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Elle (UK)

Doctor, Doctor
By Sarah Bailey
June 2000


[The intro mentions the fact that the interview is taking place at Warner Bros.'s studios in Burbank, California, USA]

...And as Dr. Dave Malucci, ER's irreverent young punk (specialist skills: wheelchair acrobatics, Jamaican Vomiting Sickness), please be upstanding for Erik Palladino, a charmingly lippy Italian American actor with a presence like an adrenaline shot and a now-you-see-it resemblance to a very young, very naughty John Travolta.

Erik isn't working today, but he bowls up for his interview all swagger, Italian leather jacket and attitude, with his girlfriend, the pretty actress Sarah-Jane Potts (from Bradford, England!) in tow. Goran / Dr. Luka has been performing a spinal tap on set since about 7am. Meanwhile - former MTV VJ, rock musician, soap actor and all-round roaring boy - has been rowing with real estate agents about the house he's trying to buy for himself and Sarah-Jane in Hollywood.

"Fuck it. Fuck everybody. I'm so stressed out, I'm not going to do people-pleasing today," he announces, before treating us all to a few wheelie stunts in his favourite wheelchair, pretending to go down on Goran (gentlemen, please!) and snogging Sarah-Jane almost senseless on a spare operating table. What a fibber!

"I met Sarah-Jane at a Swedish film festival," Erik tells me before I can ask. "She was in Straydogs. I was in The Week That Girl Died. Sweden was very cool. Everyone drank a lot, including me. Then Sarah-Jane came to see me in Malta. We fell in love in Sicily and she moved in, in December. I've never really experienced this before," he grins. 

Whoa.  If Doctors Luka and Dave are like chalk and cheese, actors Goran Visnjic and Erik Palladino must be the chalkiest chalk and the cheesiest hunk of fromage ever to have struck up a friendship on a TV show. Goran (aka "the sexiest man working today" (C) Madonna) seems a lot older than his 27 years and throughout our photo shoot affects the air of one better suited to carrying pregnant women through the snow-swirly streets of Chicago, while reciting Croatian poetry and maybe felling a few trees for luck. Erik, who's 32 and 100 per cent irrepressible, does not so much make love to the camera as have hot, filthy sex with it (he's even brought a selection of fetching leather-trousers-with-arm-revealing-vest outfits for the delectation of ELLE's readers). The pair of them are impossible to talk to together - muffled conversations, hoots of dirty laughter (Erik), smoking themselves insensible. Time for a consultation in Mr. Visnjic's trailer.

[Goran section of interview, does not mention Erik]

Erik Palladino would like to do his interview in a golf cart, or maybe lying on an operating table... We settle eventually for two institutional blue bucket chairs in Chicago County General's waiting room. Erik's just filmed an episode where Dr. Dave is forced to get in touch with his sensitive side and empathise with a kid who has cancer.

"Dave's not that into the mushy aspect, the bedside manner," says Erik proudly. "He's more of what I imagine a real doctor to be. He's not, 'Oh, you poor baby'."

Dr Dave's lack of bedside manner - calling the odd patient a "veggie-burger" (oops) - has been getting him into trouble with the American public of late.

"Any time I'm drawn to a character, it's when he's making people a little uncomfortable, making them think. 'Ugh. That's icky'. For want of a better word, 'icky'," he says rolling his new word around his tongue delightedly. Naturally he embraces everything dark, difficult and flippant about Dr. D. "My girlfriend thinks American audiences might not get Dave, but people in England get him right away."

Brought up in Yonkers, New York, Erik describes his childhood as "happy, needy, attention-seeking, content. I knew what I wanted from a young age." He knew he had to act when, aged 12, he saw Robert De Niro in Raging Bull, although he chose not to share this revelation with his hardnut running buddies. Erik had a violent phase as a teenager. When I ask him, apropos of ER, if he is squeamish, he replies, "Not at all. I think I got over that very young. I used to be in a lot of street fights. Blood was an aspect of the New York lifestyle for me."

Today, he boxes (see: ginormous biceps), but he's so bouncy, so puppyish and (I have to say it, Erik) so people-pleasing, it's hard to imagine him socking anyone to cause them harm. "When I was a teenager and getting into fights, it wasn't out of this deep, hidden anger, it was because it was exciting," he says. "It was the same with women. When I got to be a teenager I was very excited by women."

Before the acting thing happened, Erik got his kicks through music. He played in a band, No More Happy Faces, with his elder brother Chris, for several years. "We were a hard heavy rock kind of band. And I loved it. I had long hair, I was energetic and violent and sexual, I guess." He looks reflective for a moment. 'Yeah. It was a combination of violence and sex. Again, none of it came from a tortured past. I just liked hard-edged music. I liked being able to jump in a mosh pit, mosh and stage dive. I felt invincible, like most people do at that age. When I was playing, I was just on a high - in a zone which acting has rarely provided. Well, maybe once or twice..."

ER trauma scenes aside, Erik got a recent acting high from U-571 (out July), "a guy action suspense World War II submarine movie"' that he shot in Malta last year. He was in fine company, co-stars being Matthew McConaughy, Jon Bon Jovi and Harvey Keitel (Erik's NBF). 'With Keitel I was intimidated for the first month. By the third month, I was like, 'You're not so mean, you're a Harvey Bear'. And he'd say, 'Okay kid, give me a hug, but remember, only in Malta'."

It was in Malta that Erik had one of those incidents that might have landed him in real-life ER. "I would never get into a fight on location when I'm in a production, but I was in this bar with all the other actors in the film when this Maltese guy pushed me. My instinct was to hit, but I held back. Then he pushed me again in the face, so I hit him with a left-hook and an overhand right."

Ah. So, he regretted it, then? "Yeah, he had a broken nose in three places," says Erik, sheepishly. "I found out later that he was the bar owner's brother and all nine of us got thrown out and we had to kind of run. My brother Chris was visiting me too and he was like, 'Oh, Erik'."

It's time for Goran and Erik to have their last picture taken together, so I snatch the opportunity to ask them if their experiences as ER docs has given them any insight into why women go so loopy-loo over men in uniform. Goran takes the dignified approach and claims never to have heard of such a fetish. "That's the first time I hear that," he says earnestly. "Women excited by me in uniform? No, never."

Erik considers the question a bit more seriously. "I guess it's the unattainable thing."' He takes a drag on his cigarette. "Men in uniform...women in uniform. I think it's probably the stranger thing. The idea of that stranger, who's working hard at their job one minute, and the next minute, you're rolling around with them, ripping those clothes off..." He smiles. 'It's somewhat intriguing and exciting.'

Nurse. Pass the smelling salts.

Photos right here - and you want to see these!

Thanks to my dear anonymous (you know who you are) for the transcript!