The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Ivana Milicevic (“Banshee”)

Ivana Milicevic is one of the sexiest dorks you’ll ever meet. Hey, don’t laugh: if you were wise enough to tune in to the premiere of her new Cinemax series, “Banshee,” when it made its debut on Friday, then you already know that my assessment of her sexiness is on the money, but having actually sat in her presence and chatted with her one-on-one for 20 minutes or so, trust me, she’s a big ol’ dork. But if you’re wondering, let me assure you that this is an amazingly awesome combination. During our conversation, there was much discussion of “Banshee,” of course, but we also touched on more than a few of her earlier credits as well, including everything from “Seinfeld” to “Casino Royale” to “Jerry Maguire” to “Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest,” a range which I think we can all agree is very wide indeed.

Bullz-Eye: An obligatory question to start out: how did you find your way into “Banshee”?

Ivana Milicevic: [Places palms flat on table.] Will, let me tell you.

BE: Please do.

IM: I read the script – ‘cause I was reading millions of scripts, because it was pilot season – and I was, like, “Wha…?!?”It was so good. I loved it. And I was madly in love with Greg Yaitanes because I had done an episode of “House” with him. Like, a season-finale “House” episode that was really fun to do, and he was so fun and easy to work with. And I had been touch with him because of…he was getting me on Twitter in the early days. This was, like, five years ago. But I loved “Banshee.” I had to go in a lot of times. I had to fight for it. I met Antony, we had this instant chemistry that just…

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BE: That’s what he said.

IM: He said that, too?

BE: Yeah. In fact, I think he even made the same hand gesture to indicate “instant chemistry.”

IM: [Laughs.] Did he really? That’s so funny. But we do! It’s kind of true. We get along, but we’re also like black and white. So that makes exactly what you’re looking for: a polarity. It just worked. And I think that’s how come I got the job. And then I was really happy, Will, because… [Drops voice down to a whisper.] I had to play it. I had to play this part.

BE: You don’t say.

IM: I did! Because I get to be a mother, so I get to love my family. And I love my real family, so I just love to play that. And I get to be in love…with two men! [Laughs.] And I get to kick ass. And I get to be sexy. Because if not now, Will, when? When?

BE: I hear you.

IM: Because I’m European, and I like that sexy stuff.

BE: Well, Americans are rather fond of it, too.

IM: Well, sure. Who isn’t? [Laughs.]

BE: When I talked to Antony, I told him it struck me as very much a guy show, since it has sex, violence, and action, but he was just as quick to argue that it was a romance.

IM: [Laughs.] But I think it is! Let me put it this way: I watch “Sons of Anarchy,” I watch “Homeland,” I watch “Game of Thrones,” so to think that maybe a girl isn’t going to tune in to this show…I mean, I don’t know for sure, but I think they will, because we watch all these other things now! You know, girls are just tougher and stronger. And the women in “Banshee” are not portrayed as weak little ladies in distress, tied to a railroad track, are they? So certainly a girlfriend is going to enjoy watching it with her boyfriend. One thousand percent that. And, y’know, we may get a couple of ladies up in there that are…I mean, look at Ant. What lady isn’t gonna watch Ant?

BE: Well, sure.

IM: I mean, he’s some hot stuff. He’s fricking liquid dynamite up and down that screen.

BE: Antony “TNT” Starr, that’s him.

IM: It is! [Laughs.] But, seriously, isn’t he? Wait ‘til you see. Wait ‘til you keep watching him, and you see all his vulnerabilities…

BE: Well, I’ve seen the first two episodes.

IM: [Excitedly.] Did you like it?

BE: I did.

IM: Okay, well, if you keep watching, you’ll see that he’s just such an interesting hero / anti-hero. A good guy, a bad guy…whatever he is, he’s so in love, so you love him. He’s so emotional. He’s not just, like, a macho man. He’s, like, a thinking man’s action hero. Or at least that’s what I think, anyway.

BE: Speaking of the action hero thing, Antony was surprised when I said that “Banshee” often reminds me of an ‘80s action movie brought into 2012.

IM: Oh! I see exactly why you would say that!

BE: Because, y’know, there aren’t really a ton of those tropes, per se, but you can still imagine the overly dramatic voiceover saying, “He’s an ex-con turned sheriff who loves his lady…”

IM: [Laughs.] Right! Yeah, you know, I can see what you mean, because it’s so lo-fi, a la “Road House” or something. But that’s one of things that I like about our show and what I think it makes it work: it’s so lo-fi, yet it’s still very much present-day.

