The Cinemax action series Banshee tells the story of Lucas Hood (Antony Starr), an ex-con and master thief who assumes the identity of the sheriff of Banshee, PA. It’s the perfect cover for him to try to win back the love of his life (Ivana Milicevic) and hide out from the dangerous gangster (Ben Cross) that they both betrayed years earlier, while attempting not to get into too much more trouble.
During this recent exclusive interview with Collider, actress Ivana Milicevic talked about how she got involved with this show, how much she enjoys getting to play the two sides of her character, what it’s like doing the fairly graphic but always story-driven sex scenes, working with co-stars Antony Starr and Rus Blackwell, what’s to come for her character, and her favorite episodes this season. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
IVANA MILICEVIC: I had work with Greg [Yaitanes] before. It was the middle of pilot season, so there were tons of pilots, but this was the one that I read and really, really wanted. So, I went in the first time and Greg said, “Oh, you should read a few more episodes.” I thought he meant I should keep reading pilots. So, he sent me a couple more episodes that were written, and I just kept being more and more in love with it. I was just getting over this really horrible heartbreak, and somehow everything I had gone through with it, I could put into this character. I really knew how to play it. Mostly, I understood loving somebody you’re not supposed to love, or being in circumstances where you’re not supposed to love this person, or two people. I knew how to do that. I had to play her.
How much fun has this been to make?
MILICEVIC: We put so much love into this. We had such a special experience. All shows don’t have this love and passion. It’s just ‘cause it’s a big deal to everyone. It’s Greg’s first show, that he’s doing completely on his own. And it’s the writers’ first creation. Everybody cared so much, so it means more to us than other things have ‘cause it’s such our baby.
Do you enjoy getting to show the two sides of your character, with her criminal past, and then her being a wife and mother now?
MILICEVIC: Whatever past you had, when you become a mother, it’s a whole different thing. You can’t even predict it. I’ve seen women who were nightmare party girls, who were just crazy, and then they have a baby and this thing comes over them and changes them. Or there are women who you think are going to be the most doting mother in the world, and then they’re not. You don’t know how you’ll be affected, when that happens. So, my character was whoever she was in the past, and then things happened. There’s this other part of her that is real, as she became a wife and mother, and I don’t know if it ever goes. Sometimes it does, but maybe it doesn’t.
Do you think she’s always thought about her past, or did she completely set it aside and hope to never have to think about it again?
MILICEVIC: Look, I’m a chick. The Princess Bride is one of my favorite movies, of all time. I like the idea that, in the back of her mind, he was always the one. But, you don’t always marry the love of your life, I supposed. She married the person she probably should have married, and she loves that person, but it’s not that thing. But, it’s too late. She’s all for her family, but it would be a lie to say that she’s over that other one, completely.
How cool is it to be on a show with such strong female characters?
MILICEVIC: People are like, “Oh, it’s Cinemax,” and yeah, there’s sex there, but not more than any other awesome HBO show. There’s not more sex than Game of Thrones. But, the female characters are so strong and fleshed out. My character is incredible to play. My two characters, in a way.
Only on an Alan Ball show, can you have a flashback of a sex scene during a sex scene, right in the first episode. Were you able to see how telling that was for your character, with how disconnected she was from the present sex scene while being so connected to the sex scene in the flashback, and how much that said about each relationship?
MILICEVIC: Wow, I didn’t even look at it like that because you shoot it different ways. It’s interesting that you say that. Thanks for telling me. I was nervous about that ‘cause it’s full-on. But, our sex scenes aren’t just there to have a sex scene. There’s story happening there, and it’s important to get the full picture. So, you have to watch the sex scenes and not close your eyes.
Are you comfortable with those types of scenes, or do you have to get yourself into a certain headspace?
MILICEVIC: I had never done it, up until this point, and I was okay with doing it here. One, I wasn’t going to do it, ever, unless I felt comfortable. I only have one living grandparent left, so I was like, “Now is the time.” Two, I always said that, if I was going to do it, then do it. My favorite of all time is Sex and Lucia. It’s such a good movie, and how they portrayed sex was so naturally. It was full-on, but it wasn’t embarrassing, shameful or dirty. I tried for that. I wanted it to really be a natural thing. That’s kind of what it looks like when it happens, just in the positions of the geography of bodies, and things like that. I wanted it to look natural. The hardest part of shooting a sex scene are the first seconds when you take off your clothes. You’re like, “There it is,” but after that, it’s liberating. But, I’m Croatian. I’m from Europe. I grew up not wearing tops, so that’s okay. But, it’s a whole different thing when you’re about to put it out there. Then, everyone can say or think whatever they want, after that. But, if there was ever a character I was going to do it for, it was this one. I like sexy stuff, and I like sex.
