Some actors break into the big leagues with some of their very first roles and burn out not long after. Some, unfortunately, never really make it beyond bit parts and commercials. Others, like Canadian actor Aleks Paunovic, build a steady career with solid roles, varied characters, challenging projects, and earn themselves an impressive resume with over one hundred film and television credits.
Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Paunovic was initially a musician in a heavy metal band when he was offered a role out of the blue in the 1994 TV movie Heads. That role lead to him being bitten by the acting bug hard, and he’s combined his talent and athleticism to build himself a life as a steadily working actor in Vancouver, British Columbia. He’s been seen in everything from Battlestar Galactica to 2012’s Hollywood film This Means War, and recently had recurring roles on iZombie, Continuum, and the upcoming Van Helsing series.
Now Paunovic can be seen alongside Anthony Hopkins, Julia Stiles, Ray Liotta, and Alexander Ludwig in the suspenseful thriller Blackway, about a young woman being stalked by a crazed ex-cop turned violent crime lord. The Hudsucker recently sat down with Paunovic to talk acting, his career trajectory, and all things Blackway.
The Hudsucker: Growing up in Winnipeg, did you ever imagine you would become an actor? How did your family feel about that career path?
Aleks Paunovic: The last thing I ever thought I was going to be was an actor, even though I performed quite a bit. My big passion at that time was playing music in a rock band and boxing competitively. I was asked to audition for a movie while I was playing in my band, so I thought I would give it a shot. I ended up booking the role and fell in love. The acting bug bit me on the butt! [laughs] My whole family was super supportive of my dreams, and even though it was tough watching me struggle through the early days, they stuck with me. I’m grateful for that.
The Hudsucker: Was the decision to switch from playing in bands to acting a difficult one?
Paunovic: The decision to switch careers wasn’t necessarily difficult, but it was scary. Even though it was something that I saw myself doing, and liked telling stories, I just didn’t know if it was the right path for me until I actually jumped in the pool and tried it. I think the thing that help me make that choice was this guttural, visceral feeling telling me that I just had to give it a shot instead of saying to myself years later, “I wish I would’ve tried it.”
The Hudsucker: Why did Vancouver appeal to you as an actor?
Paunovic: I had a great friend named Scully that I used to play music with in Winnipeg who moved out to Vancouver and started writing screenplays. We started writing together, and I saw that it was something that we could be really great at doing together. Unfortunately, he ended up passing away. I think about him every day because he’s one of the most creative people I’ve ever met. I just want to come close to his level of creativity. He was one of my best friends. His creativity inspired me to give Vancouver a try.
The Hudsucker: Have you had any defining moments as an actor that made you the performer you are today?
Paunovic: I think one of the most defining moments of my career was when I finally got to do a play called Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, by John Patrick Shanley. I did that play with my good friend and director Jason R Goode. Doing that extremely difficult play made me realize that I can tell stories to the very best of my abilities. Pulling off such a hard play and feeling like we did a good job really pushed my career over the edge. I felt like I could do anything.
The Hudsucker: Blackway is opening across North America today! What can you tell us about your character, Skell?
Paunovic: Skell is the type of dude that really doesn’t want to rock the boat. He’s got a good thing going with Ray Liota’s character, and the last thing he wants is for somebody to disrupt the little empire that he’s a part of. So when someone comes in and tries to do exactly that, things get out of hand!
The Hudsucker: Blackway sounds thrilling and more than a little intense. What can audiences expect?
Paunovic: Blackway is a revenge movie. It’s a movie that shows what someone will do and go through, not only to help someone, but also to have some sort of vindication on their own terms. It’s a dark movie. And it makes you think: how far would you go?
The Hudsucker: What was it like working with the likes of Anthony Hopkins and Ray Liotta? What was the cast as a whole like?
Paunovic: This cast was seriously one of the best ensembles I’ve ever been a part of. I was super excited when I was fortunate enough to be offered the role, and was even more excited after working with everyone. Working with Sir Anthony Hopkins was simply next level. We became really good friends, texting each other and talking about boxing, and it was just such a pleasure. Julia and Alexander became friends as well. We just had a blast shooting the film. Ray came in a little bit later in the shoot, and his energy and personality were just next level.
The Hudsucker: Do you have any memorable moments or stories to share from the set?
Paunovic: I think one of the coolest things that happened on set was talking to Anthony Hopkins about boxing for about a half an hour before we shot our scene. That, to me, was just amazing. He’s so knowledgeable about the history of boxing, so we had a fun talk. Julia and I became fast friends as well. Actually, a funny thing that happened on set was when Julia dared me to wear a purse as if it was no big deal during a whole day of shooting. I wore it over my shoulder the entire day! At the cast chairs, during lunch, between shots—I took this purse everywhere as if it was no big deal, and I was getting looks from everyone! But I couldn’t break, I could not smile, and if I pulled it off the whole day, she would give me a hundred bucks. The money didn’t matter; I wanted to prove to her I could do i!. It was pretty funny, having all the tough transport guys looking at me with weird looks on their faces the whole day! Let’s just say that I had a nice expensive dinner and glass of wine that night! [laughs] Good times.
The Hudsucker: What other projects are you working on?
Paunovic: I just finished working on War for the Planet of the Apes. Matt Reeves was directing, and it stars the amazing Andy Serkis and Woody Harrelson. I’m working on a sci-fi show right now called Van Helsing, by Simon Barry and Neil LaBute. I cannot wait for the world to see what we’ve done with this reinvention of a classic tale. I’m also part of a project called Hoods, which is the reinvention of the Little Red Riding Hood story. It has a very smart script by Mya Aro. I’m excited about this one.
The Hudsucker: What’s next for you?
Paunovic: I’m in post-production right now for a film called Gangy. I’m an executive producer on it, and I starred in it as well. This is a film that’s really dear to my heart because it has to do with the time I met Muhammad Ali back in 2010. I met him with my friend Ben Ratner, who is the film’s writer and director, and he acts in it as well. We really wanted to tell this story and honor our hero. In light of his recent passing, being in post-production on the film has been challenging. But it’s also very rewarding as a final tribute and goodbye to the greatest boxer ever.