Steven Van Zandt's Norwegian mob comedy "Lilyhammer" first got the ball rolling for Netflix as the debut show in their growing slate of original programming, and now it's continuing to lead the pack by becoming the first series to return for a second season -- even after the production was forced to take a brief hiatus for Van Zandt's "day job" touring as a member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band.
But after watching other Netflix shows go on to receive Emmy nominations and even a few wins for "House of Cards," now Van Zandt wants his. And the series star/executive producer/co-writer thinks that the bigger, better and badder second season of "Lilyhammer" ought to do the trick.
With the new season premiering on Netflix on December 13, we spoke to Van Zandt about his growing behind-the-scenes role, delaying filming for a world tour, and why he expects "Lilyhammer" to get the love it deserves come awards season.
HuffPost TV Canada: You have a ton of responsibility on this show, not just starring in the series, but also as a writer and as an executive producer. What's that experience been like for you, going from a supporting player on "The Sopranos" to really anchoring a series that's now going into its second season?
Steven Van Zandt: It's been quite an adventure. God, where to begin? The first part of the adventure was just starring, just working in a foreign country. I've had friends who've done that with movies, but I've never met anybody who did it on a TV show. And I was just very curious as to what was going to be the difference. And there were many differences. Just starting with the do-it-yourself attitude that the Norwegians have. Very, very different culture, as depicted in the show. Basically, some of the same things that Frank the character went through, I was going through as the actor.
So it was just a wonderful opportunity to mix the cultures. They wanted to know how American shows were done and I wanted to know how their shows were done. We kind of exchanged ideas, and I felt very comfortable after 10 years on "Sopranos," being with that incredible group of people at HBO at their height. I gathered a lot of information that I was able to communicate to the Norwegian people in terms of how things were done in America. And I don't know why, but I felt very comfortable doing all those things, being one of the producers and one of the writers and starring in it. And then this year, I'm doing the score as well, which was really a lot of fun.
It's been almost two years since "Lilyhammer" debuted on Netflix, and I know that part of the reason for the production not starting up right away on Season Two is because you were touring. What was it like balancing both a world tour and a TV series?
It was interesting because NRK, the home network, which is the equivalent to the national government station, they were not in the habit of repeating series very often. They've only had, literally, half a dozen in their entire history. And when they do repeat a series, they do it every other year. So I was having discussions with them very early on, saying, "Listen, it's not the way the rest of the world works. Especially in America."
Anyway, they understood that it was going to be a bit awkward trying to figure out how to change their entire system to do a series two years in a row. And while they were figuring that out, Bruce called and said, "What are you doing?" And I was really able to say, "Well, I'm not sure." So we worked it out where I did the tour. NRK was able to do things their normal way and skip a year. And Netflix, us being their first show and just being very cool people and, thank God, Bruce Springsteen fans, they were very cool about it. So we were able to skip that year, until everybody could get used to the idea of doing things every year in Norway. And now if we do a third season, which we're talking about doing, we'll probably have it out for next year. Now they understand because we're in 130 countries, they have to do things the normal way. [Laughs]
Netflix has promised "an amped up ride" for Season 2. What's the big difference in your mind between this season and the first one?
We basically just made everything a little bit better. It's funny, a TV series goes through an evolutionary process and it's wonderful to watch it from the inside. It happened with "Sopranos" and I'm sure it happens with everybody, where every year you just evolve. Usually from the budget increasing a little bit.
Frankly, we were concerned, because the first season was so popular. It was a little bit surprising. We hope we can at least equal that first season. And I think we did, and I think we even beat it. It was really a wonderful job by the other writers Eilif [Skodvin] and Anne [Bjørnstad]. We brought in some great new actors. And the stunts were a little bit more elaborate. Some of the things that you're not going to see so much, but behind-the-scenes, like post-production was done with a little bit more detail. The music is going to be greatly improved, I think. We have a little bit bigger budget for the music supervision, as well as I did the whole score this year, which was a much more serious enterprise than just farming it out. So it'll be better really in every way.
What are your feelings on "Lilyhammer" being the first original show for Netflix, and now the first series to premiere a second season?
We were very proud to be first. It made history. All of the conversations at MIPCOM and all the other TV conventions, it was such a history-making move for Netflix to choose a foreign show to be their first original programming. And sell it with subtitles. I mean, this was mind-boggling for the rest of the world. I'm telling you, the whole world was shook up by this. Because it meant, for the first time in history, great domestic shows had a shot to be shown in America, which is still the number one market.
