A doctor with a different accent Croatian star warms up to ER
November 1999
Usa Today
Jefferson Graham

Another hot day in southern California on the set of NBC's ER, and in this land of TV make-believe, it's actually snowing.

Julianna Margulies, who plays pregnant nurse Carol Hathaway, collapses on a cold street, where she's discovered by ER's good-looking Luka Kovac, who rushes her to County General. (She'll give birth in the Thanksgiving episode.)

It's a big scene for NBC's new ER regular Goran Visnjic, a 27-year-old star in his native Croatia.

"Goran is an interesting combination of 'I just got off the boat' and sophistication," says co-star Laura Innes, who plays Kerry Weaver. "He's a really fascinating dichotomy, because in some senses he's this wide-eyed, 'Oh, my God, I'm living in L.A. and on ER' type guy. But on the other hand, he has a point of view as an actor that is strong, and it doesn't matter what country he's in, that's going to come through."

Visnjic was seen in the first four ERs of the season, then left for a few weeks to make a film in Croatia, The Last Will, about a man who inherits money and the nasty folks who try to kill him for it. (It probably won't show in the USA.) He returns tonight (10 ET/PT), working side-by-side with Weaver, desperate for a transfusion to save a kidnapping victim.

"This is very nice," he says about his new show-biz life, shaking dried potato flakes (the stuff of TV snow) out of his hair in his dressing room. "Every episode is like a small film, except we keep on going, making new ones."

The son of a bus driver father and a mother who works at a food market, Visnjic began acting at age 9 and turned pro at 21, making a name for himself in Hamlet at the prestigious Dubrovnik Theater Festival. In a tiny country with 5.1 million people, the close-knit circle of working actors performs in all media -- theater, film and TV -- and for Visnjic, it was no different.

He made it to Hollywood when producers of Welcome to Sarajevo, about reporters covering the Bosnian war, came looking for actors who spoke Serbo-Croatian.

The part brought him to the Cannes Film Festival to publicize it, where he was seen and signed by an American film agent, who got him a gig in 1998's Practical Magic with Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock.

ER executive producer John Wells met with Visnjic when he was in L.A. promoting Magic, and a few days later he had a new job. (Visnjic also appeared with former ER star George Clooney in The Peacemaker.)

He still thinks of himself as a Croatian resident -- he rents an apartment there -- and he and wife Ivana phone home every day, he says.

"It's difficult to find really good seafood (here)," he says. "In Croatia, you get fresh fish every day." Another big difference: "Everything is bigger here. The highways are huge. The cars are huge. In Europe, a Mercedes is a big car. Here, it's tiny."

In an ideal world, "I'll spend nine months here and three months in Croatia," he says. "I really love the summers on the coast, the architecture and nature there. I wouldn't want to give them up."