Most of us know Goran Visnjic from “ER,” though admittedly I remember him best from bumping into him at the veterinarian shortly after my dog chomped on a chicken carcass. I remember that day for a lot of reasons, but the good part (other than my dog being no worse for wear) was that Visnjic was friendly, charming and had a really cute pug. Really, who could ask for more from a heartthrob?
These days, though, Visnjic isn’t playing a character anything like noble Dr. Luka Kovac. Instead, he’s taken on the tough guy role of Schiller on “Red Widow” (premiering Sun. March 3 at 9 p.m.), a murderous mafia kingpin who recruits Marta (Radha Mitchell) into working for him after her husband’s bloody death. He’s joined in the cast by Sterling Beaumon, who plays Marta’s vengeful teen son, Gabriel. When I caught up with the pair of them at this winter’s TCAs, they told me about why they don’t mind that their show is a midseason replacement (and even think it’s an advantage), compared “Red Widow” to “Breaking Bad,” and hinted their characters could both be gone by the end of the season. Let’s hope not.
HitFix: So Goran, you were a late addition to the show.
Goran Visjnic: I”m the bad guy on the show.
HitFix: Yeah, you are.
Sterling Beaumon: I don”t like this guy.
HitFix: I was thinking you kinda didn’t.
Beaumon: I don”t. I want him dead. I want him dead and then he saves me. What”s going on?
Visjnic: We”re not supposed to talk about that.
Beaumon: We didn”t say too much did we?
HitFix: No, not too much. We don”t know a lot about Schiller at this point because we”ve only seen the pilot.
Visjnic: Schiller”s a [bleep]. You know, we”re premiering two episodes. So after that last scene you”re gonna — in the second episode you”re gonna see a lot of me. You”re gonna see what”s gonna be the relationship between Marta and him, you know. Why she working for me. And how come I got her there. It”s going to be interesting.
HitFix: But you guys are not really simpatico though. She’s being dragged into this world against her will just because of what happened to her husband. So what is that relationship like?
Visjnic: Well, it starts very serious. It starts pretty much him thinking, you know, she”s going to do this one job for me and then she”s gone. We”re going to get rid of her. But then he kind of develops some kind of a respect for her and starts thinking like, you know, this might be beneficial and they get introduced to some enemie. They face mutual enemies. So they kind of like they”ve been a good forced to work together in a way and she”s going to still hate him and it”s gonna change the dynamic a lot. It”s going to be interesting.
Beaumon: Correct me if I”m wrong, I feel like they get into a bit of a power struggle too. Like along the way, you know, she lives right in some situations.
Visjnic: And her kids hate me. They want to kill me.
Beaumon: [Grinning] I do want to kill him. Legitimately, like, I want him dead. He”s the one dragging my mom to the sewer.
Visjnic: He gonna actually even try to do something about it.
Beaumon: And that”s all Gabriel wants to do throughout the whole season, is to find and kill his father’s [killer] and to help his mother. Everything he does, some things may be questionable, but everything he does, he does for his family and for the sake of his family. And the scary thing is he does get into some sticky situations.
Visjnic: In a way, his character is really trying to take charge of his family. Trying to step up and be like his dad, help his mom. My favorite [scene] is when he kind of vandalizes an FBI officer”s car.
Beaumon: It”s kind of cool. Gabriel becomes a man over the course of the first season. He goes from being a teenage boy, who is living his life — his mundane day-to-day, going to school, coming home, girls. And then all of a sudden his dad”s dead. He”s opened up to this whole world of organized crime.
Visjnic: Later it really turns ugly, and that”s what the beauty of this show. It”s like some things are going to be awfully realistic. That”s why some people are comparing [this show] to cable. And Melissa [Rosenberg, producer and writer] says, “Cable’s beauty and realism is that it”s not about the blood and the sex but, you know, it”s about trying to tell the story.” So you”re going to see something”s on network you”re gonna be really surprised by. And while we’re not gonna be showing any boobs or any violence or anything like that..
Beaumon: There will be some violence.
Visjnic: Yeah. But, it”s going to be violence, but it’s not gonna be warriors. It”s going to be done in a way that you see what”s going on in people”s heads and what.
Beaumon: It”s really a character show. More than anything, which is nice.
Visjnic: I think it”s going to be a pleasant surprise for everybody to see a show like this on a network. Because we found the look of how to make a cable show and prove that you don”t need to see sex and violence in a way that needs to be blood and constant, you know, nudity and stuff like that to show the emotions and violence and aggression of human nature.
HitFix: Do you feel ABC is giving you that license? I know they put the show in midseason, but are they saying go ahead, take your time?
