MIPCOM 2011: Steven Van Zandt Goes Norwegian in Bilingual Gangster Thriller 'Lilyhammer'
The former "Sopranos" star says the show, which has been snapped up by Netflix in the U.S., will appeal to international audiences despite his insistence on keeping true to its Norwegian roots.
CANNES -- Just how far can non-English-language drama travel? All the way from Norway if the story is handled right, says Sopranos star Steven Van Zandt.
The E Street Band guitarist, who played mob consigliere Silvio Dante for a decade in the HBO series, has picked the Norwegian-language gangster drama Lilyhammer for his next TV project. And what's more, he is convinced it will reach a global audience.
Set in Lillehammer, the town with the lowest crime rate in Norway -- which in turn has the lowest crime rate in the world -- Van Zandt plays a Mafiosi who is sent to the near-wilderness territory when he enters the witness protection program.
Van Zandt's dialogue in the Metronome-produced drama distributed by German player SevenOne International is in English, and the Norwegian characters speak to him in English as well. But all the other dialogue is in Norwegian and the eight-episode, hourlong series will premiere on Norwegian broadcaster NRK.
The show has already been snapped up by Netflix, which has exclusive U.S. rights to the show, which aims to match the success of the Danish language thriller The Killing.
"There was no doubt in my mind that it was going to travel. Right from the beginning we planned on it traveling, and it's going to travel," he said at a press conference in Cannes. The secret? Keeping true to its authentic Norwegian roots.
"It's very Norwegian, and I feel very strongly about this. From the beginning, we were talking about how Norwegian we should make it, and I insisted that I wanted it to be as nuanced and particular and as authentic as possible," he said about protecting the local customs, quirks and settings that are key to the storyline.
Van Zandt said he learned the value of protecting the detail and setting and authenticity of a series from watching New Jersey become internationally relevant twice in his lifetime -- first with Bruce Springsteen and then with Sopranos creator David Chase.
"They both did the same thing -- they found the most personal parts of New Jersey, the not-so-glamorous parts, the very particular parts. That's what ends up being extremely international and interesting. The Sopranoswould never have worked if it had been made in LA."
In fact, so keen is the production company to keep the Norwegian sense of the project that they are refusing to allow a Killing-style U.S. remake. Lasse Hallberg, senior vp and head of creative content at Metronome Film & TV, said it was "out of the question."
"We are part of [Elisabeth Murdoch's international production company] Shine, a format company, so obviously they wanted to do a remake, but we said no. The format is not for sale," Hallberg said.
Added Van Zandt: "There's no way you could do it. You can't transplant these characters. Without the setting, it just wouldn't work."