting that now both are equal.

Watkins: It’s very interesting because I had to shoot for 150 days. We started in October, we finished in June. Then post, so that’s a couple years out of movies.

Did you know there was a Bollywood version of Drive?

Amini: I think I’ve seen a poster of it. Have you seen it?

No, I just saw that it exists.

Amini: That’s pretty flattering.

When The Snowman came out, the director said they didn’t even finish filming the script. Had you written pages that did not get filmed?

Amini: I was one of several writers on it but certainly there were scenes that I think were not completed. I sort of checked out at that stage.

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