Beginning this Sunday (Oct. 23, 10PM ET on ABC), Visnjic is back on TV for a four-episode arc on 'Pan Am' -- he's playing Yugoslavian U.N. diplomat Niko Lonza, a complicated man who woos stewardess Kate (Kelli Garner) -- in a role that takes him back to a very different time in the neutral but still Communist country.
Having grown up in Yugoslavia himself, Visnjic had a lot to add to the character, who was crafted for him by fellow 'ER' alums, executive producer Jack Orman (who's showrunner on 'Pan Am' now) and writer Lydia Woodward. And while he started off our chat saying he couldn't say much about Niko, he ended up spilling quite a bit.
Keep reading for more on their whirlwind romance, the political turmoil involved, an upcoming trip around the world for the 'Pan Am' crew and his storyline's sad ending. "Well, let's say they don't kill him. On screen," Visjnic teased with a laugh.
Niko Lonza looks like a very mysterious new addition. What can you tell us about the character?
Not much I'm afraid. [Laughs] I can tell you who he is, but later on it gets really complicated and they kind of have a little nice twist on the end. He's a Yugoslavian diplomat who works in the U.N. ... he travels a lot and he meets Kate, played by Kelli Garner, on the plane. First he's just a part of her assignment, but not her mark. Basically she's just using him to get inside this casino in Monte Carlo. But then when she's kind of completed her assignment, she continues to have a romance with this guy because he's not part of anything CIA wants from her. At least she thinks that in the beginning. [Laughs] You see how it starts, and then I give you more and more? You can already smell something is going to happen there! [Laughs]
He does look like a lot of the CIA men that Kate has met with ...
Well, come on -- let's not talk about that! [Laughs] No, he's not CIA. But things are going to get complicated for both of them, and it's gonna be a sad ending.
Monte Carlo is a fabulous place to have a first date with someone. Does Nico get to jet off to other locales with the crew?
No, that's pretty much it for my character -- these guys are flying all around the world. In my final episode, Kate and the rest of her Pan Am crew are actually going on an around-the-world trip. They're going to Rome [also], but my character stays in New York. Then during one of the episodes, he has to go home and try to do something for his cousin who is kind of in trouble. But the only time you're going to see him on a plane is this trip -- from New York to London, then London to Monte Carlo.
He sounds like a complicated man.
He is. That's why when we talked about the character in the beginning -- Jack Orman and Lydia Woodward and I -- it was nice to have a character who was coming from Yugoslavia at that time, because Yugoslavia at that time was a neutral country. So it's still a Communist country, but it's not part of the Iron Curtain, which opens up a lot of politics and stories about espionage and all of that. So somebody who's been sent by that kind of government to be a U.N. diplomat in New York at that time, he probably was part of the movement to the second World War. He's probably been around, let's put it that way.
So far the show has done a nice job of tapping into these historical moments. Did you learn anything new about the politics in your home country at that time?
Well, unfortunately I know a lot about it because I was born in 1972 and Yugoslavia existed all the way until 1990. I was there during the war and the Croatian War of Independence, which was all connected with the history of Yugoslavia from the second World War on. So I was actually suggesting a lot of things and talking about politics of that time -- I gave them my view of things a lot, and that can all be seen in the character. It starts really light ... like some light version of a spy movie ... and then from episode to episode it turns to more difficult political issues. It makes it even more interesting because you really want to know what's going to happen to these characters -- they put them in a situation that seems without an exit, and then the end ... the end!
Does it leave it open-ended for him to possibly return for more episodes?
Well, let's say they don't kill him. On screen. [Laughs]
You were on such a long-running, well-known TV show with 'ER' -- do you want to just do guest spots now? Or is this opening the door for you to return to doing more TV?
This was really special because of Jack and Lydia, because I know them and they wrote so many episodes for me. I think Lydia actually wrote my first episode on 'ER.' I know they're good writers ... so this was an easy choice, especially when they told me what they planned to do. I felt like I was involved with this character from the beginning; I felt like I owned it. If I would get another guest star spot with these conditions, then yeah, I'd do it.
Would you want to be a series regular on a show again?
Honestly, I loved work on TV -- it's regular work. I don't like not working. It's like in features, you do a movie for two months of hard work, then you have a couple months off. It's very irregular. I'm not a big fan of that. But it would need to be something that's gonna be interesting, that you would get up in the morning really excited to go to work. 'ER' was a show like that, definitely for me.
Below, check out a video of Christina Ricci telling 'The View' that Pan Am stewardesses were some of the most empowered women of their era: