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Interview: Aleks Paunovic

Sometimes, a person is just destined to be in the spotlight. One such person is the multi-talented Aleks Paunovic.

Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Aleks has made his presence known in several different areas. He was a champion boxer until a shoulder injury at the 1999 Pan American Games. He’s also been part of a rock band and has also worked as a stuntman, but the area where he found his true calling was acting.

At six feet, five inches, not only is Aleks a presence in person but due to his talents, he is a present on the big and small screen.

He’s appeared in television series such as Arctic Air, iZombie, Supernatural, Continuum and The 100. He’s can currently be seen on the hit Syfy series Van Helsing playing the merciless Julius. On the big screen, he’s appeared in films such as Kindergarten Cop 2, Vendetta, Badge of Honor and Dead Rising: Watchtower.

Currently, his independent film Numb was just released on VOD and he will play the character Winter in the highly anticipated War for the Planet of the Apes opening July 14th.

We sit down with the very humble actor to talk about War of the Planet of the Apes, his work in Numb, how he creates playlists to prepare for roles and if it’s easy for him to shake a character once the job is done.

Pop Culture Principle – You will be appearing in the upcoming blockbuster War for the Planet of the Apes? What can you tell us about the film and your character Winter?

Aleks Paunovic – Listen man, I am over the moon to be a part of this franchise. I remember getting the audition for War for the Planet of the Apes and I remember saving the sides thinking one day I will be able to show people that I went in and auditioned for War for the Planet of the Apes. So for me to actually get the role, oh my God, that was the icing on the cake.

Pop Culture Principle – This franchise has had success for years not only in film, but also television. How does it feel to be part of such a storied franchise?

Aleks Paunovic – I remember how potent that scene with the Empire State building at end of the very first Planet of the Apes. That scene is still ingrained in my brain. Anybody who has watched that film, that is the scene that sticks out. To be a part of that franchise, I am just happy and excited to be going along for this ride. I get to share this ride with some really great people and people that I admire and got to share the screen with.

Not only is Matt Reeves a phenomenal director, but he’s so great with actors and such a communicator. Then you have Andy Serkis who is on the same level and them as a team with Terry Notary who helped us become the primates that are in the movie. Those three were in the past two movies and they helped the new characters in this one, it was absolutely next level and it was such a great journey to be on.

Pop Culture Principle – When you received the script for Numb, what was it about the role of Lee that made you want to sign on to the project?

Aleks Paunovic – For Numb, it was more about the director Jason Goode because he and I did a couple of short films and I had asked him to direct my very first play and his very first play and I really wanted to work with him again. He directed a play called Danny and the Deep Blue Sea by John Patrick Shanley.

We worked really well together and we were both nominated in Canada for Best Actor and Best Director. It was tough work working on a play like that because it’s just a two-hander and it’s got to be compelling enough to keep eyes on it and keep people interested. We went through the deep end and came out the other side.

He had this project called Numb that he’d been kicking around and he always had me in mind for the role of Lee. When we finally started getting it together, I helped cast Stefanie von Pfetten and Marie Avgeropoulos came on to the project when I asked her. We got this fantastic ensemble with Dylan Jenkinson who was producing and Andre Harden who wrote the film. We got really lucky. The only reason I did the film basically just started with my relationship with the director and putting in my two cents and wanting to go on a journey like this that was quite tough on us because of the environment. It was great and I am glad that I went through it.

Pop Culture Principle – Would you consider the environment that you worked in to shoot Numb its own character in the film?

Aleks Paunovic – Oh, definitely. You nailed it. Literally, it’s the lead character in the entire film. So, that was the biggest part for us and our special effects department did a fantastic job. There were some times were the weather didn’t cooperate. We had a stretch of four days when the weather was hot and we were wondering how we are going to get through this pretending to be super cold, but we kept on shooting. Most of the shoot was -27 degrees, but we had a few days that were well above zero. There is a scene in the river where I go backwards and that was no joke. The temperature was -27 in a running stream and I’m trying to hold my breath under water and it was no joke, but it was a blast!

Pop Culture Principle – The film boasts a fantastic case including Jamie Bamber, Maria Avgeropoulous and Stefanie von Pfetten? What was it like working with them on this project?

Aleks Paunovic – We all got together before we started shooting and began discussing our characters and talking about how we wanted to represent the film. Because it was an indie film, we didn’t have any lush trailers in our location and we literally roughed it which was perfect for our characters and perfect for the film that we were in. We really supported each other and I think we are lifelong friends after this film which is really great.

Pop Culture Principle – You play the merciless vampire Julius in the Syfy series Van Helsing. Do you have fun playing a character as vicious as he is?

Aleks Paunovic – it’s the best man! I love playing characters like that because that character will go farther than anyone else to get what he wants. In reality, we all have morals and we all have ethics that we just don’t cross and that’s what we do. For me personally, I could never go anywhere near the lines that Julius has in real life, but to play a character like that, my lines are a lot further out than a responsible human in the real world is, so I get to play in that playground with my eyes wide open. What makes it so fun is that I am going further than I could ever think of going in real life. Also, trying to ground myself with those decisions as an actor, it’s just such a treat to play in that area that’s untapped when I am in the real world.

