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Exclusive: Aleks Paunovic Talks Van Helsing

Aleks PaunovicTonight Syfy airs the eleventh episode of its unique vampire series Van Helsing, "Last Time." Earlier in the week, SciFi Vision talked to Aleks Paunovic about playing Julius, as well as a bit about some of his other upcoming projects. Following the interview is also a preview of the scene he talks about in the article.

SCIFI VISION: First can you talk a little bit about how your first got involved with the show?

Aleks PaunovicALEKS PAUNOVIC: I already had a relationship with [executive producer] Simon Barry, who did Continuum, and I did the last season of Continuum. Van Helsing was shooting in Vancouver, and they had the casting in Vancouver, and anything Simon does I’m such a fan of. And then Neil LaBute, it was just like “Are you kidding me?" Like you have to have it repeated a couple of times. "Wait a second, Neil LaBute?" [laughs] So him being involved with it with Simon was just like a mind-blowing experience, and I needed to get in on that. So I was literally at the stage of like, 'I don’t care what I do on that show, like if I’m even just getting them coffee; I just want to be around them and learn, if anything.'

And obviously I wanted to be a part of it, and there was a casting session, and I ended up getting the opportunity to read for them. They liked what I did, and Julius arrived.

Obviously Julius wants to be in charge of all the vampires, but does he have specific plans or and end goal other than just taking over? Can you talk about what his plans are?

I think the overall aspect of Julius is not only the take-over-the-vampire stuff, but to take over, period. He wants to control the food source, and he wants to control the power, and I think that comes a long way with - you know, I discussed backstory with Simon and Neil. We talked about where this character can go, how it could evolve, and how people could understand why he has this thirst for power. And I mean, I think his thirst for power overrides his thirst for blood, and I think that’s something that will be revealed in the second season, but there’s definitely a through-line in there of why he does what he does and why he’s so vicious.

Can you talk about filming your favorite scene and why it was your favorite scene?

Aleks PaunovicOne of my favorite scenes is from [tonight's] episode with Magdalene (Gwynyth Walsh). You know, [in the last episode] she goes into Eden, and she gets the jars of blood from Micah (Tom Cavanagh). There’s a fantastic scene that Simon Barry directed, where I confront her with her not giving me what I wanted. And it’s a really cool scene for me, because it was written one way, and Simon and Neil are just so generous with the actors that they let us play. You know, we’re a bunch of episodes in, and he really gave me the permission and the confidence to just play and build a scene around the beautiful scene that they wrote. So, it was a great amalgamation of ideas.

And there’s a scene where she’s up against a tree, and that’s one of my favorite scenes, just because of the creativity that they allowed, and they let me play, and we just jammed - because I come from a music background, so to create a song, you jam: you just start playing; you just start feeling what the instrument does and play along with the other guys, and then you have this rapport, and you build a song. To me, I love doing that with scenes too, and having it allowed to be played was an amazing thing that Simon gave me, as opposed to just kind of going with the script. Sometimes you need to play a little bit, and that scene was one of my favorite scenes to shoot.

You’ve used a lot of blood effects so far. Can you talk about working with some of those practical special effects?

I love the aspect of using tangible things and making it a part of the character and a part of the scene. So, regardless of how it plays out, when the director yells "cut," and I’m covered in [blood], honestly, I feel like a kid in a sandbox, covered in sand, covered in mud, playing in the mud, splashing in puddles. Literally, that’s how much fun I’m having with this show and this character.

And whenever I get into other shows, it’s just the practicality and the tangibility of the things that I can play with, that are around me, that I can use within in the scene. I just feel like a kid in the sandbox; it's awesome.

Is there anything you read or researched or anything about vampire lore or Van Helsing lore before you started playing your character to get into that world?

Aleks PaunovicThat’s interesting, because it was such a reinvention that Simon and Neil and everybody that’s a part of Van Helsing did, that I wanted to stay away from any of the folklore and any of the literature of Van Helsing. I wanted to get some fresh eyes on it.

So once I got some of that happening, then I dove into a lot of war history stuff, a lot of survival stories, more than a vampire story. And I started to really look into what people would go through, and what did they sacrifice internally and ethically to get what they want. And I feel like there was a lot of Julius in that; his thirst for power overrides everything, and I feel that that’s the same as a survival thing. And then, just really putting it under a magnifying glass and [multiplying it] times ten, is what I think Julius’s thirst is.