BE: The term “hyper-reality” came up in our discussion.

IM: Oh, I’m just saying lo-fi in terms of…it’s not, like, iPhones or whatever. There’s no tech office somewhere. [Laughs.] I mean lo-fi in that way. But hyper-reality, absolutely. Because it’s not all the way Quentin Tarantino pulp. It didn’t cross that line all the way there. But it’s somewhere in between that and straight drama, y’know? I love it. It’s my favorite thing I’ve ever done. Because…well, I think you already talked to Greg (Yaitanes), and I’m sure he used the words, “It’s got balls.” Frankly, it’s got three balls.

BE: I don’t know if he actually used those words. He may have just danced around it.

IM: [Forcefully.] “Banshee” has balls. There. If he didn’t say it, then I’ll say it. [Laughs.]

BE: Thanks. I always enjoy a good pull quote.

IM: [Laughs.] You’re welcome.

BE: Okay, so I always enjoy dragging skeletons out of people’s closet, as far as discussing things from their back catalog, but before doing so, I really have to say that you’ve had an absolutely fascinating career as far as the things you’ve popped up in.

IM: [Laughs.] “Popped up” is so the right way to put it.

BE: I mean, you were on “Seinfeld,” for instance.

IM: Yes, I was. It was my first job!

BE: And you were on “Friends” as well.

IM: [Laughs.] Yep.

BE: Those are nice feathers to have in your cap.

IM: Well, as I say, “Seinfeld” was my first job, which is a really good first job to have, because…that was, I want to say, the second-to-last season of that show, and they were a tight-running ship. But they weren’t a tight-running ship like they were phoning it in. They were still, even at that point, constantly trying to keep the jokes fresh, even kicking them up a notch on the night you were shooting. They never got lazy. They never relaxed. Their work ethic was incredible, and it was really good to be a part of that, to see that. So all the shows I worked on after that, I was, like, “Oh, well, this show isn’t like ‘Seinfeld,’ so that’s why it isn’t as tight…or as good.’” [Laughs.]

The second runner up, though, would be “Friends.” They were also super-tight. Nothing like “Seinfeld,” but that’s because “Seinfeld” was its own crazy thing. So “Friends” was different, but it was still a really close second as far as how tight they were…and, y’know, look at the success of that show, too! You could be, “Ah, it’s comedy, it’s just a sitcom,” but you have no idea how hard people work on these things…and, believe me, I saw the difference between shows where they do work hard and shows where they don’t. So that was good. And, of course, it’s just amazing to have been on those iconic shows. I still make money from them…which is beautiful, because you know Mama needs a new pair of shoes.

BE: Of course she does. I have a wife who’s a mama, so I’m aware of this phenomenon.

IM: [Laughs.] And she needs some shoes, doesn’t she?

BE: Well, I’m not out here doing interviews for my health. Speaking of my wife, though, she was a big fan of one of your earlier series, albeit one that didn’t last terribly long: “Love Monkey.”

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IM: Oh, she did like that? That’s so great!

BE: I’ve interviewed Tom Cavanagh at past press tours…

IM: Isn’t he lovely?

BE: He’s a mile-a-minute talker, but, yes, he’s wonderful.

IM: I know! I couldn’t do what he did on that show. Like, he could really talk fast. I don’t even know how he remembers all that stuff. I’m more into stares and pauses. [Laughs.] You’ll see. Keep watching “Banshee.” But I loved working on “Love Monkey.” That was in New York. The only downside was that it was New York in the wintertime. And there’s no reason for wintertime. Not after Christmas. After Christmas, it’s time for summer! But that was just such a great group of people. And I’m still really close friends with Judy Greer from that show, and I love that. And I love that your wife loved that show!

BE: And I’m a music geek, so as far as the guest stars, I was, like, “Ooooooo, Aimee Mann!”

IM: Omigod, right? And did your wife watch the rest of the episodes on VH-1?

BE: She did.

IM: Great! She found us! [Laughs.] I think we were on the wrong network. If we were on ABC, I bet we’d still be on the air. You know, think about it. It’s CBS. And there was nary a dead body in sight on “Love Monkey.”

BE: I can’t help but notice that there are actually some elements of “Love Monkey” in ABC’s “Nashville,” although “Love Monkey” was more focused on the inner workings of a label.

IM: Right, exactly. How’s “Nashville” doing? ‘Cause I saw that pilot, and I thought, “I think this is going to be a hit.” Is it?

