The “high concept” tease for the new Steven Spielberg-produced series Extant is simple enough: Molly (Halle Berry) is an astronaut who’s been in space alone for 13 months and returns mysteriously pregnant.
What you don’t see in the trailers is what’s been happening back on Earth. Which is where Goran Visnjic comes in.
The actor, best known as Dr. Luka Kovac on ER, plays her scientist husband John, who has addressed their childlessness by designing a “humanic,” a robot boy named Ethan (Pierce Gagnon) – one who is prone to tantrums and has learned, among other things, how to lie.
It’s aliens! It’s artificial intelligence run amok! It’s two scary sci-fi themes in one.
“We’re shooting the 12th of 13 episodes, and I can tell you it’s some very tight storytelling,” Visnjic says over the phone from Los Angeles during a break. “There’s this alien threat happening to Molly and humanity, and Ethan is going to play a pretty big part.
“You’re going to see a lot of different things happen. There’s going to be a lot of philosophical debate on John’s part – is he just going to let this little robot be freely influenced by his surroundings, because of his relationship with him?
“At the same time, Ethan is going to become faster and faster, which is really creepy. Imagine saying ‘I love you,’ and between ‘love’ and ‘you,’ your son can read three books. There are going to be decisions John will have to make.”
It sounds like a story that needs a beginning, a middle and an end. But the reality of TV is different, especially if the name Spielberg is attached. Visnjic says the story is purposely written to carry on into a second season. “It reads like a good book now when I think of these 12 episodes, all the twists and turns. And to be honest with you, we’re here right now in episode 12, and I don’t see a conclusion in episode 13. It’s likely a cliffhanger, to be continued.”
After his nine years on ER, Visnjic said he’s mostly been looking for change-ups. Among them, his turn as Christopher Plummer’s young lover in the Oscar-winning Beginners.
“Maybe some of my fans who used to love me in ER were saying, ‘My god he’s so stupid, why’s he playing this character? Maybe he should always play the foreign-lover character.’
“I’m 42, there’s still plenty of time to do many things. I’ve been doing this since I was nine years old (as a child actor in Croatia). A secret to longevity in this job is to just be doing different things all the time.”
Which doesn’t mean he’s a commitment-phobe. Visnjic was reportedly on the short-list of four to play James Bond when Daniel Craig was chosen. He refuses to comment “on parts that didn’t work out,” but adds generally, “I don’t see attachment as a bad thing. If you’re attached to something really good.”
And then there’s Extant, in which his co-star Halle Berry is also a producer and technically his boss. “She’s an okay boss, I could work with her for years.,” Visnjic says with a laugh.
“The beauty of this show is it’s 13 episodes only, so you have half a year off to do other projects.” Visnjic plans to appear in a Croatian film during hiatus.
“We started filming in February and we’re going to be done on July 15. So I’m off from then to mid-February again. That’s time enough to start your own project, produce it and film it.”