Goran Visnjic: From Croatia With Love

Goran Visnjic, "ER"'s post-Clooney heartthrob, reveals his passion for his homeland and his affection for Sigourney Weaver.


They were big shoes to fill, George Clooney's, but when "ER" went looking, they came up with an inspired choice--a tall, brooding 28-year-old Croatian named Goran Visnjic (pronounced VISH-nick). He was practically an unknown actor (yeah, right, you sat through Welcome to Sarajevo or swooned over the psycho in Practical Magic?), but he made his presence felt immediately as Dr. Luka Kovac. He wooed Clooney's ex, the adorable nurse Carol Hathaway (Julianna Margulies), and he might have gotten her, too, if Margulies hadn't had herself written out of the show.

When I show up at the "ER" set to meet Visnjic, I come equipped with a globe under my arm. Admit it, you don't have more than a fuzzy idea where Croatia is, either. Visnjic, wearing his "ER" scrubs and no makeup, is even more exotically handsome in person than he is on-screen. Wherever this Croatia is, it must have some amazing-looking people.

"Show me where you're from," I say, smiling and handing him the globe.

He returns the grin. "I've had people tell me, 'Oh sure, I know where Croatia is--it's right near Russia,"' he says. "I hate when people bullshit me." With that he twirls the world around, finds the little dot he's looking for, and launches into an enthusiastic dissertation on the history and geography of his home country, which, I can now tell you authoritatively, was once part of Yugoslavia, but no longer is because Yugoslavia no longer is what it was. I think.

"Tell me what you think Croatia looks like," Visnjic says.

"Gloomy, dark, old," I tell him.

"Absolutely not," he says, swatting away the misconception. "Where I grew up, it was sunny, warm, beautiful. You'll see, I will send you some literature." Truthfully, I won't hold my breath.

Visnjic's career was well-established in beautiful Croatia before he came to America. He'd studied acting at the Academy of Dramatic Arts in Zagreb and was a mainstay in theater there. He seems intent on keeping the Croatian in him alive here in Hollywood, too. Among other things, he's been married for a year and a half to a fellow Croatian named Ivana.

"I heard that when you made Welcome to Sarajevo, you barely spoke any English, and now you're saying things like 'myocardial infarction' with the best of them."

"In Croatia, you study English in school, so I was not--what do you call it? Clueless? And I am working with a dialect coach, you see, so that makes things much easier."

"If I lived in Croatia for the rest of my life, I'd be lucky if I learned to say 'Good morning' with the right inflection."

"I'm sure this is not true," Visnjic says gallantly. "You would be fluent within a short time."

Don't you just love this guy?

"This is the Sex issue of Movieline," I say, trying to steer the line of questioning, "so I'm wondering what movies you think are sexy. You made Practical Magic with Nicole Kidman and--"

Visnjic looks embarrassed and cuts me off. "She is quite a beautiful woman, yes. I loved working on that film with her and Sandy Bullock and Aidan Quinn. But my character was an abusive man and that was a very hard part for me to play. You want me to talk about what I think is sexy? This is not something I can do."

"Why? Some ancient Croatian law that says you cannot speak of these things aloud?"

Visnjic laughs. "No, it's just that sex is so personal, how can one person describe it to another?"

"I don't want you to describe sex to me," I explain. "I just thought we could talk about what you think is sexy in a film."

Visnjic thinks long and hard. " I can tell you right now that I don't think the sex act is sexy in the movies. I think Sigourney Weaver was sexy in Alien. I'm a science fiction nut. The best thing I saw this year was Galaxy Quest. Did you see it?"

I shake my head.

"OK," he concedes. "No sex, but it was a lot of fun. Isn't that what the movies are supposed to be?"

"Some of them, but others.

"So always this comes back to sex?"

"Not always," I say, not very convincingly. "Look, it's not like you don't know anything about this. Your character on 'ER' exudes sex appeal."

"One of my favorite films of the past few years is Braveheart. Did you think that was sexy?"

"Mel Gibson is always sexy. Remember when he and Rene Russo were showing their scars to each other in Lethal Weapon 3? That's the kind of thing I'm talking about. There was no overt sex."

Visnjic nods, but has nothing to add to this, so I ask him about his upcoming film, The Deep End. "Tilda Swinton plays a woman who my partner and I are doing something bad to," he tells me. "But then I start to have second thoughts.

"Do you fall in love with her?" I ask hopefully.

"I'm not going to tell you that," he says. Then it's time for him to go be Dr. Kovac, so he hands me back my globe.

A week later, a plain envelope with no return address shows up at my house. Inside is a tour book from Croatia, no note. Visnjic wasn't kidding--the pictures show a paradise awash in sunshine. If the real place is half this good, and if one tenth of the men over there look like Visnjic, I'm getting on a plane tomorrow.


Martha Frankel interviewed Heidi Klum for the September issue of Movieline. Check out more on Martha Frankel here.