This whole discussion about the modern world and where it's going and how the digital domain now is going to unify the world, I mean, here it was, in action. It wasn't just talk anymore. Ted Sarandos, the Chief Content Officer [at Netflix], had the vision to say, "Look, great is great, and we're gonna make a statement here and put this on first." And it was very, very successful, literally two or three million hits, and led the way for their other consecutive next five hits they've had. It's been an incredible run. For Netflix to not even be in the game two years ago, and now they're a rival of HBO, is just an absolutely extraordinary achievement. It's been fun to watch.
But they made quite a big statement by putting a foreign show on American TV for the first time. No one had ever done a domestic show and had it shown in America in the same form at the same time. Any hit from Europe or anywhere else is always remade. And this was the first show ever not remade, but shown in its original form.
A lot has changed in the TV landscape even just between Seasons 1 and 2 of this show.
I think we're going into a second or third golden era of television. I really do. I really feel a new era began with "Sopranos," and I was happy to be there to witness that. And now I'm witnessing a continuation of that new era being at Netflix. How they put all the shows up at once, that was a radical idea that everyone's going to be following. And the fact that you can stream it and keep it, and take it with you and have it be mobile. That was a radical idea. And it's fascinating to have the idea of a global network, which I believe this is already the beginnings of. When that happened two years ago I predicted, "There's going to be a lot of others following." I predicted there's going to be a Google network and an Amazon network and everybody else. TV networks are going to be these global distributors.
For us content creators, it's nothing but good. There's a whole lot of new outlets coming into the world now. And a lot more courageous, a lot more interesting, as far as adult programming, for those of us who now feel a little bit left out of the movie world, which has turned into one big playground for kids. It's all about comic books and video games. The only adult programming really is on TV, and specifically, subscription TV. Those five subscription networks in America have become the highest form of entertainment for adults. And when I say adults, not just sex and violence and language, but also intellect and literature and complexity. The things that make shows more interesting for adults are now almost exclusively on TV. The 20 movies that are mentioned at the Oscars every year are probably the only 20 movies that are made for adults at this point. It's a very, very different time right now. And I believe it's a whole new golden era for what we used to call television.
Now that "House of Cards" won an Emmy last year, and other Netflix shows received nominations, did that raise the bar for Season 2 of "Lilyhammer" for you?
Well, we set the bar. It was our bar that was set, and everybody followed us. And I'm proud to say that the quality of the shows on Netflix has been very consistent. I think the fact that we were first, there were a lot of elements that weren't quite in place yet in terms of publicity and the political parts of our industry that allow for awards [consideration]. And I think that will be corrected this time. Because there are people on this show, these actors from Norway are just some of the best actors I've ever worked with and I think the best actors working in television today. And they deserve to be recognized, for sure. Trond [Fausa] and Fridtjov [Såheim], these guys are amazing. And I think as America gets to know them a little bit better, hopefully they'll be recognized and the show will be recognized as well.
I think this year we really hit it out of the park. I really do. The first year felt like a little bit of a gimmick in a way. It was a funny premise. A gangster going in the Witness Protection Program in a different country was a unique idea. And the fact that it was Norwegian, and the fact that it had subtitles, all that stuff was sort of a novelty. Now we've got to deliver a show that is not going to catch you by surprise. Because we did. We caught everybody by surprise. And now people are tuned in. So, we had to step up our game and deliver a show that was competitive with what people are used to seeing in America, which has the highest budgets in the world. And I think with a small percentage of the usual budget we were able to do it this year. I really am quite proud of our achievement this year. I think the show is really, really, really good and really competitive. So I think it's going to be recognized this year in all of those awards shows that maybe overlooked us the first time.
"Lilyhammer" Season 2 will be available for streaming on Netflix and Netflix Canada starting December 13.
"Lilyhammer" Season 2 Trailer
*This list is based on the titles available on Netflix in early September 2013.
(500) Days of Summer
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Across the Universe
Air Force One
Battle: Los Angeles
Beverly Hills, 90210
Bowling for Columbine
Boyz N the Hood
Children of Men
Dazed and Confused
Degrassi Junior High
Eat Pray Love (OK, maybe this is a reason to get U.S. Netflix)
Enemy at the Gates
The English Patient
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
The Fifth Element
The Fog of War
The Great Escape
The Greatest Movie Ever Sold