What can you say about the journey your character is taking?
MILICEVIC: Rus Blackwell (who plays Gordon) and I would come up with backstories for us, and we came up with a really specific thing of how I got there. I ran away, after this diamond thing happened and Lucas (Antony Starr) got caught. I had to stay away from New York, so I stuck to small towns. I got a waitressing job in Michigan, probably near the University of Michigan, where my husband, Gordon, was in law school. He would always go to that restaurant and see me all the time. For him, it was love at first sight, but for me, I was a big old mess. I was like, “Who’s going to love me?” Plus, she was more of a criminal mind, at that point. But, she could play whatever and be whatever someone wanted.
Over time, I wanted him to take that job as the D.A. in a small town because it was even smaller, even further and even more tucked away. We had children and, little by little, I grew to love him out of respect. He’s a great man. And if everything had remained like it was, I would have been the most incredible wife and mother because there was a part of me that always wanted that role.
And then, Lucas comes in like a tsunami and starts wreaking havoc, and there are actions and reactions, and cause and effect. If you’re thieving and you have this exciting life, there’s gotta be a part of you that’s addicted to it, so I’m probably like a recovering danger addict that someone has given a sip to. There’s gotta be some element where I’m like, “Oh, yeah, that!” Otherwise, we wouldn’t have a show. Being a Real Housewife of Banshee has got to be a little dull, too.
How has it been to work with this cast and get to explore these two relationships, torn between these two very different men, with both her husband and this guy from her past?
MILICEVIC: So good! It’s been really lucky because for me to act it, I had them just represent different parts of different relationships I’ve had or want to have, and the actors that played them were so perfectly cast. Rus Blackwell is this solid, good American man, who’s so sweet, giving and kind, but he’s got some crazy in him and he’s so good at playing crazy. I have a feeling we’re going to see some of that come out, more and more. You’ll see a little bit, as the season progresses. But, he’s such a kind-hearted man. Antony Starr, who plays Lucas, is so dynamic. You’ll see that, as the episodes go on. The first episode we shot was Episode 4, and after I saw it, I said to him, “You are TNT. You are dynamite.” He’s so vulnerable. He’s not just a macho dude. He’s super tough, and he plays that stuff really well, but he’s so electric. He’s got electricity coming out of his pores. You’ll see. And he has such vulnerability. He plays the love so openly and earnestly, as opposed to, “Whatever, babe!” He’s so good at it. I think the women are going to really love that Lucas Hood.
MILICEVIC: Yes! That’s good that you noticed ‘cause that’s totally true. Everybody has a different way of doing it. And I was really specific with my brand of violence. Where Lucas is a killer, I don’t want to hurt them. I’m not out to kill. I’m not a killer. I’ll do it, but it’s not about that. I’m a mother. I’m a mama bear.
What type of mother do you see her as?
MILICEVIC: She’s an overcompensating mother. When you have these secrets and you know you’re lying to your kids, to some extent, then you’re going to overcompensate. I think she was a really awesome mother, this whole time, who was really doting, really caring and super affectionate, especially as you find out what happened to her mother, and things like that. I think she was going to be a really good mother ‘cause she would have never pursued Lucas herself, regardless of how much she loved him. She would have been the good mother. That’s still her main objective, to save her family.
MILICEVIC: With that kind of character, that comes from that part of the world, debts do not go unpaid and revenges do not go unavenged. He’s coming to get paid, someway, somehow.
Do you have a favorite episode this season?
MILICEVIC: The end of Episode 7, into Episodes 8 and 9. A lot of things happen. They’re really kind of one. No time passes between them. I can’t even believe I got to play what I played, in those episodes. But, at the end of the season, into the season finale, the shit hits the fan, and then it blows into another fan.
Banshee airs on Friday nights on Cinemax.