Interview: From 'Van Helsing' to 'Dirk Gently', Aleks Paunovic Is Having Fun

Between two starring roles in cult-favorite television series, acting in War for the Planet of the [...]

Between two starring roles in cult-favorite television series, acting in War for the Planet of the Apes, upcoming projects with Keanu Reeves, Laura Dern, and Liam Neeson, and producing a holiday horror film, we're surprised Aleks Paunovic had time to even speak with us.

The actor portrays the powerful vampire Julius on Syfy's Van Helsing, and appears as Wygar Oak in the fantasy world on Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency for BBC America. And after appearing as Winter in Matt Reeve's final Planet of the Apes film, his star is continuing to rise.

We caught up with Paunovic as both of his series are in the midst of their second seasons.

Aleks Paunovic Interview Syfy Van Helsing Julius

Let's start off with Van Helsing and your character, Julius. First, I've gotta ask you, is it fun to be covered in blood all the time?

The best first question ever. Yeah, honestly, it is. It's this weird, it's almost like why people have such a great time during Halloween, and they can just go off and do their thing. Honestly, it's a blast, I love it. It looks crazy and it's fun and it's really fun. There's times in the makeup chair we'll be going, "Oh no, no. Let's get me some more blood on this side of the cheek. Yeah, that looks great." It's almost war paint-ish, which is a blast.

Your character has kind of grown and grown in prominence, is there plans for the character to stick around for the foreseeable future?

Well that's the tricky thing about this show. It's so easy for main characters, so on the first season, a lot of people died, in the beginning of this season, a lot of people died. So, you never know. Knowing Neil LaBute, who is the showrunner, who has threatened to kill me almost every second episode, just to keep me on my toes, you never know. But I've been thoroughly enjoying this run and this season of Van Helsing. I got to do a lot of stuff, and I got to play on the good side of things for a little bit, and I'm really enjoying it, and I'm grateful that they gave me the opportunity to play around in the second season like this and totally do a character shift.

Can you tease us anything fans can expect that's going to come up in the second season of Van Helsing?

Well yeah, there's a lot of twists and turns in this season. We're introducing some new characters, we're playing around with a little bit of mythology backstory of a lot of the characters, so they can expect a ride that definitely takes it to the next level from what season one did. Season One is basically setting everything up for Season Two, so it was a surprise to most of the cast when we read a lot of the second season scripts. We were just really excited because there was some innovative ideas and so I think the fans are really going to enjoy that.

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Between Van Helsing and Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, you are working on stuff that's based in kind of geek-dom, with Van Helsing being based on the Zenescope comic book and Dirk Gently based on the Douglas Adams stories. Is this something you kind of are drawn to yourself, do you geek out on comic books and other things like that?

I'm definitely a fan. I grew up watching my brother geek out on comic books, and he kind of took me under his wing a little bit. So I got to know comic books quite a bit. So to be a part of these comic book worlds, it is something that is a little surreal and I'm really excited about and fortunate that the opportunities fell my way and it kind of worked out that I could get involved. But definitely, I love the idea where you can develop a story and you develop an imagination reading comic books and then you find yourself basically in them. It's quite exciting for me.

Is there a dream role you'd see yourself doing in the future? Is there a certain character or property or movie universe that you'd like to play in?

I love the Marvel universe. I love the idea of an ensemble super hero thing. A friend of mine, Jason Momoa, who's playing Aquaman, he's kind of got my dream role right now, because he's a part of that amazing cast, great script, and he's having a blast like he always does. Yeah, a little bit of, "Oh man, I'm living vicariously through him."

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What was it that drew you to Dirk Gently originally?

Well, it was interesting, I watched the first season and, actually, somebody was telling me about the first season. I had kind of held off a little bit, and then I said I would get into it, just to watch an episode, and I ended up binge watching the whole thing. I missed a couple meetings. I stayed home. I could not stop watching the first season. I thought Max Landis and all the writers did a phenomenal job.

And then I was bestowed the opportunity to be a part of the show and to get the role, again, I just feel very blessed to be part of a world like that. Max is ... You know, sometimes it would take three or four reads of one script to go, "What is going on?!" And I would call a friend of mine go, "OK, help me out with this, because I don't get what's going on here," which is super exciting. You don't really know what's going on, and then you do a couple readthroughs and go OK, these are obviously hints to something that's going to happen in the later scripts. He definitely keeps us on our toes, and it was just fantastic to shoot something like this. He's so creative, and he lets us be creative, he lets the actors do their thing, so being a part of that and what those guys have developed and created has been one of the best experiences being a part of a full show. It's been pretty great.

