Goran Visnjic: Filming underwater drama The Deep with James Nesbitt

Editor, BBC TV blog

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Croatian actor Goran Visnjic (who played Dr Luka Kovac in ER) spoke to the BBC TV blog about his role in the new drama, The Deep, which is set on a submarine.

How would you describe Samson, your character in The Deep?

He's a marine biologist and he's part of this team that is going to do research. And also their mission is to find out what happened with their identical twin vessel - a submarine that went down a year ago and they don't know what happened to it.

So he's the guy who is highly committed to this job. These trips in submarines are extremely expensive. He's part of a team which is highly praised. Everyone on this vessel is a one-of-a-kind person.

He's one of the experienced part of the crew, along with the characters Jimmy [Nesbitt] and Minnie [Driver] played. Samson is one of the organisers of the whole task and he was a very good friend of Jimmy's character's wife, who died in the previous crash.

There's a lot of emotion involved, especially for Jimmy's character because we find out his later his agenda is that he wants to go down because he believes his wife is still alive.

Everybody thinks it's impossible because it's been all these months since those guys disappeared but he has this strong, almost mad feeling in him that she's still alive and we'll see how we're going to prove him right or wrong.

So there's a lot going on, it's not just pure sci-fi, there's a beautiful love story and a family strength and honour story going on at the same time. That's what attracted me to it - it wasn't a flat science fiction action kind of thing, there were a lot of layers under that that were very human. Everyone is going down for a different reason.

Is it the first time you've worked with computer-generated imagery (CGI)?

Well we did use some on ER and on a couple of movies, tricks and stuff like that. But this was the first time that the creatures that you see in front of you, like the giant squid, whales you know, all kind of different animals were CGI. And mostly exterior shots of the big submarines.

The small yellow sub - the Lurch - was a real submarine that was built on the stage.

So when Samson goes off alone in the Lurch - you were physically sat inside it?

Yes. We had to build the small one because there are scenes that pull it up on chains and push it on a rail. It was really cool, they were driving it on a crane. And then we do actually submerge the submarine all the way down in the moon pool. So it was the real deal and it was able to go into the water.

And did you actually go into the water inside the Lurch?

Yes but not underwater, that would be dangerous because, of course, it wasn't built as a real pressurised thing.

So when you were inside the Lurch, you were having to use your imagination as to what you were seeing in the ocean around you, because it was all CGI?

Well, we were laughing about it. Jim O'Hanlon, the director, would sit in front of the monitor and he would describe what I would see and sometimes it would turn into a funny thing. People would start saying "Imagine you're seeing a big... " God knows what! I don't want to go into details! (laughing). Dear oh dear, it was fun.

So he was there all the time, talking you though it and helping you visualise what you had to be reacting to?

You know, it was actually quite a helpful tool. We would do all these scenes in one long, big shot, so we just rolled the camera. It was high definition and it looks as film. This new technology is quite awesome, but it was digital so it means you don't have to change the hard drive like you do with a film every couple of minutes.

So we'd be running seven, eight, God knows how many scenes in one big piece and he would just guide us through and you would have to imagine what was going on. It helped speed up the filming a bit.

That's interesting.

Yes it's interesting but it's a pain in the neck too (laughing)! We had to go through five different days in five minutes!

How did you like filming in Glasgow?

I loved it. I was there for about two and a half months and I love Scotland so much. I was so excited because Scotland was one of the places I always wanted to visit.

When this came by, my agent was like [downbeat voice] "Oh, you're not going to be at home, you'll have to be away filming in Scotland..." and I was like, "Scotland! Oh my God! I want to go!"

So every weekend when I had time, I would take my rental and go all over Scotland. I was up in the Isle Of Skye, I was at Eilean Donan castle - I think it was the one in the old Highlander, the first film. A really beautiful castle and when it's low tide, it becomes an island and you can walk to it. Really beautiful. I went to Edinburgh and saw a great show in the Lyceum Theatre. A really good friend of mine lives in Scarborough so I went to see him too.

Did you have your family with you?

No, they were in Zagreb in Croatia. Once you have Europeans living in America, they start thinking that all of Europe is a very small place (laughing). So my wife was in Zagreb, I was in Glasgow, and we met once in Paris and then we spent Christmas and New Year's in Zagreb. It was very nice.

How did you get along with the rest of the cast?

Great because Jimmy and I worked together on my first international job, Welcome To Sarajevo. It was really great to see him after all these years. We had a lot of chat, he's just a great guy.

It was a cool shoot. Everyone else too... Minnie, Sacha [Dhawan] and Svetlana... I mean Vera [Filatova]! My God, I keep calling her by her character's name (laughing)!

Everyone worked every day so whenever we got a day off we would go out together.

What were the highlights of filming for you?

The coolest part was playing with those toys, the submarines, that was the highlight. And the whole idea, I've never done this kind of genre before. So I was excited to come and be part of it. And I had an opportunity to see a bit of Scotland, which I never had before, so that was great.

Are you one of those actors who hates watching themselves on screen?

Well there is a bit of that. You know, if you're not happy with what you've done. A good thing can always turn into a bad thing... but you are excited to see what you've done. It's like 'Oh my God!' (laughing).

I hope I'm going to be happy about The Deep. It's just I'm actually quite curious. I want to see it as soon as possible. They were bringing me a copy here to Los Angeles but the trip was cancelled so I guess they're going to mail it to us or something!

How different is it filming TV dramas like this from films like Welcome To Sarajevo?

You're talking about budgets pretty much. If you do film, you're going to spend more time and it's going to be more detail-oriented. That's the main difference.

If you make three categories - actually, four categories in the States. You can make a soap opera one category, then network television, then cable television and then you've got features. Each step up you go, you see the improvement in the picture quality, production design quality and how much time you spend on certain things.

On soap opera they're going to do 15 to 30 pages of script maybe in one day of filming. In network television you're going to make maybe eight pages, in cable you're going to do four. And in film they'll do one to three maybe. So the major difference would be how much time and effort you put in.

So in features normally you have more time on your hands and the details are going to be done a little bit better.

But for me, my part of the job is the same. If you have enough time to prepare yourself, there is no difference for actors really.

As a child, did you always want to be an actor, or would you have liked to do something like Samson's job in a submarine?

I actually have been crazy about flying, always. I did 13 jumps out of a plane with the Blue Angels, which is a US Navy acrobatic group - from an F/A-18 Hornets airplane, which was probably the highlight of my life (laughing).

So those were my dreams, but I kind of fulfilled them in a cheating way. I didn't finish the school to become a pilot or whatever but I had a taste of it. So it's a little bit similar in that adventure kind of spirit but to go on a submarine - I've never done anything like that.

But I was born by the ocean and have been diving since I was a kid. The ocean was a huge part of my life.

Goran Visnjic plays Samson in The Deep

The Deep starts on Tuesday, 3 August at 9pm on BBC One and BBC HD. To find out times of all episodes, please visit the upcoming episodes page.

Fiona Wickham is editor of the BBC TV blog

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