It’s no secret that Canada is filled with talented actors and the film industry is lucky to have us. As Canadians, we are humble, grateful, team players and we get the job done.
When we have to live with 5 months of snow, we tend to watch a lot of movies inside where it’s warm and cozy. We may not have as many opportunities as our big brother to the south but it just makes us work a little harder, which in retrospect is what we’re known for. Whenever I see a John Candy, Dan Aykroyd, Jim Carrey, Kim Coates, Ryan Reynolds, Neve Campbell, Rachel McAdams, Ellen Page, Donald Sutherland, Mike Myers, Christopher Plummer, Sandra Oh and Aleks Paunovic on the screen, I’m filled with pride and inspiration. This is just a fraction of the talent our country has to offer and every year the list continues to grow longer.
One very Canadian actor that continues to make his mark in the entertainment industry is the amazingly talented Aleks Paunovic. Hailing from Winnipeg, Manitoba he has fallen in love with acting and is leaving quite an impression in every production he’s been in. Incidentally, I also grew up in Winnipeg and we have lived parallel lives in a sense. He was a boxer in Winnipeg, as was I. He played guitar in a heavy metal band, I played the drums in a couple bands. He was discovered in Winnipeg and began his acting career there before moving to Vancouver. I was discovered by my girlfriend and was married there. That’s where the similarities end but it was so amazing to learn that we both have roots in a city we’re both still very fond of. Aleks considers Vancouver his home now but you can also find him spending much of his time in LA as well.
I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with him while he was there. Aleks has carved out a very successful career through hard work, dedication and his love for the craft. Known for his character in Van Helsing, Snowpiercer, The 100, Supernatural, Once Upon A Time and his latest film Cold Pursuit, where he acts alongside Liam Neeson. He is definitely one to watch as he continues to make us all proud. He stands 6’5” and still trains at a boxing club to maintain a great physic. He was a joy to talk to and was very gracious in answering our questions regarding his career and latest sure to be blockbuster Cold Pursuit.
Aleks began his first soiree into the industry doing stunt work. He was asked to do some stunt work on a film while he was still playing in a band. He would finish playing a gig at 2 am and then go to the film set because they’d be filming all night. In addition to stunt work Aleks would also shadow the crew around and gopher to learn as much as he could. After moving to Vancouver he wanted to focus primarily on acting.
“What brought you to Los Angeles?”
“LA is really the hub where everyone goes to find work and ‘be discovered’. I shied away from the discovery aspect. I just wanted to work at what I love to do. I come down to land meetings, work with the top acting coaches, try to find representation and keep moving as well as really honing my craft. There’s also the aspect of the quick flight between LA and Vancouver that I like. I really do love Vancouver and it is equivalent to how much I enjoy LA.”
“Having recently been in the film Cold Pursuit starring Liam Neeson, it really seems that the move has paid off for you.”
“I wouldn’t really call it a move, I’m in both places quite a bit. I’m a bit of a gypsy so I love being in both places. Work has kept me in Vancouver for shows like Van Helsing and Snowpiercer so it’s nice to work in both LA or Vancouver where I can sleep in my own bed. The script for Cold Pursuit was hilarious and I’m so happy to have been in it and to have worked with those pros, Liam (Neeson) and Laura (Dern).”
“Where did they shoot Cold Pursuit?”
“They shot it in Vancouver. I had put my audition on tape and made it known I was living in Vancouver. I come down to LA whenever I can, sometimes for meetings and to stay busy or see friends. If it calls for me to come down and I have the time then I will. Mostly it’s for the amount of work and I’m certainly not complaining. I really like to work, so I have the right mindset going in when I really like a project. I enjoy putting in the work as opposed to the energy of meeting someone. When I go into an audition, it’s like I’m giving them a gift. It’s kind of like Christmas and I’m a huge gift giver. I don’t wait for a response, I just really enjoy that I’ve had the opportunity to leave a gift on someone’s table. That’s how I feel when I go into an audition. I give them something and then I walk out. If I get the gig, great, but if I don’t that’s okay too because I want to do the best work I can.”
“Are you attracted to specific roles/characters?”
“I enjoy roles that challenge me from outside of who I am. I love my job and am quite a positive person and love being around positive people. I enjoy myself a lot but I also understand that everyone has an idea of every actor being typecast. You’re not going to see Tom Cruise playing a tough guy. Everyone has a typecast, it’s the nature of the business and that’s fine. I celebrate and give tribute to whatever my typecast might be. Playing the protagonist is quite fun for me because I’m not like that in real life so I have to do research for roles that are unlike me. Once and awhile I love playing roles that are like me but I love the idea of building a character where somebody will be surprised it was me playing that role. I love diving into that whole aspect of it and changing the whole game of who I am and researching a character and going deep.”