When you looked at what your character would be, were you kind of just wondering, "How the hell is this going to tie in to the show?"

Yeah, well definitely. We got a little bit of a setup on how Wendimoor and the present day is going to collide, but I honestly didn't want to know what was going on. I loved just being a part of that Wendimoor, Princess Bride-type of world, because I've been a huge fan of Princess Bride and that's what it kind of reminded me of. Us being in our own world was really fun. It didn't even feel like we were part of Dirk Gently, but it did at the same time. It just felt like we were part of something that was really unique and special.

What are all the weird objects that are in your character's beard and your hair?

There's a lot of buttons, there's jacks, you know those jacks that you would play as a kid. There's a few times where, and I'm sure you might see these little goose eggs in the episode, where I just decided to stick a tortilla chip in there and just see if anybody would catch it. It's basically, you know, Max came up with the buttons and the jacks and I wanted more buttons and then they let me help create a little bit with more of a longer dread look. It's been a blast. We were shooting a lot in the summer so you're looking at 90 degrees and I had all that wardrobe on and it was pretty hot, but I would not sacrifice being hot for what the costume was, and I definitely loved being a part of that costume.

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Are there any hints that you can give me for the future of that. That looks like those worlds are colliding soon.

You know what, this is one of those things where, like, I don't know what I can or can't say, just because it's just so ... I don't remember exactly what has happened after reading the scripts, so when I'm watching the show, just like you are, I'm just as surprised. It's not like I know exactly what's going on. To watch it is, again, because some of the scripts are quite confusing. I was just like, "you know what, I'm just part of Wendimoor, let me just get my stuff done." There's going to be some really cool stuff, some amazing reveals, and especially when everyone gets together, I think that's going to be something that people are going to really enjoy. Everything is connected, remember?

You have a couple movies coming out. You have a project that's coming out with Keanu Reeves called Siberia. Can you talk about that?

I play a character named Ephraim, and I had to learn Russian for the role. So it was really great to be a part of that and learn a different language with a Siberian kind of dialect. We had a tutor on set. Obviously, not only do you have to learn the language, then you also have to know the language as if it was a part of your whole life, so just to embody it all. It was great. Keanu was phenomenal. It was so great working with him. He is exactly what everyone says, just a consummate professional, extremely nice man, and he was somebody that I've always looked up to and admired his work, so to get to have a chance to work with him was a pretty phenomenal thing.

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You're also working with another action star, Liam Neeson, in Hard Powder.

I basically play a detective in that film. I got to work a little bit with Liam Neeson and Laura Dern. Again, it's one of those things where you sit back and you go, "I've watched these guys their whole career and now I'm working with them." It was a surreal experience. They're extremely professional. I think that movie is going to be really fun to watch. It's a bit of, almost like a Fargo-ish type feel. A little bit of black comedy in there. I think people are going to really enjoy it. Just standup people to kind of work with. You love the idea that, you know, you just hope these people you admire are people that you can relate to and that are nice people and kind people, and that's what they were and I was really lucky to be working with them.

I have another movie coming out called Puppet Killer, I produced and starred in. It's a comedy/horror film. So that's a movie I really want to go out there. I think within the year we'll be releasing it. It's basically like a Christmas horror movie. I'm excited about that.

What did you take away from acting in War for the Planet of the Apes and how is it different from the other movies that you've done, other than the obvious reasons?

I think being a part of Planet of the Apes, what made it different was, usually when you're doing a film and you have the props, like if I'm doing a western, I have the gun on my hip, I have the whole world around me, I have the hat, the whole deal. With Planet of the Apes, we literally had to become... We did a month of ape camp, we had to become the physical embodiment of the primate, and also the emotionality, we really had to drop into. And that was a testament to Terry Miller and obviously Andy Serkis and Matt Reeves, who directed it, and all the actors.

We basically really had to use our imaginations and really had to convince you. It's not necessarily motion capture that we were doing, it was performance capture. We had to perform as if we did any other movie, but just had to use our imaginations a little bit more. That's what made it really exciting, really kind of dropping into this emotionality of a primate with its own insecurities, so everyone was working on the little insecurities that they would have within their bodies, and trying to drop everything and just be. And that helped me as an actor in other projects. Just literally being. And sometimes you get away from that when you do a bunch of other different projects and you go towards the tricks, or go towards the things that get you through each project. This was something that stripped away all of that and you just have to be an entity and Matt and Terry were fantastic with guiding us through that.

Aleks Paunovic can be seen in Van Helsing airing Thursdays on Syfy, and in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency airing Saturdays on BBC America.