Dabbling a bit with political intrigue in his latest role as Niko Lonza, a Yugoslavian diplomat who catches the eye of one of the flight attendants in PAN AM, Goran Visnjic previewed his guest starring role in an exclusive interview with theTVaddict.com.
Can you describe who Niko Lonza is and what part he has to play in the upcoming episodes?
GORAN: I play a Yugoslavian diplomat who works in the United Nations and he meets one of the stewardesses on the flight from New York to Monte Carlo. Basically, Kate (played by Kelli Garner) needs to get close to him because he is her only way into the fancy casino in Monte Carlo and she has a CIA assignment inside there. But when Kate is done with her assignment, they have this connection and they start dating, and over the course of a couple of episodes, it turns into a love story. But then towards the end of the 4-episode arc, you will have figured out that things are not as simple as that: the CIA has their agenda, as does the Yugoslavian Secret Police.
Sounds a little bit like a cat-and-mouse game. Sounds fun! As you probably did not actually film in Monte Carlo, where did you actually film and how much fun was that?
GORAN: It was actually quite impressive. We filmed in New York. The city, the architecture is so beautiful. There are so many different locations in the city and around the city. S we were on Long Island at one of the old mansions. It really looked like an early 19th Century hotel from Monte Carlo and was really beautiful. There were these great cars, like old vintage cars, and it was really fun. It was actually quite spectacular. The interiors of the casinos were done in the same place and some artwork and interior design was just amazing. I thought it was really beautiful. Unfortunately, we did not go to Monte Carlo, but we did the second best thing.
Was it a bit surreal as an actor to actually step into the shoes of a character in that era, when the world was on the cusp of the race to the moon and political ambitions were kind of pushing people towards covert wars and social tensions? Since we currently live in a world where that doesn’t exist for us anymore. So how does it feel stepping into that era for awhile?
GORAN: I have to say, it was very interesting for me coming from Croatia, which was at that time — 1963, it was part of Yugoslavia and we had our own political problems. That is why I guess the interesting thing for the writers was to use Yugoslavia, and not use another country from the Communist Bloc. Because Yugoslavia was never part of the Iron Curtain. It was actually a neutral country — never Communist. So to introduce a character who is a diplomat from that country, it kind of open up possibilities for interesting political stories, spy stories and emotional stories. You have this guy who is able to travel around the world first-class and go to Monte Carlo casinos because he’s not coming from a Communist country. As far as Kate’s character, Niko’s government would never allow him to date an American girl. So it’s kind of very different. It’s interesting that we kind of forgot how things were barely 40 years ago.
How did you find out about this role and what drew you to it?
GORAN: Jack Orman and Lydia Woodward actually worked on ER. They were on ER when I started with the show, so we’ve known each other a long time. They wrote some really cool stuff. Actually I think Lydia wrote my first episode on ER. I’ll never be able to forget that one! And I knew definitely then coming aboard that the writers would be cool and when we were discussing the character, they were really open to suggestions and ideas and talked about conflicts at the time that happened nearly half a century ago in Yugoslavia. Plus, I had seen the pilot episode, which was really awesome and it was an easy decision. I really didn’t have to think much about it.
Was there one specific thing that made you go, “Oh, I have to play that character!”?
GORAN: It was that side that I wanted people to see — how Yugoslavia functioned in the early ’60’s. People from the East, from the Iron Curtain, viewed Yugoslavia as a westernized country completely. They were kind of like envying us; and then people in the West were seeing Yugoslavia almost the same as the rest of the Communist countries, which it wasn’t. It was a Communist society, but much more relaxed than the Soviet Union. So it was kind of interesting to portray someone coming from this country and who was still able to travel around and this and that, but then you still feel that he does come from this oppressed system where nothing unauthorized is said or done. It was really interesting and important to me to portray that character. I’m actually grateful to Jack and Lydia, that they put in as much into this part and still kept it really interesting and not politically boring. It was just the situation he was coming from. They made it really interesting — a love story and a spy story.
To see how the blossoming romance and love story between Niko and Kate plays out, be sure to tune in for PAN AM on Sunday, October 23rd at 10:00 p.m. on ABC. Catch up on past episodes you may have missed for free online at clicktowatch.tv