BE: It’s doing okay. I don’t know if it officially qualifies as a hit or not. But it’s a show that my wife and I both watch, for what that’s worth.

IM: Oh, that’s awesome! Did your wife see “Banshee”?

BE: She didn’t. I didn’t get them in time for her to watch it.

IM: Oh, okay. I wonder if she’s going to like it with you…

BE: She may. She likes “Game of Thrones,” and that’s got plenty of sex and violence, too.

IM: [Laughs.] Exactly. That’s what I was wondering. ‘Cause our show certainly doesn’t pussyfoot. It’s not trying to appeal to everybody. Either you’ll love it or you’ll hate it. It’s definitely a dividing-line show.

BE: So you mentioned that you were reading a bunch of pilots when “Banshee” came into play, but you’ve also appeared in several decidedly high-profile movies as well, most notably “Casino Royale.” Do you prefer the regularity of doing a TV series, or do you like to mix it up?

IM: I prefer good stuff. [Laughs.] The cool thing about a movie, obviously, is that often you go to amazing locations, and, of course, you work with great people. But you can with series as well. Nothing’s a guarantee of anything, anyway. We’re hoping we get picked up for a second season. I think we will. I do not know that, however, and I’m hoping I don’t find out on my way back to North Carolina that we’re not! But it’s kind of nice to live somewhere for six months out of the year, and I really liked it down there.

BE: North Carolina’s nice. I live in Virginia, which, being next door, is not dissimilar.

IM: Do you have fireflies there, too?

BE: We sure do.

IM: We also have them in Michigan, and I just love them. I’m so delighted by fireflies. I thought, “God was real creative that day…” [Laughs.] They’re just the best. So, yeah, I love working in Charlotte, like I love everything about the show. We care about it so much. We all worked so hard on it. And it’s one of those special sets. You know how sometimes people are, like, “Oh, yeah, it’s great work,” but then you hear stories…? We have one of those sets where everyone is so happy to be there, everybody loves working together…it’s really good.

BE: Okay, so I’ve got to ask you about working on the unaired HBO series, “12 Miles of Bad Road.” I interviewed Lily Tomlin a few months back…

IM: Oh, you did? [Hesitates.] For something else, obviously. Obviously not for “12 Miles”!

BE: Yeah, I’d love to tell you that they’re releasing it on DVD, but…

IM: I know! God, she’s so good in that.

BE: She told me.

IM: I love her. Did she say that? [Laughs.] Was she, like, “I’m fabulous in that”?

BE: Well, you know, she said it was a really good show, but she couldn’t really explain…like, she knew why it didn’t make it on the air, but…

IM: Yeah, it was, like, political stuff, when (HBO President of Entertainment) Chris Albrecht got fired and everything. I wish they would release it, though. Leak it, whatever. That’s what so interesting to me. Because six episodes were done. And it was so good. What’s funny is that I didn’t know she was a part of it, and I didn’t really know what to do with the character on that, so I kept turning it down and turning it down. But then finally I said, “Okay, I’ll take a meeting.” And then when I was in the meeting, I suddenly had this idea what to do with it…and I made the character, like, Bosnian. Like, with an accent. I don’t know why, except that…it was a one-hour dramedy, basically, and I just couldn’t find a way into the character. So then all of sudden that happened, and they were dying laughing, and they offered it to me.

I remember playing kind of hard ball with the deal, but then I got it and was, like, “Cool!” And then my manager said, “Oh, Lily Tomlin’s in that!” And I was, like, “Thank god I didn’t know that before, because I would’ve taken 25 cents!” [Laughs.] I love Lily Tomlin so much, and she’s so lovely and divine. I loved working on that show. I was kind of the character that one nobody liked, so I didn’t get to have that many scenes with her where she wasn’t being mean to me all the time on camera, but I love her. She’s awesome. And she’s great in it. God, why don’t they release that? Dammit! It’s really good. It’s, like, “Dallas” meets “The Sopranos” meets comedy.

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BE: I’ve literally seen, like, 45 seconds of it. I think that’s how long the one clip of the show I could find was.

IM: Seriously, they should just leak it. The owners of it should. Linda Bloodworth Thomason and Harry Thomason. [Hesitates.] I might text them and tell them they should do that. You see all these things turn up on YouTube. Why not split it into a few pieces and put it up? It could become an internet sensation!

BE: I wanted to ask you about the fact that you’re in two Cameron Crowe movies, “Jerry Maguire” and “Vanilla Sky,” although you don’t appear for very long in either of them.

