Croat's debut on ER thrills home country
April 1999
By Davor Huic

Many Croatians spent Thursday night at home to watch the nation's first Hollywood star debut on television - in his new role as Dr Luka Kovach in NBC's hit hospital series ER. Croatian actor Goran Visnjic named his character after his nephew and his best friend, Croatian media revealed on Friday.

Croats saw Visnjic in his new role of a Bosnian-born doctor replacing Dr Doug Ross (George Clooney) for the first time on Thursday night. A random check showed that many spent the evening at home to catch ER.

"Heartthrob", was the comment of an English lecturer at Zagreb university after Visnjic's debut. "He is cute. I watched him last night and I think he was pretty solid."

Initial reactions suggest that the American television drama will probably seal its place as the most popular foreign show on Croatian national television, HRT. Visnjic's opening remark in a scene with a little girl - "My name is Luka. It's a funny name, isn't it?" -and other lines were extensively repeated and commented on Friday.

Those who know English - the show's dialogue is subtitled in Croatian -- found one scene particularly amusing. A boy asks Dr Kovach, "What kind of an accent is that?", and he replies: "Thick."

Family's Low Profile

The newspaper Jutarnji List tried to contact Visnjic's family, who live in the Adriatic port of Sibenik. But his father Zeljko, a retired bus driver, explained that they were trying to keep a low profile. He only said: "We are all proud of Goran. We are overjoyed by his success. But more than anything, we are happy that the fame has not changed him. He remains the same old Goran we love."

But Visnjic's acting colleagues in his small home country were less restrained in revealing details from his past, including a tendency to tell racy jokes. According to a director at Sibenik's theatre, where he got his start in acting, Visnjic's forte was amusing everybody during tortuous bus journeys. On one of those, a driver laughed so hard he had to pull over to avoid crashing.

It also transpired that Visnjic had rejected several proposals for the name of his ER character, including a Serb-sounding name, Jovan Jovanovic. He was finally allowed to pick his own name, and went for a combination of his brother's son's name, Luka, and the surname of his childhood friend and best man, Lucijan Kovac.

Although Visnjic, unlike his brother Josko, did not take part in Croatia's 1991-95 war for independence, he carries a dramatic experience from that period. He was drafted into the Yugoslav People's Army months before the conflict, but managed to escape when the Serbian-dominated Balkan federation started breaking apart.

Visnjic got a few grey hairs from his escape but later returned to Zagreb to continue studies at the drama academy.