Illya Kuryakin

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Illya Kuryakin
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. character
David McCallum Man From UNCLE 1965.JPG
David McCallum as Illya Kuryakin
Portrayed byDavid McCallum (television)
Armie Hammer (film)
In-universe information
OccupationSecret agent

Illya Kuryakin is a fictional character from the 1960s TV spy series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. He is a secret agent with a range of weapons and explosives skills, and is described in the series as holding a Master's degree from the Sorbonne and a Ph.D in Quantum Mechanics from the University of Cambridge ("The Her Master's Voice Affair"). Kuryakin speaks many languages, including French, Spanish ("The Very Important Zombie Affair"), German, Arabic, Italian and Japanese ("The Cherry Blossom Affair"). The series was remarkable for pairing an American character, Napoleon Solo, with the Russian Kuryakin as two spies who work together for an international espionage organization at the height of the Cold War.


Kuryakin was played by Scottish actor David McCallum. Although originally conceived as a minor character, Kuryakin became an indispensable part of the show, achieving co-star status with the show's lead, Napoleon Solo. McCallum's blond good looks and his portrayal of the character garnered him a following of female fans.[1][better source needed] While playing Kuryakin, McCallum received more fan mail than any other actor in the history of MGM.[2]

Much of the character's appeal was based on what was ambiguous and enigmatic about him. When an acute reaction to penicillin hospitalized him in the early days of filming the series, McCallum took the opportunity to give serious thought to how he might flesh out what was, at that stage, a sketchy peripheral character. The approach he hit upon was to build a persona based on ambiguity and enigma, hiding, rather than revealing, aspects of the character's background and personality. McCallum summed up the character in commenting "No one knows what Illya Kuryakin does when he goes home at night."[3]

Kuryakin is consistently referred to as Russian; however, he appears to have spent at least some of his childhood in Kyiv, Ukraine ("The Foxes and Hounds Affair") and his name is spelled the Ukrainian way not the Russian way (Illya vs Iliya).[citation needed] In "The Neptune Affair" he appears in the uniform of the Soviet Navy and is recalled to the USSR to help deal with a crisis.[4]

After cancellation[edit]

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was canceled mid-way through its fourth season in 1968. McCallum reprised the role of Kuryakin for a 1983 TV movie Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E.: The Fifteen Years Later Affair.

In addition to this TV movie, several of the original The Man From U.N.C.L.E. double TV episodes were put together with additional footage in order to create eight feature films which were placed on general release in the years 1964 to 1968, starring David McCallum as Kuryakin. Titles include One of Our Spies Is Missing, The Helicopter Spies, The Spy with My Face, The Spy in the Green Hat, The Karate Killers, How to Steal the World, To Trap a Spy, and One Spy Too Many.[citation needed]

Kuryakin has been the subject of several popular songs including Alma Cogan's Love Ya Illya and Ilya Kuryakin Looked at Me penned by The Cleaners from Venus. The Argentine rap duo Illya Kuryaki and the Valderramas were named after him. Kuryakin also inspired the surname and character of Simon Illyan in Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga science fiction series.[citation needed]

In an interview for a Man from U.N.C.L.E. retrospective television special, McCallum told of a visit to the White House during which, while he was being escorted to meet the President, a Secret Service agent told him "You're the reason I got this job."[5]

In Lois McMaster Bujold's award-winning Vorkosigan Saga series of science fiction novels and short stories the character of Simon Illyan, head of Barrayaran Imperial Security, is named for Kuryakin.


Armie Hammer portrayed Kuryakin in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., a 2015 film adaptation of the TV series of the same name.[6] This interpretation of the character, however, differs from that of the television series. Hammer portrays Kuryakin as a short-tempered, violent and volatile (the end credits state he has "Volatile personality disorder") KGB assassin traumatized by the past of his parents, particularly his father, a top government official, who was caught stealing from Joseph Stalin's party funds and was exiled to Gulag. Kuryakin was the youngest man to ever join the KGB Special Forces, becoming one of their best "within three years," which was a way to deal with the shame his family was left in.


  1. ^ "U.N.C.L.E. - Background And History - Retrospective - Part V: Evolution Of A Hit Series". Retrieved 2015-03-05.
  2. ^ "Audiences in the '60s swooned over the cool of the men from 'U.N.C.L.E.'". The Boston Globe. 2008-11-02. Retrieved 2015-03-05.
  3. ^ "U.N.C.L.E. - Background And History - A Retrospective - Part IV: Napoleon Solo, Illya Kuryakin And Alexander Waverly". Retrieved 2015-03-05.
  4. ^ "Two Thumbnail Sketches Of Napoleon And Illya". Retrieved 2015-03-05.
  5. ^ "The Man From UNCLE: Behind The Scenes of a TV Classic". YouTube. 2008-08-06. Archived from the original on 2021-12-19. Retrieved 2015-03-05.
  6. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (April 24, 2013). "'Lone Ranger' Armie Hammer To Star With Tom Cruise In 'Man From U.N.C.L.E.'". Deadline Hollywood.