George who? ER has a new medicine man
January 2001
Sunday Mail

When George Clooney left ER a year ago, women all over the world were devastated.

The hit TV show was instantly missing a vital ingredient, namely Clooney's sexy bedside manner and twinkling blue eyes. But when the new series of ER starts on Channel 4 on Wednesday, suddenly the memory of the divine Dr Doug Ross will seem like a distant one. The impossible has happened - George has been replaced, and by an actor who is likely to give him some competition in the heart-throb stakes.

Croatian-born Goran Visnjic is already giving Hollywood's best a run for their money.

Dubbed the Tom Cruise of Croatia by Vogue magazine, ex-soldier and bus driver's son Goran was also recently voted People magazine's Sexiest Import. ER ratings have shot up since the six foot four doctor with the floppy fringe and piercing brown eyes has appeared at Chicago's County General Hospital, and now ER studio executives have ordered writers to make sure his character Dr Luka Kovac appears in all 19 episodes that he is scheduled for this season.

His fanclub includes Madonna after starring in one of her videos, but, shrugging off all the attention about his looks, Goran says: "Lots of people want to be movie stars. But it's not that brilliant being a celebrity when you can't pop out to the store to buy toothpaste." Of course, having a great face is obviously a huge advantage in the image- obsessed industry of movie-making, but there's more to Goran than just a pretty face.

Unlike his predecessor, Goran, who was born in Sibenik, has seen human suffering at first hand, not just on the pages of his script. He trained as a paratrooper in the Croatian army at age 18, and then volunteered to stay on for an additional three months to fight the Serbs in the Yugoslavian war. Explaining his decision he says: "When somebody is attacking your hometown, and you are just sitting in the basement, you feel really useless. I felt I had to do it to defend my own country. That's just a normal reaction."

Though Goran has patients and nurses drooling over his stethoscope in ER, the bad news for his millions of female fans is that he is happily married to a hometown girl from Croatia, talented sculptress Ivana, who was his childhood sweetheart. On screen, however, viewers can look forward to Dr Luka making a play for sexy nurse Carol Hathaway - played by Julianna Margulies - the woman Clooney's character Dr Ross got pregnant in the show. It won't be the first time Visnjic has played a foil to Clooney - he also co-starred in The Peacemaker as a terrorist enemy who tries to kill him.

The star is surprisingly coy about watching himself on the television. "I cannot see myself on the screen, and I cannot hear my voice. I think it's awful," he says.

"Back home in Croatia there are no stars. No one is driving around in a black limo. In Dubrovnik, where I've done Hamlet for six years, they're like: `Oh, Goran's in town again. Hi, Goran.'"

But not everyone is happy about golden boy Goran's sizzling debut. According to reports in American tabloids, he's sent temperatures rising but it's got nothing to do with his sexy smile. He has been receiving a very cold shoulder from his co-stars Noah Wyle and Eriq LaSalle, who are said to be seething with jealousy about his instant popularity on the show. Wyle, who plays young doctor Carter, thought he would become the new Clooney and has complained of being treated like a "glorified extra", while LaSalle, whose character is Dr Benson, has allegedly had screaming rows with ER producers. Co-star Anthony Edwards has tried to stay neutral, but is also getting tired of Goran's overnight popularity, accusing him of being "just too good-looking".

There are rumours of George Clooney making a comeback as Dr Doug Ross - for a staggering dollars 2 million per episode. George says: "I'd do it for dollars 2 million - I'm not stupid." If George does make a guest appearance in the show, the battle between the two heart-throbs could be interesting.

Even though the ER men can't stand Goran, the women of the show, who believe he could be the programme's biggest success of all time, are lining up to be his love interest.

"His dark, brooding looks and sexy accent make women melt like butter," said one female colleague. "The show's producers are convinced Goran is going to be ER's biggest breakout star yet."

If fellow hunk Brad Pitt's breakthrough role was Thelma and Louise, Goran can give credit to a similar part in the movie Practical Magic, in which he played Nicole Kidman's psychotic cowboy-booted boyfriend. Aidan Quinn, one of his co-stars in the movie said: "Women go crazy for Goran. At the premiere, women were saying: `Oh my God, who is that?'" One of those female fans is Madonna, who is no stranger to spotting good- looking talent. She raved about Antonio Banderas when he was starting out in movies and even engineered a dinner date with him as seen in her In Bed With Madonna movie. Similarly, she was taken with Goran after watching his performance in the critically, acclaimed film Welcome to Sarajevo. So impressed was she that he was picked to be her love interest in the video for her song The Power Of Goodbye. Naturally, she made the most of her leading man, sharing a lengthy, passionate kiss with him in one clip and said at the time: "The sexiest male working today is the guy in my video, Goran Visnjic.

"I thought Welcome to Sarajevo was an excellent film. I was looking for an actor to be in my video and his face came right into my head. I think he's gorgeous."

But behind the sparkly toothpaste smile Goran really can act and became famous at 21 in his home country as a Shakespearian actor, playing a part which seems ideal for his brooding good looks - Hamlet. For the son of a poor bus driver dad and a mother who works at a foodmarket, it was landing that role at the prestigious Dubrovnik Theatre which was to change his life.

"My success in Croatia goes after my role in Hamlet," he says. "It's very difficult to play Hamlet especially when you're 21. It's a challenging role and I played alongside the biggest actress in Croatia."

On the strength of that part, he was then offered the part in Welcome to Sarajevo, about foreign reporters covering the Bosnian war, because producers were anxious to find an actor who could speak Serb-Croatian. Though he now lives in LA, homesick Goran still thinks of himself as a Croatian resident, renting a flat there and making daily phone calls to his family. "It's difficult to find really good seafood in America," he says. "In Croatia you get fresh fish every day."

"Everything is bigger here. The highways are huge, the cars are huge. In Europe a Mercedes is a big car - here it is tiny."

"Right now I am concentrating all my forces on ER and learning to speak better English - I need it for the complicated medical words."

"But in an ideal world I'll spend nine months here and three months in Croatia. It gives my mind a rest and, of course, there is no place like home."