April 2004

The scariest thing about Goran Visnjic is that he's even better-looking in person. Best known as "ER's" tortured but sexy Dr. Luka Kovac, the 33-year-old Visnjic is an imposing 6-foot-4, with an ingratiating smile and the kind of piercing eyes that can melt the hardest of hearts. He's one hunka hunka Croatian love god.

And now Visnjic is more visible than ever. He recently played the lead in USA Network's "Spartacus" mini-series, and "Close Your Eyes," the first English-language film he's starred in, opened Friday. Raised in a small village on the Adriatic coast, Visnjic lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Ivana, a sculptor. Freelancer Lewis Beale caught up with him at a midtown hotel on a miserably rainy day.

You were once chosen as one of People magazine's 50 most beautiful people. What's it like being a heartthrob?

It's something people don't think about themselves. It's what other people think about you. But it would be stupid to say you're not happy about that. If you're on a list of the 50 ugliest, you probably wouldn't be happy. The only problem is that you didn't do anything to become that. It has nothing to do with you, or your work. It's other people who chose that, and it's basically your genes; there's no work involved.

Well, you're not necessarily playing heartthrob roles. In "Close Your Eyes," you're a hypnotherapist tracking a serial killer, and Spartacus led a slave revolt against Rome. Is that deliberate on your part?

In order to come back to "ER" and play Luka, you have to do something different every summer. I'm not saying Luka is a heartthrob; if you were in his head, you would end up in the psych ward. The guy is really complicated and has lots of problems. The objective is to do something as best as you can do that summer, but also to do something as different from Luka's character as possible.

Speaking of Luka, how much of him is based on your reality, and how much is made up?

He's a Croatian; we both share a certain patriotism. And I like to do little things that will be fun for my friends in Croatia. Like we had a scene in which we're playing softball, and it was when the Croatian team took third place in the World Cup, and my friends sent me a team jersey, which I wore in that scene. But fortunately, during the war I didn't lose any of my family or anything like that. The dark Luka side, it's something they created. Let's say I'm the cheerful Luka side.

Yet, you did fight briefly in the Croatian army during the recent Balkans war. What was that like?

The problem about that is, it was a confusing time; it's really complicated, and every time I tried to explain, I'd read an interview and say, "I didn't say this." So I just say, "Forget about it, I don't want to talk about it."

OK, then let me ask you this: Do you think there will ever be real peace in the former Yugoslavia?

You know, in medieval times, Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia were always separated, and they were the best of friends. The worst thing that happened was when they put all these countries together and they tried to suppress even positive nationalism. War never happened between those countries when they were separated countries. Never, ever. So when the countries are finally separated again, I think there will be no problems, until some idiot in 100 years comes by and says, "Let's put all these countries together," and someone will hopefully say, "Please don't do that, it's been proven that that doesn't work."

What about your celebrity? You were already well-known in Croatia as a theater actor, especially for your performances as Hamlet at the Dubrovnik Summer Festival. But how have people related to you since you've been on "ER?"

Before I came on the show, "ER" was the No. 1 foreign TV show in my country. So when I called my mom and told her I was going to be on "ER," she knew what I was talking about. I spent so much time in Dubrovnik the locals know me, and when I'm there, it's a normal thing. I built my career there. When I'm in my hometown, it's the same story - "That's Goran." When I'm in Zagreb, it's a little different; it's the capital, there's more attention, but I have so many friends there it doesn't make that much difference.

What do you like to do when you're not working?

I love to drive. That's my passion. I do off-roading, certain kinds of races, but I love to drive in general. My wife and I love to go together in a car. We've been all over California, Arizona, Texas; we drive to Colorado every year to go skiing. She has her DVD, we can talk, she can sleep, we have our dogs in the car. The Grand Canyon is one of my favorite attractions in the States, and we've been there, like, seven times. That's the U.S. for me. Not Los Angeles, not New York.

So I was also wondering, as a TV actor, what's your favorite show other than "ER?"

"Stargate." I love that show, I love the film. I have six seasons of it in my house, and I'm Tivo-ing every episode.