Beaumon: We had been writing it all since – we”d been hearing about episodes of being written since May. Since we got picked up really pretty much.
Visjnic: You mean the first season?
Beaumon: The first season, yeah, yeah, yeah, episodes have been being written from – I mean we were picked up at the same time as, say, ‘Nashville’ was, but we have been writing episodes the whole time.
Visjnic: After the pilot we knew what”s gonna happen through the season. We have a storyline laid out and that”s the beauty of basic cable. You can”t do that with 22 episodes. There”s no way. You don”t have time and you have too many stories to tell. You have to fill the space. With eight [episodes], even if the show is never picked up, you”re gonna have a beautiful miniseries.
HitFix: What is it like for you as actors to know what”s coming down the pipeline?
Visjnic: It”s better. Because you can engage yourself; you could think about how you”re gonna do certain things. Because I like to get surprised. As an actor, you don”t want to get surprised.
HitFix: And what kind of research did you have to do going into this?
Visjnic: The script was written so beautifully, the script is so full that I always say to all my colleagues and everybody on the show, don”t miss one line in between the dialogue because the lines between dialogue is so important. Shit is so specific and is so beautifully written and there’s so much going on there that if you read that it”s – you have everything you need.
HitFix: It must be tough coming in at midseason, though.
Beaumon: No. I think actually, I think going into it I think Melissa and Jeremy Gold who works for Endemol Studios, in fact I recall talking to them one night on how they actually, they were hoping that we would get [a short season] because we weren”t going for that 22-episode train that we were going for what we ended up having, which was really just this gem of an artistic show of a real show. And a show that we had time to work on and time to develop and time to really get in the mind of every single person on it.
HitFix: The first episode does feel like a basic cable show, in that it has that kind of pacing and slow reveals.
Beaumon: I think Melissa said this before I mean our – from what she”s told me, Radha is Walter White [of “Breaking Bad”] of the show. I mean, she doesn”t have cancer, but she comes – she”s starting in a time of turmoil and really has to break into this new world and own it. And be a mob boss really. And it”s like…
Visjnic: You know, the majority of my scenes are with her. And it was – somebody asked, you know, like about preparation and stuff like that, and I said, “I memorize my lines, read everything that it says in between the lines and just work off of Radha.” That”s all you need. It just, shit happens is part of my language, but it really does. She just really owns the lines. I was really amazed like the work ethic she has. And how much she works. And always being really cool and really in a good mood. With all that workload, I wouldn”t be. Honest to God, I wouldn”t.
Beaumon: She”s a really giving actress, which is really nice because, you know what when the camera’s not on her, she still gives her best performance. And that helps you give your best performance.
Visjnic: Everybody else start doing that because if they see she does that with her workload and …
Beaumon: She”s a good role model.
Visjnic: … then everybody is like oh, I better pick it up because if Radha can do it, you know.
Beaumon: And Radha”s doing an 18-hour day, every single day, seven days a week that, you know, we should…
Visjnic: [The end of the first season is] coming really soon. It”s only…
HitFix: So viewers really need to hop on the train early.
Beaumon: Oh, yeah. This is not a show that allows for people to hear about it over time. Like this is a show that…
Visjnic: That”s why we do two episodes [for the premiere]. It”s like a train. It goes from the first episode the last. Boom.
HitFix: And there”s sort of the Walter White ‘Breaking Bad’ aspect of Radha”s character. I”m assuming by the time we get to next season she”ll be fully indoctrinated into this world.
Beamon: Oh, by the end of the first season I mean she has a lot to learn still but she, she owns it.
HitFix: She”s going to turn bad?
Visjnic: In a way — well, technically, she does. She learns how to do things, but she doesn”t want to do it. The difference with ‘Breaking Bad’ is, he kind of like almost he”s like oh, why not? In her case, she does it to protect her family. So she becomes good, but only to protect the family. She doesn”t have an enjoyment of it. She still hates it. She maybe loves the excitement of it but she doesn”t want to accept it.
HitFix: You seem happy to be getting this short run, but how would you feel about getting a 22-episode order for the second season?
Visjnic: I”m telling you even if it stays where it is, which I don”t think it will, I”m going to be more than happy because what we”ve done is a really good miniseries. We end with a cliffhanger.
Beaumon: We tie everything up nice and neatly and then we undo it all right in the last second.
HitFix: But the show doesn”t kill everybody at the end of the first season.
Visjnic: Well, we kill…
Beaumon: You never know. We kill a couple people. But I mean, you really never know.
Visjnic: Like, we”re not back next season, two of us.
Beaumon: No, we”re dead.
HitFix: You”re lying.
Beaumon: That”s the cliffhanger!