Aleks Paunovic Talks Van Helsing, Supernatural, and More [Exclusive]
If you’ve spent any amount of time watching genre TV, Aleks Paunovic is a familiar face. In the last few years alone, he’s banked appearances on The CW’s The 100, iZombie, and Supernatural and recurred on Syfy’s Canadian import, Continuum. Now you can catch him on Syfy’s Van Helsing, where he plays Julius, who leads one of the vampire factions. I caught up with Paunovic this week to chat about the show, its early renewal, his threepeat on Supernatural, and more.
Paunovic had a pre-existing friendship with Simon Barry and that helped set the stage for his involvement in Van Helsing. He was thrilled to read for him and Neil LaBute, and then to get the part and tackle the role. “It was a huge thing for me, regardless [of whether I was cast],” he says. “It was pleasure to read for them. Getting the gig…I was over the moon.”
We saw the initial rising of Julius earlier this season, and Paunovic says while we won’t see much more of that history in Season 1, he expects it will factor into the second season. “I thought the character introduction was such an interesting thing because you get to see how vulnerable and weak Julius is and then it moves right into the rising and he basically starts the rising. It’s such a vulnerable start [vs.] how he’s seen in the rest of the show. I feel like Julius wants to lead; he’s very much a rogue. His thirst for blood is just as powerful as his thirst for power,” he explains.
“He wants to lead through fear. He feels like, ‘If I have Vanessa, I will lead.’ Dmitri is extremely powerful and he’s been leading the whole time, and Julius feels like it’s his turn, and he wantsÂ to do it his way. I think you’re going to see [in the second season] how it unfolds for him and his back story and why he is the way he is.”
“Even though he’s as vicious as he is, it comes from a place where he’s experienced something while he was human that he needs to be this strong and powerful to protect himself. It’s based on some sort of fear and I’m hoping we get to see why he needs to be who he is and wanting to keep that strength.”
Paunovic isÂ thrilled with the renewal, and loved shooting the first season in downtown VancouverÂ this pastÂ summer. “It’s so exciting. It’s been such a blast. I’m so happy I get to play with these guys again for another season,” he shares. “Because we were shooting in the summer, the best thing in the world [was that]Â I could ride my bike [to and from work] and just really take in the day. It was absolutely amazing. I was so blessed I got to experience that.”
Paunovic gets recognized for a variety of roles, but one of his funniest moments was an encounter at the Mayweather-Pacquia bout in Las Vegas when he wasn’t sure what was up when a guy started staring at him before the fight. “I’m standing there. I just bought a beverage. I see this guy just eyeballing me [and I’m wondering if]Â he wants to fight me,” he laughs.
“He was just looking at me kind of aggresively. He starts walking over, and I put down my beer [expecting a fight], and he says ‘I love you on f-cking iZombie,’ and he walked away. I died laughing. I didn’t think I’d even be recognized for that. I thought I was going to get in a fight and he was all [about] the love.”
Earlier this year, Paunovic guested on Supernatural, his third time out, and third role, so he has a unique perspective on the stages of the show’s success and growth, and nothing but praise for Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki and the family they’ve created.
“I was in Season 2Â in a smaller teaser part and came back in Season 6 [in] a bigger part and then Season 11 and I was a big guest star, and that felt like the best progression. [Jensen and Jared and I] immediately hit it off. There’s only one reason a show [goes for] 12 years. They’re theÂ best hosts you could ever get for a show,” he says.
“They treat everyone like they’re family and they’re important. You always feel like you’re the onlyÂ one in the room. That’s how they make some great performances. They put everyone at ease. Everyone talks about them and excels and brings it to other shows. They don’t even realize how they’ve affected the city with how that conduct should be. It’s a testament to their friendship on and off camera and how they treat their fans. I was so blessed to strike up a friendship with them.”
“Playing Gunnar was such a blast. I got to do the wrestling and I got to act big, and I got to act emotional. It was such a big scope of who Gunnar was..,and they allowed me the creative freedom [to do that]. That’s probably one of my favorite characters. It was so much fun.”
“There’s the scene where I first come out when I’m about to wrestle and Jensen is getting all fangirly. We must have shot that about ten times. Each time I cracked up. When [the camera isÂ behind me], I’m cracking up because I can’t handle it. He’s hilarious. I feel like I fangirl when I talk about then. I can’t say enough about them and their team. There areÂ families that have come out of that, kids that are 10 years old. It’s a blessing for them and their crew to be around in Vancouver.”
Paunovic has also been busy on the festival circuit with the short film, Ganjy, about a boxer stricken withÂ pugilistic dementia, co-starring familiar Canadian actors (andÂ Continuum co-stars) Ben Ratner (who wrote and directed) and Zak Santiago and Wayward Pines‘ Donny Lucas, and the feature film, Numb, co-starring The 100′s Marie Avgeropoulos,Â for which heÂ recently received a UBCP/ACTRA nomination.
Ganjy arose out of Ratner and Paunovic spending time with Muhammad Ali in Vancouver in 2009. “[We met him]Â and were talking about how impactful that was. He was very clear and coherent, but his motor skills were gone. It was a gift for us to take care of him for a little bit. We felt like we gave back a little bit,” he says. “All of us have boxed, and we have people in our lives who have pugilistic dementia and it’s over the love of the sport. It’s in your bones.”
“We didn’t have to do any research [for Ganjy].Â We were all a part of that story. I was just happy we were shooting it. The fact that people are [now] interested in financing a feature is gravy. I was justÂ super happy we got to do it with the guys I wanted to do with it. Everything happening right now is so unexpected and appreciated.”
Numb wasÂ just released on VOD and iTunes in Canada and they’re looking at U.S. distribution. “We were really happy with the festival circuit. We were in the mountains in the winter and it was a tough shoot. Because it was an indy, there were a lot of people working on their jobs for the first time because that’s how you get better,” he says. “I love that they’re getting thatÂ recognition and really good paying jobs and working in the industry and doing what they love to do.Â That’s a big joy. The nomination [is more exposure for all of them]. I’m thrilled that I got it, but it’s about the film for me.”
Paunovic hit the VancouverÂ stage last month in a short run of Bug and enjoyed tapping those muscles. “I’ve done one play before and it scared the crap out of me, but I think it took my career to a different level because I was allowed to be scared. When I rolled over that hill of something that was really tough and vulnerable for me, it wasÂ intuitive in my bones,” he says.
“I [just] worked for three and a half years straight and I needed to get scared again. Stuart Aikins approached me and asked me to be a part of [the play]Â and I jumped at the chance. It gave me a new shot of adrenaline. I think everyone should do theater. I think it’s an amazing thing for every actor to get scared a little bit.”
Paunovic has enjoyed working across TV and film with this recent nonstop jag of work. “I had a blast doing a lot of different roles,” he says. “I personally love doing a bunch of things and finding the humor, vulnerability, and tragedy. I’ve been really fortunate.”
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