By Claire Bueno
I first cast eyes on actor Goran Visnjic when he stepped into NBC’s critically acclaimed drama ER. With hospital heartthrob Dr. Ross played by George Clooney off to pastures new there was a huge void and large shoes to fill, audiences were anxious. But Visnjic with his dreamy good looks, charm and charisma nailed the part of Dr. Luka Kovač and instantly won us all over. It’s hard to believe that was back in 1999. But it takes more than dreamy good looks, charm and charisma to sustain a career; you need talent. Time and time again the Croatian born actor has proven his ability and adaptability on stage and screen. His latest project based on true events Fatima is another shining example of this as he portrays the sceptical Portuguese Mayor Artur de Oliveira Santos.
In 1917 in the midst of World War I, three shepherd children Lúcia dos Santos and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto reportedly witnessed several visitations from the Virgin Mary. Subsequent events lead to what has famously become known as the Miracle of the sun which lays the foundations of what Fatima explores.
It’s always such a dream for me to sit down and talk to seasoned pros about the craft of acting, and when I was offered the opportunity to interview Goran Visnjic to learn more about Fatima and talk technique it was one that could not be turned down, I would not be disappointed.
Watching the film the irony of it really is that the Virgin Mary comes as visitation to convey a message of peace to the three shepherd children, however in Fátima it causes so much contention doesn’t it? And trouble?
Well, I mean if you really want to be picky about it you know, you would say why did that happen to three little children? Why something like that never happens to I don’t know Joe Biden or you know somebody who can maybe really do something about it. You start thinking about that and maybe there is a specific reason because it happens to people, to kids who are going to be questioned. Whose faith is going to be questioned. It’s going to cause more turmoil in that respect that only people who really have faith are going to believe in what’s happening. Versus that it happens to somebody who is already tested and tried. It’s almost like having a proof, you know. If I show you a solid proof of heaven and hell and all that stuff and now suddenly you’re gonna start behaving much better because there is a special reward in the end not because you really should behave as a good person. Do you know what I mean? It’s a very complex issue and what I love about this film it’s this exploration of us trying to become better people. It’s all about that. It doesn’t matter what religion. She actually never said Virgin Mary, she never mentioned Jesus, she never even mentioned God, she just says, ‘you need to pray more.’ But when she says you need to pray more it’s not, “Oh God I really need to pray that I’m gonna win the lottery next year.” No, you’re gonna pray to become a better human being, a better person, to be better towards other people and then you’re hoping that life is going to treat you better. So it’s this kind of like wish and willingness to become a better human being that’s all I can say, you know what I mean?
And I think what I liked about the beauty of the writing was that it would have been very easy to villainise your character Artur, but there’s so much nuance and three dimension to him that I wondered whether that appealed to you when you took the part?
Well in all honesty when you do your research like a proper historical research, you know he wasn’t. And in the area of Fátima he wasn’t remembered as a bad guy, he was just a guy that was in charge and he was between a rock and a hard place in a way.
So he was trying, I mean look if this was to happen today you would try to find out are the kids telling the truth or no, because it’s a really big deal. And when he imprisons them, he actually puts them down in a wine cellar, there was no prison in that palace, it’s not actually where the prison is so he puts them down in a cellar. And I mean look this is like 30s so the people are little bit less respectful of these emotions and everything we are talking about today, it’s a little bit harsher time. You know there is no television, there is no internet, the information is kind of travelling much slower and stuff like that, so it was a different time. And when you read about him, in the end he actually became a believer, he didn’t take up office again after that, he kind of went out of public life and he changed quite a lot. So unfortunately we couldn’t see that in the movie because they felt they needed him being a little bit more of a kind of villain. So if you go towards historical fact and what we did in the movie, we did kind of sit on him kinda being like the bad guy, but as you would see in a normal American movie, he would be really like a moustache twirling guy and stuff like that. So I was kinda happy with the medium because I understood the need for the story telling that we needed to have a catalyst of somebody whose gonna be on this side, I don’t wanna say evil but of this side of unbeliever.
Sceptical I suppose?
Yeah, yeah so I tried to give it as much as I could with him having his own children and these conversations with his wife and trying for him to be a very practical person, you know who is dealing with the problem as presented to him.
Absolutely, and Marco Pontecorvo the director his background is as a director of photography (DP / DoP), and when I interviewed him he spoke about having that background gave him the tools to be able to extract the emotion from a scene that he needs. So I wondered for you as an actor being on the other side of the camera and taking his direction, because he has such a specific vision whether that helps you or not?
Well first of all Marco has worked with a lot great directors. And if you are director of photography who thinks about becoming a director one day, you know he always has one ear listening to what’s happening on set. And he’s closely involved in every rehearsal because if you are a really good DP; I know in ER we always had a DP looking at what we’re doing because he would be immediately thinking, ‘Oh what I intended to do I’m not going to do because this is much better now, when I saw the rehearsal. So Marco came on the set very ready, very knowing what to do and it was a pleasure working with him. He had this willingness of work to show us as actors that he’s willing to work with us, to co-operate with us, to really show us that he’s not just director of photography that he’s a director. I would love to work with him again, he’s really, really great in both jobs.
And you know the story is set around three shepherd children that see this vision, and I wondered as children are so uninhibited, they’re unencumbered by life and are kind of freer. I wondered when you are sharing a scene with children, for you who is a seasoned actor, is it liberating for you to act alongside children?
