Goran Visnjic excels at moody, somewhat reticent characters - such as the somewhat ambivalent blackmailer he plays in "The Deep End" and his best-known character, Dr. Luka Kovac on the hit NBC drama "ER" - but on a recent three-day visit to Manhattan, he came across as genial and often flashed a killer smile while talking about his projects.
He has extensive theatrical credits in his native Croatia, which include Chekhov and Shakespeare productions. And as he relaxed in an Essex House hotel suite, looking casual and comfortable in a dark pullover and jeans, the lanky, darkly handsome actor came across as genuinely happy with his recent career developments.
His first prominent role in English was in 1997's impressive and disturbing "Welcome to Sarajevo." Critical response to "The Deep End" - in which he co-stars with Tilda Swinton, portraying what one critic described as "a remarkably complex anti-hero" - has been generally admiring. Working on two films this summer meant that for the first time in seven years, he could not portray Hamlet at the Dubrovnik Summer Festival. But being busy seems to agree with him.
As he settled in to talk with freelancer Susan Reiter, Visnjic politely inquired if it was alright to smoke, taking no offense when asked not to and expressing his intention to quit soon, as his wife did recently.
This is your biggest role in an American film so far, and your character is something of a mystery man; nothing about his background is made clear.
The directors and me, we decided that it's absolutely not necessary to put it into the story - it would just be too much information, which you don't need in the film. Of course, what's written in the script is just one of the layers, and then - fortunately we had many days of rehearsals, and that's when the character is actually evolving from a character on paper to one you can really act.
It sounds like a process you could relate to as an actor who's done a lot of theater.
In my country, all actors are primarily theater actors, because the film industry is not so big. Basically, every actor works in theater, and then when you have a role in film or on television, the theater production will help make the schedule for the film, so you can do both at the same time. For me, it was always just acting - doesn't matter if it's film, theater or television.
Having the chance to perform Hamlet over seven years must have been an incredible opportunity.
That was really nice, to really explore the role. I was 21 when I first did it. We kept the same production, with the same actors together every summer through last year, but now it's getting really difficult to pull all those people together. I'm spending so much time outside Croatia.
Would you ever consider performing Shakespeare in English?
If you asked me the same question three years ago, I would say no. But now I'm already working on it in my head. It's still too early. My English has to be much better in order to do something like that. But I just came to the States three years ago, so I have plenty of time.
Were you in Croatia when Goran Ivanesevic won at Wimbledon? I imagine the impact of that victory was amazing.
It was crazy. There were 200,000 people waiting when he flew into Split, and a real celebration in the city. The day of the finals, we'd been shooting a film in the middle of nowhere, with no electricity, nothing. But the director brought in a big-screen TV and built a tent in the middle of the field, and we plugged the TV into the film's electric generator and stopped filming for four and half hours to watch the match!
Between working on that film and taking on a leading role in the British film "Doctor Sleep" during your "ER" hiatus, when do you get a real vacation?
Ummm ...in a couple of years!