“Speaking of researching characters, I know that you had gained 50 lbs. to play a character. That must’ve been very difficult.”
“Yeah, it was something I felt compelled to do because I felt I was too strong for that specific character and thought I could go even deeper. I didn’t even do a push up for 3 months and would just eat. At three o’clock in the morning I would drink down a huge muscle mass shake of 5000 calories and go back to bed. It didn’t feel good at all. It was very hard to do despite everyone thinking it would be fun. It affected my mood but once we were shooting I was happiest because that’s exactly what the character was. Taking it off was really tough too. If I had to do it again I’d do it very differently. I’d consult a doctor and have him guide me.”
“Can you talk me through the process of securing your role in the movie, Cold Pursuit?”
“I was approached by my agency and requested to put a character on tape. I looked over the role and liked it. I put it on tape and they liked it. I got the call telling me I got the job. It was that easy. I wasn’t able to go into the audition room because I was working so that’s how it dropped. It was pretty seamless. Vancouver has a lot of talented people so I was definitely fortunate that I was chosen because it’s a phenomenal film.”
“What is your character like and can you tell me about the premise of the film?”
“He’s a detective in a small town. I really don’t want to give away any spoilers.”
“Understood. Are you able to tell me if it’s a dark drama or a lighter film?”
“It’s almost like a black comedy. It’s got its dark moments and it has its humour in peculiar places, almost like a Cohen brothers feel. It’s really smartly done.”
“Are there any directors you dream of working with?”
“I think James Cameron is an amazing visionary. There are a lot of talented directors I’d like to work with. I’d also love to work with Ford Coppola. I really enjoy the directors that allow the actor to open up. Some directors have a certain vision and want the character a certain way. For me personally, it tends to stifle the creatively and the depth I can bring to the character. I love a director that says, ‘let me see what you’ve got’. If it’s not what he’s leaning towards then they can redirect me. It’s the whole reason directors direct the way they want but also give the actor the chance to open it up and sometimes they discover a better way to portray the character they hadn’t previously thought of.”
“Have you ever done any stage work?”
“I have. I was in a play called Danny And The Deep Blue Sea. I was fortunate enough to be Nominated for Best Actor in Canada. It’s a brilliant play by John Patrick Shanley. I’d never done a play before and it was one of those roles that were a two hander and an incredibly massive character. Two characters that were broken, so there’s a lot of vulnerability and sadness, anger, tons of emotion, which scared me because it was such a big role for my first performance on stage. I had a lot of support and help from people around me, pushing me and working on the character and getting the help I needed to find the deeper character as well as being vulnerable enough to accept the outcome not knowing if it will go well or not. Once I was able to get past that I felt like I could do anything. The audition room wasn’t so small anymore. I almost felt invincible because I didn’t realize I had a ceiling until I did a play. I was acting in a box when I thought I was acting to the world. It showed me that there’s so much more out there and so much more to learn. It gave me this internal confidence every time I walked into a room. I started getting more work. I think theatre is one of the most important things you can do to challenge yourself because in most auditions you’re only doing tiny little scenes for television or film. You’re not often doing a three minute take but in theatre you’re doing 90 minutes and there’s no take two.”
“I had read that you actually turned down an opportunity to do some episodic TV to continue the run of the play.”
“It was my first multi-episode primetime offer, which financially would’ve been great and fun to do but it was one of those decisions I’m so glad I made. Money will come and go all the time but having the opportunity to do that play was the perfect time for it. I don’t think it would’ve worked out any other way and I’m glad I did it.”
“One last question Aleks. What’s the best thing about being in films as an actor?”
“The people. Getting to talk to people and create for people. One of my biggest things is watching people get affected. Whatever emotion comes up, if it’s laughter, sadness, if it’s vulnerability with tears. I love the fact that I can affect people in a way that regular life doesn’t get to do. The biggest thing about being in TV or a film is you’re working for 12 hours but you’re maybe getting only 30 minutes on actual camera. The rest is spent on rehearsal, so 98 percent of the time you’re around people working on a cohesive goal of getting this day complete and getting the shots done. You have to work together as a team, you have to explore and listen to ideas and you have to hold your ground and communicate. I love that aspect of it and love working with people in creating something that will affect an audience.”
After speaking with Aleks Paunovic, it reminded me that dedication and loving what you do is the real key to success. If it’s just another job you will never be rewarded, you will never be happy and you will continue to spin your wheels without ever getting anywhere. Aleks continues to raise the bar and is always looking to challenge himself. He embraces it and shows us that we shouldn’t be afraid of it. Living outside your own bubble is where you will grow and discover yourself along with new opportunities. We wish Aleks continued success and tremendous happiness in his chosen career!