There’s nothing average about Carrie Hopewell, the mobster’s daughter and exceedingly dangerous safecracker masquerading as an everyday mom—albeit one about to serve out a jail sentence—on Cinemax’s addictive series Banshee.
Surprises are also de rigueur for Ivana Milicevic, the actress who plays Hopewell. The Sarajevo-born, Michigan-raised Milicevic—whose Banshee character has no shortage of brutal fight scenes—might have perfected her femme fatale vibe with roles in Enemy of the State and the James Bond flick Casino Royale but she got her start doing stand-up and still seems more likely to crack a joke than a bone.
As the series returns for its second season (premieres January 10), DuJour caught up with Milicevic while she was on set in Hawaii to talk coming up from comedy, the future of Carrie Hopewell and just why pulling hair isn’t as bad as it seems.
First things first: Banshee has some of the most eye-popping fight scenes on film. There’s a real brutal bacchanal in the season two premiere; it must be intense to prepare for another bunch of those.
It really is, but I’m pretty quick at remembering choreography. I studied a bunch of girl fights on YouTube, and the common denominator every time was hair-pulling, so we worked that in there. Some stuff that seems really violent, though, is the safest stuff to shoot. Like [in the first episode of season two,] when we’re pulling each other’s hair, frantically moving our bodies and it looks like we’re in a lot of pain, that was actually the easiest to shoot. It was really effective looking, yet it was a façade. And, of course, it was choreographed for me to win.
You have plenty of fight scenes under your belt. What’s been the most difficult for you to choreograph?
In season two, the premiere episode was probably the hardest. The only other thing that was close to that was at the end of the season when we were shooting the finale—and I can’t tell you too much about that. By the end of the season, we’re so tired from how physical everything is—even when we’re not doing a choreographed fight, there’s still always running and action and heavy breathing—the scenes are so intense.
Something really interesting is happening for your character for the second season, as she’s found herself in jail. What she’s going through emotionally is probably harder than anything she’s going through physically.
That’s what I mean! It’s not a show where you can show up and just do some action. You have to go to these sad places and it’s really depressing sometimes. And I’m so bummed because some of the choices she’s forced to make are so difficult. As an actress working on the character, I sometimes get these scenes and wonder how am I going to choose to do what is written and still somehow make it work and not be a totally hateful character.
Your character’s also tangled up in an epic will-they-or-won’t-they relationship with Antony Starr’s Lucas Hood. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent shouting at you through the TV. In the second season, will the two sort things out?
Their relationship is definitely going to deepen at the same time as they figure things out. You also have to understand that the first season was about three months in time, and the second season is probably about another three months, so it’s not like lots and lots of time has gone by. Put it this way, we’re going to try for some way to make our lives in Banshee work. And you’ll have to tune in to see what that is!
Carrie’s not just a fighter, she’s kind of an all-around badass. Do you ever feel her bleeding into your life off screen?
I am really peaceful, but I really do believe if someone was hurting me or someone I love, I could hold my own. And I feel like I would have done that even before I had this fight training because I’m just scrappy.
With the second season of Banshee finished, what else are you working on?
I’m sitting here in Hawaii. I’m on the set of Cameron Crowe’s untitled Hawaiian movie, and I’ll be here for three weeks. My part is a little bit of a mystery and a lot of it will be improv.
You got your start in stand-up comedy. How did you end up an actress?
You know, a manager came and watched me work when I was 19 or 20 at The Comedy Store and wanted to sign me. So, I immediately started to go out, and after not too long I booked my first job, an episode of Seinfeld. When you first start, you just do the jobs you get. You audition for everything and all of a sudden you start getting a certain kind of a job—for me it used to be Russian spies, bad girls, like things like that. I also did some comedy early on in my career, but this is the thing that’s gotten the most attention. It’s funny how it works out.
Are you funny on set?
Not really. It’s a lighthearted set because it has to be, but we need to focus a lot of the time. But everyone’s kind of funny, and certainly when we’re off, we are hilarious and have a great time.
Banshee‘s new season premieres January 10.
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