While speaking with Van Helsing’s, Aleks Paunovic there was an undeniable energy in the air. Paunovic’s passion for the craft of acting is palpable. His thoughtful and careful descriptions of what it means to truly create on screen, magnetically draw you in and allow you to understand a side of entertainment that is intangible to most. Paunovic doesn’t simply read lines and move through the motions; he produces art because it is within him to do so.
It’s hard to believe with such an emotional connection to his career, Paunovic was not originally on the path to become an actor. In the early 90s Paunovic was performing with his heavy metal band, Specula Black when he was approached to audition for the HBO movie Heads and the rest, as they say, was history. Paunovic has been working consistently since that chance meeting, starring on both the big and small screens. I had the opportunity to talk shop with Paunovic focusing on some of his present, past and future projects.
Out for Blood
Paunovic is bringing the thrills as the bloodthirsty vampire, Julius on SyFy’s Van Helsing. Due to his great working relationship with the show’s producers, Paunovic was afforded the opportunity to help create his character. “The process was interesting,” Paunovic shared describing the team’s exercise of bouncing ideas off of each other and considering where they wanted to go with the character versus what they knew wouldn’t work as well. Paunovic was involved in decisions down to the wardrobe and makeup and praised Syfy for being “wonderful in giving actors the scope to create.”
Paunovic focused on the struggles Julius had prior to his rise to power and the stamina it would take to survive those circumstances. He wanted Julius to be “stronger and less creaky” than some of the elder vampires. Paunovic is hoping that Julius’ background will be explored deeper in season two of Van Helsing (On 10/14/16 Syfy announced that the show would picked up for a 13 episode second season).”There had to be some kind of trigger that caused him to strive for this level of power,” Paunovic explained, “It would be interesting to get into.”
As for how he taps into the rage it takes to portray Julius, Paunovic divulged that he believes “much of Julius’ anger comes from loss.” He will access that by reflecting on things that may make him angry in his life and think, “Where would I go with this if I were Julius? You take something like that and multiply it by a thousand.” While watching Van Helsing, he was inspired by many of Mohamad’s (played by Trezzo Mahoro) scenes and related what Julius would do in similar situations, sighting that it was “something he could use.” On set Paunovic is focused on doing his part but when he gets to watch the show back as a whole it is “easy to connect to the goal through the dichotomies and range of their characters.” He states,”I am a huge fan of the show and all of my costars.”
Paunovic himself is a fan of the horror genre and enjoys watching The Walking Dead. When asked what continues to draw viewers to the world of vampirism, Paunovic answered that unlike zombies with vampires there is lust involved, “They need to feed, but there’s a thirst not just for blood, but for power, especially with Julius.” Though Paunovic has played a slew of intense characters including a zombie (iZombie), survivor of the nuclear apocalypse (The 100), intergalactic sergeant (Battlestar Galactica), and brutal warlord (Mortal Kombat: Legacy), he acknowledges that Julius is the biggest badass of them all because of his “ruthless and relentless wanting.” Paunovic did state that he “pulled pieces” from all of the other characters listed in order to craft Julius into the incredible blood thirsty lunatic that he is.
Though it’s clear that Paunovic is overjoyed to be a part of Van Helsing, he demonstrated another level of pride while discussing the movie he both executive produced and starred in, Ganjy. For Paunovic, Ganjy was a “mindblowing journey and a true labor of love.” The movie centers around a retired boxer (played by Ganjy writer/director/executive producer Ben Ratner) who is struggling with dementia pugilistica and his relationship with three of his old friends.
A 2009 meeting with Muhammad Ali was “life changing” for Paunovic. He spoke eloquently about the surreal experience of acting as a “bodyguard of sorts” for Ali helping the legend walk to an appearance. To Ali, the men were probably “just some guys helping” but to Ratner and Paunovic it was the inspiration for Ganjy. “It was just his (Ali’s) shell that was affected by the Parkinson’s,” Paunovic informed me, “his mind was still sharp.”
All of the men that starred in Ganjy have boxing backgrounds, Paunovic himself was a Canadian amateur boxing champion. They wanted to explore “what happens to a man when he comes out of the ring and the long-term effects of the sport.” Showing that he still has the heart of a boxer, Paunovic informed me that when it comes to boxing “it’s typically the mind that gives out before the body.” Though Paunovic still loves boxing, his knowledge has changed the way he watches the sport. He thinks back to the fights he cheered on and views them differently now. All of his friends that were involved in the sport know someone who now suffers with dementia pugilistica.
After working the festival circuit, Ganjy was picked up by a distribution company out of Ireland, which Paunovic describes as a “true honor.” He reminisced about a night after filming, before any distribution deal was on the horizon. He was in his car thinking about all of the emotion he had expelled, letting go of something that was deep within him, clawing for release. Paunovic told me it was cathartic in the way that “if this was it, if this was all that came from this movie, it would be enough.” He told me it was something he could talk about forever and his ardor was inspiring.
Force of Nature
Recently, Paunovic was nominated for Best Actor at the UBCP/ACTRA awards for a film he was both star and associate producer of, Numb. Paunovic shared that it’s “cliche to say it’s an honor to be nominated, but it really is.” He’s glad the nomination will turn attention back to the movie which he playfully describes as “a poor man’s Revenant.” He’s proud of the film and notes that shooting during winter in the mountains of Vancouver was “very hard work.”
Paunovic’s upcoming projects include the third installment of the Planet of the Apes reboot series War For the Planet of the Apes due out in summer 2017 and Puppet Killer a horror/comedy trope directed by Lisa Ovies.
Watch Paunovic on Syfy’s Van Helsing Fridays at 10/9c.