American gangster in “Lilyhammer”

NETFLIX, INC. LILYHAMMER

Steven Van Zandt stars in Netflix's new original series, "Lilyhammer." Photo: Netflix

New series about an American in Norway is popular on both sides of Atlantic

A new Norwegian-American TV series is making quite a splash on both sides of the Atlantic, and the entertainment world is taking note. The show is called “Lilyhammer,” a gripping fish-out-of-water story set in Norway and starring “The Sopranos” mainstay and E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt. The highly anticipated series debuted in Norway Jan. 27 with more than 1 million Norwegian viewers tuning in. The show made its North American debut Feb. 6 on Netflix.

Frank “The Fixer” Tagliano (Steven Van Zandt), is a former member of the New York mob. After testifying in a trial in the U.S., Tagliano is relocated to Lillehammer, Norway, through the FBI’s witness protection program. A sports fanatic, he had fallen in love with the place while watching the ’94 Winter Olympic Games. Now, he is hoping that “Lilyhammer,” as he pronounces it, will offer him more than “Clean air, fresh white snow and gorgeous broads.”

The transition from being a feared and respected gangster in New York, to become an unemployed immigrant in Norway, is not simple. Frank discovers that to get up and in the Norwegian rural society, he must resort to the old, ruthless methods.

The supporting characters are played by a cadre of skilled native actors, speaking Norwegian, which Frank largely understands but can’t speak.

Van Zandt, who was lured into the cross-cultural project by its uniqueness, told TheWrap.com that he was impressed that Netflix bit on a series where much of the secondary characters’ dialogue was in the local tongue, with subtitles.

“I even said to (Netflix content chief) Ted Sarandos, ‘Ted, you don’t want this dubbed or something?’ And he said, ‘’No, I love it the way it is, it’s unique and it works.’”

“To have such a familiar character set in a story in such an unfamiliar place,” says Sarandos, “made the show very intriguing for us.”

Audiences may remember Van Zandt as Silvio Dante, Tony Soprano’s consigliere in “The Sopranos.” “If people view this as a soft ‘Sopranos’ sequel, that’s not a bad thing,” Sarandos added.

Netflix has rights for the series in North and Latin America and started streaming all eight episodes of the first season Feb. 6. Netflix has also signed on to co-produce the show’s second season. England’s BBC network announced that it had reached a deal with Netflix to bring “Lilyhammer” to British televisions, too.

“Lilyhammer” was conceived by the husband-and-wife team of Anne Bjørnstad and Eilif Skodvin, and pitched to Van Zandt while he was in Bergen, Norway, producing a rock band for his own label.

“It was such an easy and simple idea but a good one,” said Van Zandt of the plot. In addition to co-writing and starring in the hour-long drama, Van Zandt also serves as an executive producer, a role that landed him in the Netflix offices to discuss distribution.

The misspelling of the name – Lilyhammer – is intentional.

The series stars Steven Van Zandt, Trond Fausa Aurvåg, Marian Saastad Ottesen, Sven Nordin, Kyrre Hellum and Anne Krigsvoll.

To watch the original series on Netflix, go to www.netflix.com.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 10, 2012 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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