Steven Van Zandt of “The Sopranos” and Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band recently talked about the second season of his Netflix television show, “Lilyhammer,” on a press conference call. The new season premieres December 13, 2013.
Here are some of the highlights of the interview, and check out the trailer at the end – it looks fantastic (but note that it isn’t for kids).
On the Netflix original programming phenomenon:
It’s been an amazing journey to watch it. Two years ago, it’s hard to believe, it didn’t exist and has become this amazing powerhouse right up there with HBO. We were very proud to be the first. It was an amazing history-making choice by Ted Sarandos and the Netflix people. To go with a foreign show first made a statement that has reverberated through the entire world….
This was mind-boggling to the world because it made this discussion about the international marketplace now being expanded because of the digital distribution – it became more than talk all of a sudden. It was real, and Netflix made it real. And so, it’s been a remarkable thing to watch. They have five hits in a row on top of that, which blew everybody’s mind.
So, it’s great to go back now with a second season, and I think it’s going to be quite impressive for people who maybe tuned into the first season out of curiosity and were attracted to the eccentric nature of it and the fun premise of it. We caught everybody by surprise, and we were a surprise hit.
But now, we’re going to deliver on that promise of the first season, I think, and we really stepped up our game. We’re going to be a show that can be compared to any other show on American television, so I’m very proud to go back to this continuing golden era of new television. And Netflix is right at the forefront of it.
On what attracted him to “Lilyhammer”:
I have a radio show that’s worldwide, and I play a lot of Norwegian rock and roll. It happens to be just a place that loves Americana in general, and I also have a record company. So, I was in Bergen, Norway producing Norwegian bands, and somebody told me there was a husband and wife writing team who wanted to say hello.
I met with them, and they gave me the one-sentence pitch, which was, “Gangster goes into the witness protection program and chooses Lilyhammer, Norway.” And I just had several thoughts at once. First of all, I thought, “Oh, geez, I just played a gangster for 10 years. I really probably shouldn’t do this.” Number 2, “What a wonderful idea this is.” There’s not that many great ideas in the world, okay? When you hear one, you’d better recognize it, and I recognized it immediately.
Knowing as much about Norway as I did then – and of course, I know a whole lot more now – but even then, I knew that they were a very, very conservative country, very much a monoculture, very, very civilized, very little crime, no poverty. It’s a very, very interesting place. It’s a very mysterious place. Nobody [in America] knows anything about Norway really.
So, I thought to myself, “This is just a perfect premise. We can not only have a wonderful fish out of water story here with a one-man crime wave coming into a place where there’s no crime, but also, we can have fun with the cultural differences. And we can, in fact, make Norway one of the characters of the show because nobody knows anything about it.” So, it was just absolutely irresistible….
Everybody on my side, the business people, said, “Are you crazy? You just came off of the greatest show in history, and now you’re going to go to Norway? Who knows how good this show is going to be?” Everybody was sort of questioning it as a career move. But once they wanted me involved as one of the producers, and they wanted me involved as one of the writers, I felt, “Well, if I can control the scripts and have some say in the production, I feel confident enough that I could make this work.”
We spent a year on the first season scripts because there were a whole lot of questions to answer. How funny should it be? I did not want to do a straight-ahead comedy or farce. I wanted it to be a dramedy, as we call it. I wanted to have some serious moments in it.
And how much English should be spoken? Will people understand that he understands Norwegian but doesn’t speak it, which is a typical thing over there, by the way? A whole lot of questions had to be answered. So, it was quite an interesting artistic challenge. And bam, that first season was really amazing…. I’m very, very proud of the whole thing.
On shooting a show in another country:
It was actually perfect because whatever the character was going through on the show, I was going through myself as the actor and producer. Every bit of cultural shock he was experiencing, I was experiencing, so it really sort of helped in a way. I found myself adapting to things that I never would have thought possible such as filming outside for ten hours in ten below zero weather.
It’s very much “do it yourself” over there. It’s a very different working culture, much lower budget. We get a lot of bang for the buck out of those lower budgets, but that means not a lot of frills. I had the only trailer in the history of Norwegian TV. I shared it with everybody. Craft service was an apple and a box of crackers and a pot of coffee. Those little basic things that we take for granted, us prima donnas and divas that work in the American system – we don’t realized how much we’re pampered here until you go over to Norway.
I literally saw one stunt man in two seasons, and after the guy did the stunt, the actor did it anyway because he felt guilty. So, they’re much tougher than we are and much more civilized at the same time.
And that meant literally working 9 to 5, which as an actor, I found incredible that you could actually have a life and do the show. That was just unthinkable during “The Sopranos.” You worked 10, 12 hours regularly….
We do 15 working days on a show, which is a bit longer than most American shows, I think. That’s because we’re literally working 8 hours most of the time. There were a lot of differences to get used to, most of which were all good in the end.
The first season, I literally worked every other week because I had so many things going on here. I told them, “The only way it would work was if I worked every other week,” and I figured they were going to say, “No,” of course. Whoever heard of the star working every other week? But they said “yes,” so every single Saturday for six months, I flew there or I flew home.
It’s like an 8-1/2 or 9-hour flight, which I grew to really like, actually, because I love that time when you’re alone. I can read, I can write, I can catch up on movies and TV shows. No one’s bugging you. I wish the flight was even longer, to tell you the truth. So, I got used to that.
Then, the second season, because I squeezed it into the middle of my tour with Bruce Springsteen, I had to cut that down, so I was only coming home every other weekend.
On what he hopes the viewers get out of watching “Lilyhammer”:
Having a more open-minded understanding of other cultures. This opens one’s mind to the possibilities. I think the Norwegian culture is something we could learn from. We have some fun this year, for instance, with the concept of what they call “pappy perm,” which is the father of a new baby is required by law to go home and take three months off from their work and actually be a father.
The fact that parenthood is literally shared there and the fact that they have health care and education for free from womb to tomb – all of those cultural things that they take for granted over there are extremely highly evolved and much more highly evolved than we are. There’s no crime, there’s no homelessness, there’s no poverty. There are many, many things to learn from the show in terms of the Norwegian culture….
We throw in lots of things that I think make people think, as well as being entertained. It’s kind of what I do with everything I do pretty much. I always try and make sure there’s some substance along with the entertainment. That’s just part of growing up in the Renaissance, as I did, where the things with the most substance happened to be the things that were most commercial.
I think that we’re going to be going through that sort of thing again now with this new golden era of television. I think we’re at the beginning of it really, starting with “Sopranos” and now expanding globally with Netflix. And I’m sure there’s going to be others following.