Van Zandt Rocks on With ‘Lilyhammer’

Steven Van Zandt is truly a renaissance man. As he embarks on a third season (which debuted since Nov. 21) as star of Netflix’s first original series Lilyhammer, the former Sopranos co-star has added directing to his already lengthy Lilyhammer credits as producer, writer and music scorer. The garage-rock connoisseur and E Street Band guitarist spoke with programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about Lilyhammer, The Sopranos, music and more. An edited transcript follows.

MCN: Going into season three, are you surprised by the success of the show so far?

Steven Van Zandt: Well, I’m not too surprised that it ended up becoming the first [original] show ever on Netflix. I felt if we did our job right, I think there’d be enough interest. Coming from Sopranos, I thought realistically there would have been enough interest from people to check it out. But I am surprised that the American public ended up really embracing a show with subtitles, which is unprecedented. It was really wonderful to see it turn out to be such a success.

MCN: What should we expect to see from season three? Is it different from the first couple seasons?

SV: Well, the nice thing about repeating a series is you get a chance to evolve the characters, and the audience evolves with them. Whereas the first season you have to be concerned with setting things up, every succeeding year you get a chance to explore new areas. We’re very conscious of being really the only international TV show in history in a sense of having a multicultural cast. This year, we took it to Brazil and had some fun down there. We actually filmed in four different countries this year, so we’re always trying to expand things. Very few series make it to season three these days, so I’m very proud of the fact that we made it that far. Even if we go no further — and hopefully we will but you never know — but even if we go no further I think we’ve accomplished something that’s rather impressive. I’m proud of it.

MCN: This season you are wearing a number of hats. You’re a director, writer, executive producer, composer and actor. Is there any one area of preference that you really like more than the others?

SV: Well, I really like to do many things. That’s the truth; I’ve always been that way. If I’m only doing one thing I tend to overdo it. Coming from producing and writing in this case, it’s not a big leap to directing because in TV, as you know, the writer really is the boss as opposed to film where the director is the boss. So coming from writer/producer to director, not a big leap really. I am very lucky to balance the artistic stuff, which is really important to me.

MCN: Do you see Netflix and its strategy to launch all the episodes for a series at one time as the future of television as opposed to what traditional TV does, which is launch new episodes on a week-to-week basis?

SV: Yeah, I think so. I really do. I think Netflix was just a little bit ahead of everybody else and now I think everybody is looking at their model. HBO actually was the first studio that actually had all of the episodes in the can done before they broadcast them. So interestingly enough, HBO is already halfway there because they do that anyway. They actually have all the episodes. They don’t put them up all at once yet but I think it’s a very, very short step for them to do that. I think is just inevitable and I think it’s gonna happen soon.

MCN: I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about The Sopranos. [Creator] David Chase recently said he was toying with the idea of a Sopranos prequel. Have you talked to Mr. Chase at all, and do you have any interest in getting involved in such a project?

SV: [Laughter.] I can’t believe he said that out loud! It’s shocking to me. We quietly, behind the scenes, have discussed various things but I can’t believe he actually said that to the public. Yes, whatever David Chase wants to do I am there for him no matter what it is. I’ll sit there and turn the pages of the script for him if he wants, ya know? I don’t care. He is definitely the godfather of my entire second career here and I would certainly not be acting without him. So whatever he wants, I am there for him.

MCN: Are there any other projects that you’re working on in TV, music or anything else that’s on your plate right now?

SV: Yeah. Right now I’m very excited about the new Darlene Love album. I’m almost finished with it. It probably won’t be out till February/ March, but it’s really her first real album even though she’s had hits since ’62-’63 and she’s the greatest living female singer as far as I’m concerned. I’m just so proud to finally get an album out. Also, in just a few weeks we’ll be putting out the soundtrack of Lilyhammer. So that’s the future at the moment. I’m not sure what Bruce [Springsteen] is going to do next year. Whatever Bruce needs I’m there for him. Other than that, it’s a little bit of an unknown right now, so we’ll see where it goes.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.