Pop Culture Principle – You appeared in a fantastic episode of Supernatural called Beyond the Mat. Can you tell us about your experience working on that series?

Aleks Paunovic – Well, Jensen and Jared are buddies of mine because I was in Season 2 and Season 6. They are fantastic with everyone that comes on the show. I have friends who have been on the show and everyone feels like they are best friends with those guys, they are great hosts.

When I got the opportunity to play Gunner Lawless, I was losing my mind because it was a great role and I liked the physicality of the wrestling aspect of it. I come from a boxer’s background and it was almost an insult to be inside that ring and not actually box and I got schooled. When I went to start wrestling, it became the most fun, the most athletic thing I’ve ever done inside a ring.

My best friend Paul Lazenby, who helped me with the wrestling, I had to apologize to him because I didn’t look at wrestling as a sport. It’s definitely a sport, definitely theater all mixed up and is everything that I love and I have nothing but the utmost respect for that sport.

Also, the Miz is great. That is the second thing that I did with the Miz. I did a Christmas movie with him and I think he’s a star and I think he’s going to blow up more that he actually has. He’s hilarious and such a good guy. Really enjoyed working with him.

Pop Culture Principle – You’ve also put on the producer hat for your upcoming project Puppet Killer. Did you feel any added pressure not only acting in the film, but being one of the producers as well?

Aleks Paunovic – Actually, no. I got a little taste of it when I did Numb because they brought me on as a producer and I loved the aspect of building relationships, troubleshooting, helping with scripts and the stories. It was the first time I produced a project on that level, so when the Puppet Killer opportunity came along, I really wanted to be a part of it in a way that was just more than an actor.

Lisa Ovies, who directed it, really welcomed me into the project and I was just stoked to do it. Richard Harmon, who I worked with on The 100, he’s a part of the film also and we just had a blast. It’s not something that I usually do, but it’s definitely something that I’ll do again because it was a lot of fun.

Pop Culture Principle – You are known for creating Spotify playlists for each of the roles you play. How does that help you with the development of your character?

Aleks Paunovic - Well, it’s tonality and it’s mostly for the script that I like to put a playlist together. An acting coach who is just phenomenal here in Vancouver named Andrew McIIroy, turned me onto it and I kind of took it to another level. I use the playlist to find the tone for my roles and I’ll do it in a chronological order of all my scenes.

Let’s say I’m on a treadmill or out for a walk, I am listening to those songs and the tone of those songs say over fifteen scenes which is fifteen songs, so when I go shoot the film and it’s shot out of sequence, I already know the tone. I don’t have to play with the idea of where I am coming from or what was my moment before, the tone is already setup for me internally. So, when I do the role, I have that emotionality of a song because music is so dear to me that I try and pull that into the role and the scene that I am doing.

Pop Culture Principle –Are you the type of actor that can let go of a character once you are done the project or does the character linger with you for a bit?

Aleks Paunovic – It’s interesting, I get into the role and I feel like I am really deep into a role. I feel as an actor, you have to exhaust every method of creativity or how you can tap into your creativity. So, I do some personal development work that helps me find out these little cracks and nooks I have within me where I can go maybe that much more deeper and I don’t have that guard or defense mechanism that you need when you walk around in real life.

For me, I find it an easy time getting into it, staying into it and I don’t have that much of a problem dropping out. There were a couple of roles where it was a little tougher, but it doesn’t take me a long time to drop out.

Pop Culture Principle – You have the upcoming projects Hard Powder with Liam Neeson and Siberia with Keanu Reeves. What can you tell us about these projects?

Aleks Paunovic – We had a hiatus with Van Helsing and I was fortunate enough to be able to do those two films. The Liam Neeson film Hard Powder is a remake and I think people are going to really enjoy that film. It was great to get a chance to work with Liam Neeson and Laura Dern.

The Keanu Reeves one called Siberia was a blast because we shot in my hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba, so I got to go home and see friends and family. It was great that I got to work with someone who I’ve looked up to in the industry. I’ve never had a guy crush, but he is my guy crush. He is literally the sweetest, humblest, kind man that you will ever meet. He was nothing but above and beyond not to just me, but the rest of the cast and crew. I am so glad that I got a chance to work with him.

We'd like to send out a big thank you to Aleks Paunovic for taking time out of his schedule to talk with us. Don't forget, War for the Planet of the Apes opens this Friday, July 14th! Season 2 of Van Helsing is currently in production with a Fall 2017 return date. Aleks is a very in demand actor, so if you'd like to keep up with all his latest news and projects, you can follow him on his official Twitter account @alekspaun.

**Main photos courtesy of Brad Everett Young**

**Van Helsing photo courtesy of Dan Power/Helsing S1 Productions/Syfy**

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