Zeljko Ivanek: Matthew Welch/ICON International
Josh Wolk
May 16, 2002 AT 04:00 AM EDT

You might start to take it personally if casting directors phoned you every time a script called for an icy, tight-lipped menace. But Zeljko Ivanek (pronounced ZHEL-ko Ee-VAH-nek), 44, seems unfazed to be the go-to character actor when directors need a buttoned-down bad guy — like ”24”’s Andre Drazen, the creepy Serbian puppet master behind Kiefer Sutherland’s very bad day. ”I just grew into that age or type or something,” shrugs Ivanek. ”I have a look that suits it.” Says ”24” writer Virgil Williams, ”His delivery is very calculated. Guys who are quiet in the face of danger scare the hell out of me a lot more than the guy who freaks out.”

The Yugoslavian-born Ivanek intended to act solely in theater after graduating from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art in 1980, and was Tony-nominated in 1983 for playing Matthew Broderick’s brother in the original ”Brighton Beach Memoirs.” But in 1987 he was drafted into series television for a ”St. Elsewhere” guest spot by producer Tom Fontana, an old friend from the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Fontana has put Ivanek in everything he’s done since, including the role that painted on his mean streak, ”Oz”’s self-serving Governor Devlin. ”When I was coming up with ‘Oz’ [in 1997],” says Fontana, who was also a ”Homicide: Life on the Street” exec producer, ”I asked him what he wanted to do, and he said, ‘I’m such a nice guy on ‘Homicide’ [in the recurring role as State’s Attorney Ed Danvers], I’d kind of like to play an a–hole.’ Now he’s only playing a–holes! The next thing I write I’ve got to make him a saint.”

But for now, Ivanek sits in the sinner camp. That’s not to say he can’t overcome his malevolent-banker appearance — it’s just not easy. He was recently recruited by his ”Dancer in the Dark” director Lars von Trier to play a filthy trucker in ”Dogville” after another actor fell out at the last minute. ”We agreed in the first conversation that I was not obvious casting for this, and it was pretty much happening because he was under the gun,” says Ivanek. ”I had bad teeth and grease all over my face — and I looked in the mirror and underneath all of that, I still saw me.”

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