Steven Van Zandt Talks “The Sopranos,” “Lilyhammer” & Playing The Super Bowl

With Season 2 of Lilyhammer hitting Netflix on December 13, we sat down with everyone’s favorite consigliere.

The second season of Lilyhammer really starts with a bang – can we expect a lot of surprisingly innovative violence this season?

Yeah! We push the envelope as far as we can. Keep in mind, this is by far the most violent show in the history of Norway. They really don’t like violence! They’re very sophisticated – sex is fine, but they don’t like to portray violence. It’s a bit ramped up from the first season in that sense, and we’ve managed to improve everything a little bit. I got a chance to do the score, which was a big deal – we’ve elevated it, the production values are up. It’s a nice evolution.

Do the Norwegians have a good sense of humor about the attitude the American characters have towards them in the show?

They have a wonderful sense of humor, very self-deprecating. They love making fun of themselves and seeing their own bureaucracy made fun of. We had a million people watching every week in a country of five million – the Prime Minister was Tweeting, “Don’t bother me for the next hour, I’m watching Lilyhammer!” I think people are living vicariously through Frank, because they’re too civilized to act like he does. Everybody was so pleased that Netflix chose it to be their first original programming [in America] – for the first time in history, you saw a local, foreign language show being shown in America. It was a thrill to be a part of the next evolution in the golden era of television, which I happened to have been at the beginning of.

By which you mean The Sopranos, of course. In your opinion, if it came down to a fight to the death, who’s walking away – Lilyhammer’s Frank “The Fixer” Tagliano or The Sopranos’ Silvio Dante?

[Laughs] Well, that’s a good one. Silvio made his bones like everybody else, and he had his violent moments, as we saw through the show, but he’s mostly the diplomat and ambassador, he wasn’t too much a part of the violence anymore. Frank’s probably more friendly and outgoing on the surface, but deep down, he might be a more ruthless killer.

Some fans have theorized that the whole of Lilyhammer is a dream being had by Silvio in his coma. Had you heard that one?

[Laughs] No! I have heard people say it’s Silvio, come out of his coma and in witness protection. It’s fine. Those of us who’ve done more research into the mob know how different the two characters are, but if someone thinks it’s that, that’s fine – I don’t mind that at all. Whatever allows people to be comfortable watching the show is great.

Where did the idea for Lilyhammer come from?

It came from a husband and wife writing team in Norway, Eilif Skodvin and Anne Bjørnstad – they tracked me down while I was producing a Norwegian band for my record label. I thought, I can’t play a gangster again, I just did one for 10 years! But then I thought, this is just such a brilliant idea: Norway is so conservative, there’s no crime, there’s no poverty, it’s very community-based – to drop this one-man crime wave into the middle of that, I just couldn’t resist it.

As a guitarist in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, have you noticed a different type of fan at your shows since you began acting?

Oh yeah, right from the start of The Sopranos, I was just reuniting with the band, and we started seeing a whole influx of other people – a younger audience, actually. That’s continued with Lilyhammer. Every year, especially in Europe, the audience gets bigger and it gets younger. There’s a serious synergistic mixing of the audiences at this point.

You guys played the Super Bowl in 2009 – what was it like to do such an iconic show?

That was a different kind of show, I must say! You do a lot of gigs, but that was a standout. You just try not to think about the fact you’re about to play to a billion people… We had a couple thousand people right up front, and that helped because you just focus on them and pretend it’s a regular stadium show. It was interesting because you have to do exactly 13 minutes or whatever it was, not a minute longer. They have you there rehearsing the whole week, they time everything to the minute – there was a lot of precision involved. There was no room for improvisation.

With the Super Bowl happening in New Jersey next year, can we expect you to make an appearance?

I probably won’t be around – I’ll be in Norway. It’s odd that it’s an open stadium, I don’t know why they built it that way. It could be the first Super Bowl in a long time with snow, which could be interesting. Bruno Mars is one of my favorite new artists, so I’m looking forward to that.

Do you have any advice for him?

Yeah. Think about the hundred people in front of you, and don’t look up!