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Netflix ‘Lilyhammer’ Premiere: Steven Van Zandt Learns to Love Norway’s Frozen Wasteland

Second season of mobster-out-of-water series, Netflix's first original, to launch Dec. 19

Steven Van Zandt‘s mumbling mobster in “Lilyhammer” is back for more comical mayhem in the Norwegian wilderness — and the multihyphenate says both he and his character have become “more integrated” into the local scene.

“I have been eating a lot of cod,” mused the thesp-screenwriter-musician-songwriter-DJ at the U.S. premiere of “Lilyhammer” season 2 at the New York Institute of Technology’s Auditorium on Broadway on Tuesday night. The twist in the second season of the show: His transplanted hitman Frank “The Fixer” Tagliano “becomes the invaded, instead of being the invader,” he said.

“Lilyhammer” was Netflix’s first original series, with season 1 bowing in February 2012. It’s now the first series to return for a second season, set to debut in the U.S., Canada and Latin America on Dec. 13. “Before there was a ‘House of Cards,’ there was ‘Lilyhammer,'” said Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer. He praised Van Zandt for not only being “a rock-star rock star… he’s a rock star in everything he does.”

Van Zandt, known for his turn as Silvio Dante in HBO’s “The Sopranos” and as the head-scarf-wearing guitarist for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, said the show has found a worldwide audience thanks to Netflix’s distribution. The second season continues to exploit clash-of-cultures motifs with the snowy Nordic slopes serving as a stark backdrop.

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“I wanted to make Norway a character in the show,” said Van Zandt, who turns 63 this Friday.

The second season of the show, shot in Norway and New York City, picks up the saga of Tagliano, a New York mobster relocated to Lillehammer, Norway, by the federal witness protection program. He’s married a Norwegian lass, with whom he’s fathered twins, and runs the successful Flamingo nightclub. But his past comes back to haunt him after his former mafia associates find out he’s still alive.

“Lilyhammer” was developed and produced by Rubicon TV AS, and coproduced by Netflix and Norwegian broadcaster NRK in association with Red Arrow International. (The show title comes from Tagliano’s New Yawkeese pronunciation of “Lillehammer,” the site of the 1994 Winter Olympic Games.)

The production partners footed a bigger budget this time around, though still not on par with Hollywood, Van Zandt said: “We don’t have the frills. There’s crackers and coffee on the craft table.”

Still, with the extra coin, “Lilyhammer” season 2 was able to include more action scenes, said Trond Fausa Aurvaag, the Norwegian actor who plays Tagliano’s right-hand man in the series. “Every part of the production has risen,” he said. A set piece in the first episode, for example, features the crew joyriding in a borrowed Ferrari over a bridge — and accidentally crashing into a moose.

Also on hand at the NYC premiere were “Lilyhammer” theps Tommy Karlsen Sandum and Fridtjov Saheim, featured as two locals who have become partners in crime with Tagliano.

Netflix brought in talent from two other originals for moral support. “Orange Is the New Black” cast members included Lea Delaria, Jackie Cruz, Selenis Leyva and Alysia Reiner, with “House of Cards” represented by thesps Sebastian Arcelus and Michael Kelly. Second season of “HoC” just wrapped shooting, and “OITNB” is nearly finished; both shows are set to hit Netflix in early 2014.

The eight-episode second season of “Lilyhammer” airs in Norway on broadcast channel NRK1, and Netflix will roll out the series in Europe after it finishes its TV run. A third season of the show is set to begin lensing in January; Sarandos said Netflix currently is in talks about picking that up.

Sarandos acknowledged that “Lilyhammer” is a lower-profile property than the Emmy-winning “House of Cards” but said its performance has exceeded his expectations (although that’s hard to decipher, as Netflix doesn’t release viewing stats). “It way outperforms what you would expect, given that it’s a multilanguage, multicutural show,” he said, adding that season 2 includes more English dialogue.

Netflix held the after-party at the Russian Tea Room on 57th Street — a fine choice, given the paucity of Norwegian niteries in Gotham.

(Pictured: Fridtjov Saheim, Tommy Karlsen Sandum and Steven Van Zandt at the “Lilyhammer” season 2 premiere after-party at Russian Tea Room)

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