Little Steven ‘at home’ in Norway

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Actor and musician Steven Van Zandt, better known as Little Steven, has spent the past year commuting between the US and Norway, where he’s been working on a new TV series for Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), doing some performing and even lecturing at the University of Oslo. He calls Norway “mystical” but seems to feel at home in the country.

Steven Van Zandt, shown here in a trailer for the new NRK drama series "Lillyhammer," plays a former hit man who's gone underground in Lillehammer to escape the mafia. The show will premiere in both Norway and the US early next year. PHOTO: Rubicon TV/NRK

“On the one hand it’s old and wise, on the other new and naive,” Van Zandt said in an interview with NRK’s news division last week. “But I like the Norwegian humour, the culture and the people. I love fairy tales, and view my stay here like that.”

He’s spent much of his time in Norway in the town of Lillehammer, perhaps best known for hosting the Winter Olympics in 1994. It’s the setting for the drama series produced by Rubicon TV for NRK and starring Van Zandt that’s called Lillyhammer,” after the way many foreigners mispronounce the town’s name.

He said he’s become fond of the place despite cultural collisions not unlike those encountered by the character he plays in the series. It’s about a man name Frank Tagliano, who has to go into hiding after testifying against a mafia family in a US court case.

“My character breaks every rule in the book,” Van Zandt said. “He hates the snow and the cold in Lillehammer and doesn’t understand much about the culture in this far-off land called Norway.”

Van Zandt has fit in better in real life and is popular with the Norwegians, even getting a special guitar made of local birchwood. “I have met so many talented people here, both musicans and actors,” Van Zandt said, adding, though, that he thinks the Norwegian culture creates an “incredible” blend of “humility and big egos.”

The TV series has already been sold to the American company Netflix, before its premiere in Norway early next year, and Van Zandt thinks it will be sold to between 10 and 15 other countries as well. “The rest of the world knows very little about Norway,” he told NRK. He thinks tourists will be attracted, but he hopes they won’t “fill up” the country: “One of the best things about Norway is that there’s so much room here.”

Returned after the terrorist attacks
He was home in the US last summer when Norway was hit by a home-grown terrorist who bombed government headquarters in Oslo and launched a massacre at a Labour Party summer camp. He arrived back in Norway two weeks later.

“I wouldn’t even dignify, if that’s the right word, what that guy did as terrorism,” Van Zandt said. “I think it’s beneath that, and terrorists are the lowest form of life on earth. This guy is beneath that.”

He claimed that “even terrorism, as despicable or misguided as it is, if you look deep enough has some bizarre justification,” while the attacks in Oslo and the island of Utøya were “an act of pure insanity.” He called the attacks “horrible, horrible,” adding that they “couldn’t have happened in a more undeserving place. Norway does so many things right, and has such a wonderful safety net for people who are not mentally balanced. This was just completely shocking to me.”

Last week, also on a serious note, he spoke to students at the University of Oslo and said he thinks the best days of rock music are over, and that the best pop music was written 50 years ago. Newspaper Dagsavisen reported that Van Zandt also thinks that when people began to listen to music instead of dancing to it, it went downhill. Young musicians today also go straight into the studio to make records instead of having to spend years playing at small clubs, like Van Zandt and Bruce Springsteen did with the E Street Band.

He’s used to working hard, and the Lillyhammer production generated some labour union complaints over long hours and overtime conflicts among Norwegian staff. Its scriptwriters admit to a heavy workload and rush to wrap up production but now hope for a second season given the positive reception in the US. That means Van Zandt may be spending even more time in Norway.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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