Erm (laughs), these kids were really, really good you know. Stephanie (Gil) especially because I worked with Stephanie the most, she amazing, she’s talented, she is still playful as a child, I mean she was; because in two years she grew up! With kids at that age, I have four kids so I see them growing, it’s insane. If you don’t see them for one year they’re different people. My mom and dad are like, ‘Oh my God, Tin (Visnjic) is a teenager! He’s an adult!’ I see him every day, so I don’t see that. So anyway Stephanie was really awesome to work with because she still had that playfulness of a child, but when the work would come in she was very focused, very easy to work with, very professional and it was just a blast, it was a pleasure. And me having my own kids being a similar age, I really enjoyed myself (laughs) because I was missing my kids, so I was kinda with them. It was really weird on set to see this moustache guy, who’s kinda playing this guy, we need to have these serious scenes and we would be messing around (laughs), I think Marco really didn’t like it a couple of times (laughs) because he was like, ‘The kids really need to be afraid of you, not having fun with you.’ ‘You know I’m missing my kid’s man, sorry (laughs)!’
Yeah, yeah (laughs).
I wondered as well with regards to process and preparation of your character, does if differ when you’re playing a fictional character compared to playing a real person like Artur, who existed. Does your preparation change at all?
Every job you take differently. If you have an historical figure you see how he looked like and you’re seeing if this can play to your advantage. Is there anything that you do to yourself is gonna bring you closer to that character or gonna give you. Nobody wanted us to do, he wasn’t like Abraham Lincoln, everybody knows how he looked like. So we could have done what we wanted, nobody would say, “Oh no he had a moustache, you guys didn’t have a moustache,” or whatever.
So I as an actor I tend to explore that and see what’s gonna be advantageous for me. Sometimes it’s a good thing and you can choose something that’s gonna help you. Sometimes you say, you know what, I better not go that way because it’s not going to be helpful in anyway. So it’s from part to part. You know there is no book for which you are going to be doing every character the same, you gonna go the same route, no. I like to leave it loose, I like to kinda like ok, this is the script, this is the character, this is the director, are you gonna do this Goran? Yes you are. You go, your people confirm: yes, this is gonna be done and you’re like ok, how we gonna do this? You know you start from the beginning every time. You choose which avenue, so if you have experience, if you’ve done this before, you can use some of your old stuff, but I always try to say ok, this I already have, let’s try to see what’s new can we bring with this character. And then this old stuff you already have, you can use it anytime, but let’s keep this old stuff, let’s not open up any of these old boxes, you know, let’s try to find new stuff. And then if it’s something lacking then you can use that trick and I kinda like this what I’ve done four years ago (laughs).
You open up a treasure trove of acting experience (laughs).
Yeah. It’s kinda like a savings account, you just want it to grow. You have these other accounts that you can take the money from, or you need to make the new one. But this one just stays there, this is for the kid’s college or whatever, don’t touch it (laughs), the pile becomes bigger and bigger, you don’t want to use any of that. But if you must, if there’s really nothing going on here, yeah I might just use a little bit from, nobody will know that this is from years ago.
And space that an actor works in is important and in this film I know it was important for the filmmakers to acknowledge the roots of the film in Portugal. So how helpful was it being in those locations to assist in transporting you back into that world?
I’ll never forget I read the interview I believe it was Liam Neeson when he was in Star Wars that he expected one thing when he signed up for the job and then he ended up playing scenes in front of a green screen without any scenography and talking to the character that was not there, it was digitally created later. He said he hated the experience. For us actors we like to be there, we like to experience as much as we can, I mean it’s easier for us. It’s easier for you if you are in the environment you know and you do it without seeing the machinery operating in the back. You know, you’re gonna hear actors so many times say, please clear the eye line, nobody except camera operator and the focus puller and the director maybe can be there, you know everything that is gonna break your picture of what is happening in that moment is not helping. So you have to work with green screen and you have to work with the dots instead of an actor and a colleague and someone is reading lines on the side, I mean it’s really difficult, it’s messing up with you. So the more reality you get the easier for you as an actor it is, so in the case of Fatima it was as best as you could. We shot in real villages, I drove a real car from that age, and then your mind starts telling you, you know these people didn’t have television, these people didn’t have internet, the books were expensive, very expensive and you couldn’t go to the book store and buy a book, no you had to go to a big town to buy a book. You could buy newspapers but they were also quite expensive. Radio was kind of like this very mysterious thing, so people would come home and read books only and talk and stuff like that. So all those kind of things help you to be in that mind set. So yeah basically the bottom line is, being in Portugal, being in these old villages and being on the sets that were real and practical of course it helps.
And finally Goran can I ask you what you have taken away with you from making the film?
Well, it’s when we talked about in the beginning. There was a lot of questions when we were making the movie, we’ve been talking about these things you’ve been asking me. We are curious human beings also, we not just going to make a movie without thinking about it. There were conversations. Did this really happen? What was it? From really crazy theories of aliens or whatever to very kind of strict religious theories, the Virgin Mary. And conversations were always there, we’ve been talking about it and what I took away from it is basically, you can always try to hijack a story like this for your own purposes, whoever; whomever. But bottom line is it was a message of peace, so where it came from exactly, is it the Catholic Church? Christianity? Alien? Or whatever. Maybe someone is not gonna like what I’m gonna say but the bottom line it was a beautiful message. It’s a message, pray more, pray for your family, for your friends, for the world, pray to become a better human being, to become a better person and then, not because, if you’re better things are gonna go better. But you really hope, if you are better that something is gonna return to you. So it’s a message of peace and love ultimately and that’s all that matters in the end.
Photography courtesy of: Cover Feature: © Maarten de Boer - NBC Production Stills: © Picturehouse
With special thanks to Premier Comms
Fatima - Official Trailer