Operating in a different theatre
December 2001
The Guardian

Having set pulses racing in ER, Croatian actor Goran Visnjic tells Wendy Ide he's now working like a trainee doctor to get his movie career off the ground

A key role in Michael Winterbottom's Welcome To Sarajevo brought Croatian actor Goran Visnjic to the attention of the international film industry, and after a bit of a false start (Practical Magic), his US career was sealed when he was recruited to fill George Clooney's shoes as ER's crumpet-in-residence. A film career crammed in around his obligations in the emergency room has so far produced a lead in Nick Willing's Doctor Sleep and an acclaimed performance as a blackmailing stranger in The Deep End.

There's a bit of a medical theme in your work at the moment, what with ER, a role as a hypnotist in Dr Sleep and the cardiac massage in The Deep End.

What can I tell you? It was, like, accidental, you know. And to make things even funnier, my character is supposed to be from Chicago in Dr Sleep, and ER is set in Chicago. So I said, "Can we please change to another city, it would be too much". So I'm from Seattle now.

Do you find that you're offered a lot of villain roles because of the eastern European accent?

It's a fashion that started during the cold war, in 007 movies, and the US movie industry was of course much bigger than anything else in the world. So the bad guy would be whoever was their enemy at the time. Now things are slightly changing, but you have to choose your parts carefully. If you've got an offer, big bucks, to play a bad guy in the next 007, you can do that, but what will happen with your career in the next couple of years?

Have you moved from Croatia to the US permanently?

I just moved to the States two years ago. So I consider it a temporary move. I never even applied for a green card, nothing like that. I'm still on working visas. I spent a while commuting between the US and Croatia. I knew every aeroplane. Then when I got ER I decided I had to move, because you have to be there for nine months while the shoot is happening. It's an every day job.

So you only have time to do one movie a year. How do you choose?

You have to have a really good agent. For The Deep End, it was a really easy decision: it was a great script; Scott and David directing; Tilda Swinton would be in it, I knew that already; and you can play someone who's a bad guy at the beginning, but over the course of five or six days turns into a really good guy. That's four really interesting things in favour of being in this film.

How was the shoot?

We had a bear on the set one day, it was eating garbage. We were shooting on Lake Tahoe and the bear just walked into the catering area. He smelled the food, poor guy. They were making a noise in front of the bear to make him walk away, but he was just ignoring everybody. He was a very polite bear. He ate a little bit and then he left.

Do you still work in Croatia?

I work back and forth. I think it's really important to keep contact with your native language, and denitely, what I would like to do, once I have four months off from my life, I would denitely like to go to Croatia, and work in theatre. Theatre is my first love.

What about a holiday?

Holiday? What's that? I'm the type of guy, after 10 days of holiday, I'm crazy. I want to work. When I work I feel good. I like what I'm doing, so it's almost like a pure pleasure to work.