I know you’ve done a lot of different science fiction type roles. Are you into that genre? What type of stuff do you like to watch when you’re not acting?

I definitely am into a lot of that stuff. I love the creativity that a lot of shows come up with. One of my favorite shows is Ray Donovan, and it has a boxing background, and it’s real life, but I love the idea of great characters and visceral characters, and then you throw them into a sci-fi world, where anything is possible, and you carry along with that story that’s out of the reality that we know; those are the ones that really interest me. Like Firefly, I’m a huge fan of, and Battlestar Galactica, those kinds of stories, where you’re along for the ride, you’re discovering as they are discovering. So, I really enjoy that aspect of storytelling.

And that’s why I really loved being a part of Van Helsing. I love it, because Neil LaBute comes from such visceral, deep, character-driven stories that he writes, and then Simon Barry does the same thing, but he builds these worlds like Continuum. And then you amalgamate those two guys together to create Van Helsing, and I’m just super fortunate to be a part of it.

Aleks PaunovicI didn’t even think about it at first, but you were in iZombie, which made me laugh, because your character’s name was Julien, which is almost the same as in Van Helsing, [laughs] but, just as something different to ask, you’ve been a vampire and a zombie; is there another kind of supernatural creature that you haven’t played that you’d like to?

That is funny! Yeah, the similarity in the names is hilarious, right? [laughs] I loved iZombie. iZombie was so fun to work on. I don’t know...maybe a werewolf? I don’t know. [laughs]

At least in those two series, you played the "bad guy." Do you enjoy that more than others type of roles, or does it depend on what the role is and just if you can get into it?

Yeah, it usually depends on what the role is, but for me, I am nothing like the bad guy role. I live in a very joyful, loving world. I like to go around exuding that. So, to be able to kind of flip over and let that beast out that everyone has - everyone has a little bit of them that can go to that extreme - for me, I find it just more challenging going to the darker side, and then find it more creative and more cathartic of just finding the truth behind who these guys are and why they’re doing what they’re doing. And it’s harder work, and I just love that aspect of it, when I get to really switch over. And then the director yells "cut," and we’re all like joking around, and then we go back into it. So for me, I enjoy playing the humanity of someone who’s willing to go that much further than anybody else.

You said that you guys joke around. Do you have any funny stories from the set, or do people play pranks, or do you have just any kind of story that’s a good anecdote for behind-the-scenes?

I think it's just more us taking-the-piss out of each other type of thing, and having fun. Like, I love the idea of when we get to the trailers it says, "Julius’s Crew" for all the vampires that are under me. And so, I have friends that are stunt guys that come in, and I make them call me Julius all the time on set, and they’re like, "I’m not calling you Julius!" [laughs] And I’m like, "You have to call me Julius. It says it on your door; you’re my crew." So we just bust each other’s balls with that stuff. [laughs] It’s pretty funny.

Aleks PaunovicDo you have any other projects coming up, other than season two, that you want to talk about?

I just won an award in Canada (UBCP/ACTRA Best Actor Award), which I’m really proud of. It’s a Best Actor award for a film that I was an associate producer for and starred in, called Numb. So, I’m excited about that, because I’m so proud of the film, and then, getting an award for it for best actor was pretty great. I was shooting in New Mexico on a project that I can’t talk about now, so I couldn’t be at the awards show, because I was working in New Mexico. So it was kind of like, all these amazing things, all at once.

And then, I have War for The Planet of the Apes coming out next summer, which I’m excited about that too.

And I did a film that I executive produced and starred in, called Ganjy. It’s a short film that we’re about to turn into a feature, and it’s about pugilistica dementia. It’s basically a boxer, twenty years after he retired. The effects of those punches really got to him, and his friends get together to try to help him. And I come from a boxing background, and everyone involved in the film comes from a boxing background, so it was pretty emotional for us, and something that’s already in our core. And to tell that story, written by Ben Ratner, who also plays Ganjy, I’m super proud of that one. So, just some really great things going on, and I can’t wait for people to see them.

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