Posted: 30 Mar 2013 05:30 AM PDT
Lilyhammer star Steven van Zandt on 'taking care of business' in Norway.
IT'S not hard to make Steven van Zandt, 62, laugh. You just wouldn't expect it from an actor who played Tony Soprano's loyal consigliere (Italian for "counsellor") in the award-winning mob drama The Sopranos.
When the HBO series concluded in 2007, van Zandt's character Silvio Dante was lying comatose in the hospital while old friend Tony looked on. Silvio had a knack for "taking care" of informants and traitors in the series, but it appears that ultimately, he did not recover from an assassination attempt.
After The Sopranos, van Zandt said he had no further interest in acting. He chose to focus on his other ventures like hosting his weekly radio show, managing his record label and of course, being the lead guitarist in Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band.
Then in 2011, he was approached by a husband-and-wife team with an idea for a television show. The pitch? A New York mobster who testified against his bosses in court is put into the witness protection programme in, of all places, Norway.
"I was not expecting to play a gangster again but it (Lilyhammer) was such a good idea! I couldn't resist it," he says in an exclusive interview organised by Maxman.TV via Skype from Oslo, Norway, where filming for Season 2 is currently underway.
"As you know I'm never a cold, winter person (his nickname is Miami Steve). But I love it now. You have to become a snow person here. I can only imagine that the weather in Malaysia is much nicer," he says when asked about the weather there.
In Lilyhammer, which has become a hit, Frank "The Fixer" Tagliano (van Zandt) testified against his mob colleagues in court. Fearing for his safety, he asks to be put into witness protection in Lillehammer, a small town in Norway. He is attracted by the "clean air, fresh white snow and gorgeous broads" which he saw in a clip of the 1994 Winter Olympics.
Van Zandt gleefully describes the premise as "the ultimate fish out of water story".
"Here, we have a New York gang member who is going through life – in Norway – the American way. He is trying to apply the Italian-American gangster mentality in a country where there is virtually no crime!"
He gives a hilarious example of the law-abiding nature of Norwegians: "In Norway, if the light is red, they don't cross the street! And here is Frank, someone who is not used to following the rules. He becomes frustrated by the system and tries to find his way around it."
To top it all off, Frank mistakes his neighbour for a postal worker; the lady turns out to be the local chief of police.
Van Zandt adds that the fact not a lot of people know about Norway adds layers to the show's dark, gritty humour.
"In my country, people think Norway is the capital of Sweden. You can't really name too many celebrities from Norway. It's such an obscure country that people don't know much about it. We're able to use that aspect in our show, and let viewers discover Norway through Frank's eyes."
Frank has to warm to the town anyway, since he can't go back to New York. Eventually he opens up a bar and falls in love with Sigrid, a single mum. In one episode, Frank is seen giving advice on women to Sigrid's son Jonas.
We asked van Zandt if he'd take Frank's word on women; he burst into laughter. "Would I take Frank's advice? (laughs) It would be interesting if the series continues, and Frank has a daughter. How would he deal with her after what he said earlier about women being men's reward after a hard day's work.
"It's the kind of love that you want to consume, or own. It's actually quite complicated – sort of a philosophical thing – which we don't have time for now," he says while laughing away.
Free-spirited van Zandt is tight-lipped about details of Season 2, but he is happy to divulge a little bit on Frank's new business – fatherhood.
"He and his girlfriend are expecting twins, so there's that (laughs). They are also going to start the season with a bunch of new characters coming into town starting a car-related business. Well, because apparently the economy is so bad everywhere except in Norway. And then these new characters clash with Frank and his gang."
As for how Frank is dealing with fatherhood, let's just say his character's no-nonsense, tough-talking demeanour gets him in a little bit of trouble with his better half.
"It's safe to say that Frank is not going to cut down on swearing. In fact, a funny thing happens with his kid because of that," he says and there goes that laugh again.
It's evident that van Zandt is very fond of his character in Lilyhammer. He even says he doesn't mind what some viewers might say about him pretty much reprising the same role from The Sopranos.
"It was the first thing I thought of as well. I asked myself; do I care about how much people think of me as a versatile actor? Then I realised that I don't care."
He adds: "If people are going to think of Lilyhammer as Silvio Dante (from The Sopranos) waking up from a coma and ending up in Norway, then let them! All I care about is doing good work."
Van Zandt also gives his one-line pitch on why viewers should catch Lilyhammer: "TV is mostly full of s**t but this (Lilyhammer) is a really a good show," and having said that, he's laughing again.
Go to www.maxman.tv to catch full Season 1 episodes of Lilyhammer.
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