IM: [Laughs.] I am. And you’re right, I’m not!

BE: I presume one led to the other…?

IM: Well, Cameron Crowe…I mean, yeah, kind of, because he remembers actors. He is the greatest person in the world to audition for. There’s not an actor that leaves the room that doesn’t feel like they just did the greatest job. And it’s funny, because a friend of mine dates him now and has for some time, and we’ve talked about it and she’s told me about it, but…he’s always felt that actors give so much that you can’t just be, like, “Okay, thanks.” It’s amazing how giving he is. And I’ve read for him more times than I’ve worked for him, but I love working for him.

BE: I met him a few TCA tours ago…

IM: Isn’t he lovely?

BE: He is. I was totally geeking out, saying, like, “You were totally my inspiration when I first started writing, and I just wanted to shake your hand.” And he said, “Thanks, man, I really appreciate it!” Totally made me feel like he hadn’t heard that a thousand times, even though I’m sure he has.

IM: This is exactly what he’s like. And he does mean it. He’s just a great human being. And the nicest guy in the world.

BE: Clearly. Because, y’know, I’m just the press. Lord knows he didn’t have to be nice to me.

IM: Right. [Laughs.] But, you know, I tend to forget that, too. I mean, I like people. And I’m enjoying this. But, of course, it’s easy, because I’m not trying to make up something about something I’m not proud of. I love this, and I’ll talk about it all day long. And everyone’s been nice, and so far everyone seems to at least not hate it. So it’s easy that we can just hang out and be people, y’know?

BE: Keepin’ it casual.

IM: Keepin’ it real caszh. [Laughs.]

BE: Do you have any favorite project you’ve worked on over the years…

IM: “Banshee”!

BE: …that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved and has actually had a chance to get love? Come on, at least let me finish the question.

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IM: [Laughs.] Well, “Love Monkey” would certainly qualify. I also think that “Mind of the Married Man” qualifies. I feel like a lot of people really loved that show, but for whatever reason, critics did not like it. And the crazy thing is, when that show was on the air, there were two distinct groups of people that would always come up to me saying they loved it: African-American males, and then just boys in their early twenties in general. It’s almost like…it was marketed like a family drama, but that’s not who wanted it. Single guys were the ones who watched it. Which is interesting. So that one did not get love. And there’s also this movie I did called “Head Over Heels.” It was around the year 2000, and it was with Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Monica Potter. It’s just one of my favorite things I’ve ever done. It’s also one of the first movies I did, or one of the first that I had a lead part in. But it was another one of those amazing experiences where we had a wonderful summer in Vancouver, a bunch of girls who loved each other, and we couldn’t believe we were getting paid to do this. But I often can’t believe I get paid to do this. But it was just such a fun thing to do. I loved it.

BE: I’m not sure that anyone else can say that they were in both “Casino Royale” and “Witless Protection”…

IM: No, they can’t!

BE: I expect, however, that you’re going to be just like everyone else and tell me how incredibly nice Larry the Cable Guy is.

IM: Because he is. [Laughs.] He is! You know, his comedy’s not necessarily what I would go searching for on YouTube, per se, but he is awesome. I love him. It’s amazing, though, that…y’know, I have a lot of comedian friends, and they just can’t stand that he’s done so well, but, hey, I’m glad that somebody nice is doing well. If people love him, then let him be!

BE: Lastly, what are your recollections of working on your first film, “Children of the Corn III”?

IM: [Laughs.] I was…an acolyte, I think is what I’m credited as. That was part of some reshoots. A bunch of model friends and I – ‘cause I was, like, 18 when I did that – were friends with this director, Tony Hickox, and he was doing the extra scenes for his brother, James Hickox. And he called us, and he said, “We need more babes dying!” So a bunch of us came over, and…Charlize Theron is in that movie, too! She gets killed by some wild corn. I get killed by, I think, a scythe. But you know what? This is fun. What I do is fun. I take my job very seriously, and I take things seriously when I need to be serious. But when it’s done, I’m back to my goober self. So there you go. But I think maybe that doesn’t do well for my character. Maybe people won’t take me seriously if they find out I’m really a dork. Maybe they need me to be all, like… [Very clipped and precise.] “Yes, I’m very serious. And I’m also very rational.”

BE: And yet the sheer variety of work you’ve done over the years kind of speaks to there being something a little bit off about you. Although I mean that in the best possible way.

IM: [Laughs.] I wouldn’t take it any other way. So I’m a little different. What’s wrong with being a little bit different?