ER star jumps into Deep End
August 2001
The Boston Herald

Goran Visnjic has made a big impression on TV audiences as Dr. Luka Kovac on ER. But if you ask the writing-directing team of David Siegel and Scott McGehee why they cast a Croatian as an Irish blackmailer who falls for his victim, Tilda Swinton, in this week's thriller, The Deep End, they'll answer, "Having them together excited us - she's so fair and he's so dark. And they're both tall."

What's missing here is any mention of this 28-year-old's status as a sex symbol, dubbed People magazine's "Sexiest import." Also missing is mention of how well Visnjic has navigated these often rocky American show-biz shores since he was cast as the ER replacement hunk for a departing George Clooney.

"I had my favorite joke, which was, 'What's that - hunk? Is that the wheel of the car?' Or whatever. And then Erik Palladino from the show said, 'If you say that one more time, I'm going to kill you,' " Visnjic said.

Visnjic's done so well, he recently renegotiated his E.R contract and will stay at least four more years.

That didn't stop him from auditioning for The Deep End, which is a modern update on The Blank Wall, a 1947 magazine story by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding. Holding's story of a mother so valiant she makes a blackmailer remember there are such things as right and wrong has been filmed previously by Max Ophuls in 1949, The Reckless Moment. Joan Bennett plays the mother trying to protect her teenaged daughter, and James Mason the suave blackmailer who comes to feel more than pity for her.

The Deep End instead offers Swinton as a mother desperate to protect her gay teenaged son from the charge of having murdered his disreputable lover, a two-bit Reno, Nev., operator - and forced to face Visnjic's equally sleazy blackmailer.

"I really wanted this pretty bad," Visnjic said. "So many great reasons. David and Scott, I'd seen their (1993) film Suture, and that's like being with the two young hot directors. The script was fantastic and Tilda Swinton, I thought, My God, I have to be in this film."

"And," he continued, "the part is brilliant! Because you have a chance of playing a bad guy who is becoming a good guy. In the course of four or five days, you have to make that switch and turn 180 degrees from a bad sleazy guy into a really good guy who is almost like a romantic hero."

But the reality in Hollywood is there are many good-looking guys who can handle themselves in front of the camera. The question is: does Visnjic end up being Antonio Sabato Jr. or Mel Gibson?

"Actually that's a good question," he answered. "One of the major principles of my career is basically ... every job you decide to do, do it like it's the first and the last in your life. When I got The Deep End, I tried to make that part like, 'That's the last thing I'll do in my life!' Of course, making decisions on what to do and which part to take is important, especially for a foreigner coming to Hollywood with a Croatian accent, which for an American audience seems like Russian. They still have the idea in the head that the bad guy in a 007 movie has the Russian accent. I refuse parts like that because I don't want to be typecast."

Visnjic smiled. "That was a couple of years ago, not anymore. ER helped that, and the accent changed, which is hard work also. That was one of the steps you take to become a star", he laughed at himself as he said this, "taking as many steps as you can, take it like a skill: speaking American."