Steven Van Zandt knows his way around the underworld. For six seasons on "The Sopranos," he played Silvio Dante, the consigliere to crime boss Tony Soprano who obediently carried out his orders with a distinctive glower.
But these days the actor is having more fun playing a mobster who has been put on ice — literally.
Van Zandt — better known as "Little Steven," one of the key members of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band — has gathered up his cold-weather gear for the second season of "Lilyhammer," Netflix's comedy-drama about surly New York gangster Frank "The Fixer" Tagliano, who escapes under a witness protection program to Lillehammer, Norway, after selling out some of his associates.
"Lilyhammer" has already made its mark on the TV landscape — it was the first original scripted series from Netflix, the streaming service and video rental giant that followed up its initial offering with such notable successes as "House of Cards" and "Orange Is the New Black." The series' eight-episode second season became available on Netflix on Friday.
In addition to starring in 'Lilyhammer,' Van Zandt is an executive producer, writer and is involved with the show's music. And while he has his hands and arms full with multiple projects, he ranks "Lilyhammer" as a crowning achievement. (In addition to touring with Springsteen, he is also executive producing two satellite radio stations, running a record label devoted to garage bands around the world, and writing/producing a show about and starring the legendary rock group the Rascals that played Broadway this year and visited Los Angeles.)
"Just getting this show off the ground was remarkable," said Van Zandt by phone from his New York offices. "It started out as this crazy idea that everyone thought was impossible. Just the logistics alone were daunting, since it's done in Norway."
He added with a chuckle, "And the fact that I chose to do this after 'The Sopranos' didn't make my people very happy, let me tell you."
But "Lilyhammer" has performed beyond his initial expectations, said Van Zandt: "Netflix really made a statement in this golden era of television by making us its first original series, going with something that has worldwide global content. For me, it's turned out to be this great adventure, working in this new culture."
He said that the show will look slicker this season and that more aggressive promotion should help draw more attention to the show. Netflix has rolled out a marketing campaign that features a menacing-looking Van Zandt on icy terrain with the slogan "His way or Norway."
Even before last week's launch of the second season, reports popped up that Netflix executives were close to greenlighting a third season of the series, which is co-produced by Norway's Rubicon TV AS and Netflix with Germany-based Red Arrow International.
"We love the show," said Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos, noting that the network has not finalized a third season and that in keeping with the company's policy, won't release data about viewership.
"We're thrilled by how it's performed, not only in the U.S. but in our other territories," added Sarandos. "It's a very international show with a very domestic feel. And Steven is one of my favorite people on the planet. He's so fun, yet he's very meticulous. His instincts are spot on. He really knows how to bring it together."
The first season of "Lilyhammer" established the show's fish-out-of-water concept as Van Zandt's Tagliano realizes that moving to what he thinks will be a quiet, cozy paradise turns out to be anything but, encountering freezing cold, quirky personalities and a crime-free environment. The low-key residents also have a hard time with the foul-mouthed newcomer with the gangster suits.
He also found love with a teacher, Sigrid (Marian Saastad Ottesen), but their relationship fell apart soon after she became pregnant.
As the second season gets underway, Tagliano is more accustomed to his new surroundings and has opened a nightclub, the Flamingo. He still has his share of rough edges, and becoming a father after Sigrid gives birth to twins has made his life more complicated. Also, some English bad guys have come to Lillehammer and a showdown seems as inevitable as snow in December.
"This season shows how Frank is evolving into the fabric of Norway," said Van Zandt. "He's a one-man crime wave. There's a little bit of crime in everyone, and it's Frank's job to bring it out."
Van Zandt bristled a bit when asked if there was a close resemblance between his gangster characters.
"I can understand why some folks might think that, but it's not exactly true," he said. "Silvio was very conservative — he was the only character on 'The Sopranos' who didn't want to be the boss. He was more of an inside man. This guy Frank is a boss. He's much more outgoing and flamboyant. When you take that guy and drop him into a place where there's no crime and no poverty, he's going to be much different than Silvio."
But he added, "If someone who's watching the show feels that they're seeing Silvio coming out of a coma and moving to Norway, that's fine with me. Whatever brings them to the show is fine."
Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)
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