IN CONVERSATION WITH ALEKS PAUNOVIC
Aleks Paunovic is set to topline and executive produce the first ever life action NFT series ‘GenZeroes’, which will be premiering April 13th. This is his second NFT project, with the first being the NFT feature film ‘Zero Contact’ opposite Anthony Hopkins. On television, Aleks stars as Breachman Boscovic on TNT’s ‘Snowpiercer’ and as the fan favorite Julius on Syfy’s ‘Van Helsing’.
Aleks, you always knew that you were destined to tell stories, whether as an amateur boxing champion, as a musician or an actor. How would you describe your very diverse and interesting career?
It’s not something I planned, it just kind of happened. I grew up in a family of boxers, but my dad and I never really got along. I took to music because that was something he wasn’t interested in and I realized “Oh, he doesn’t care about me doing music. This is great”. But I ended up falling in love with playing music with my friends and after school we would rehearse. So that just kind of happened, but I still loved boxing. I’d still have boxing in my life and as I got older, it was actually the thing that brought my dad and I closer together.
As time went on with me playing in a band, a casting director asked if I would audition for a movie. So I said yeah, why not give it a try. And then I loved that. I love trying new things and I wanted to keep that something that has been pretty consistent in my life, of just saying yes to almost everything and then figuring it out from there. And then either learning that I love it or learning that’s not something I wanna do, but at least I try. I feel like my career has gone this way just from saying yes and trusting people and I feel like I’m a good gage for people that I really want to hang out with, that want to move forward in life. That’s what I really did and it comes from my mom and my brother, watching them move forward in life and be around people that pushed them. I got pretty lucky that my career has gone the way it has, but it took a while to get here. It took a long time, because it’s not like I’m an overnight success or I was very successful in all those ventures in my twenties. It was a lot of years of just doing what I love to do.
When you were a member of a rock band, you were asked to audition for the HBO movie ‘Heads’, which set you to take Hollywood by a storm. How was it going from performing on stage to auditioning for movie roles?
I love playing on stage. I love when you’re on stage playing in a band and you’re elevated. You’re up, so people are looking up at you, you have the lights making you look good and you have the sound speakers making you sound good. And everyone is there loving the band, you have a little bit of help everywhere. Going into an audition, it was difficult for me because it was just people on the other side of the table. And then me performing, nobody was really coming to look at me like this. They were just like “Let me see if you’re good for the role”.
It was hard for me to make it happen, but then it clicked in my head. I remember what I would feel like when I would go to the show, before getting on stage, just walking in the bar or walking in the club and seeing people I haven’t seen before, but I know I’m about to go play and I feel invincible. When I walked into the bar, I had almost like a secret and power that the people that don’t know me will see me up there and go “Oh, that’s the guy that just talked to us”. So this was my mindset. I have to go into the audition room like I own it, like it’s mine and that’s when it started to really come around for me. I started to get more work when I got out of my head and forgot the insecurities that were in my head when you go in and you’re trying something new. I was lucky that I had that in my life that I can put a parallel to. So, it was difficult, but I found a way around it. I still get nervous in auditions and I love that. I love being a part of that.
Do you still occasionally perform as a musician? What is the most satisfying thing about music for you?
I do still play once in a while, but I haven’t played in a long time. I think the last time I played with my old band guys back in my hometown, in Winnipeg was almost a year and a half ago. But we just finished recording a new song. We have Spotify and YouTube, our music is all out there, our band’s called ‘Specula Black’. We should be having that new song up soon, which I’m really excited about.
The most satisfying thing in music for me is that I love telling stories. I love music that has stories and one of the best things I really enjoy is when you have four or five people with different instruments and you gel together to make this one sound and that one sound can invoke an emotion of energy, of anger or sentiment. I love when four or five people get together and make something. Like an orchestra, which to me is just one of the most beautiful things ever. What’s satisfying to me is that you can tell stories through music, through five different individuals and that’s why I love playing in a band. I love what’s out there now, like that halftime show at the Super Bowl. That was absolutely amazing with all the rap artists and stuff. I love that stuff too, but there’s something about holding an instrument and making music that I really love.
As a big fan of living on the edge, what are the most adrenaline things that you’ve done in life, would still like to do and which one is your favorite?
Honestly, nothing gives me more adrenaline than when I’m about to get into the ring and spar with somebody. Not a fight, the fight is a different feeling and it’s adrenaline rush, but even getting in and putting the headgear on and sparring with somebody there’s still this adrenaline rush of you’re about to get into a fight. It’s intoxicating to me. It’s weird getting punched in the face, there’s something that makes you feel alive when you get punched in the face. But that adrenaline will never stop for me. I’m over 50 years old and I still love going to spar in the gym with guys that are 22, 23 and beat me up a little bit. There’s something so exciting about that adrenaline of what’s gonna happen.
You’re doing NFT projects as an actor and as a producer. Tell us more about what NFTs. What was it that got you into NFT projects?
I’m still trying to figure out NFTs. it’s one of those things that it came to me strictly through the entertainment aspect of it, not the NFT aspect of it. I’m in the middle of shooting a second movie of a project called ‘Zero Contact’ with Anthony Hopkins. And that’s a NFT movie. What that means and how it’s distributed is not my forte, my forte is making the contact. So from that experience, ‘GenZeroes’ producer Neil Stevenson-Moore came to me and asked me if I would be a part of this new Sci-fi series, to help produce it and write it and get the team together to make it a NFT Sci-fi produced content for House of Kibba, which is the parent company that really wanted to venture into live action Sci-fi. We have a whole team that kind of explains the NFT aspect, but to have the opportunity to do a project that’s artistically driven and there’s something about the consumer having fractional ownership in it and being a part of the journey of making something and if they don’t like it, they can sell it off, I really think it’s interesting. Because when you rent a movie, you rent it for $8 or if you wanna buy it, it’s $25 and then you’re done with it. You bought it and it just sits there. With this, it’s like you’re paying for the membership to be a part of our community, but then you can also sell different things, like a trading card or different utilities that are involved. If you’re done with it, you can sell it to someone else and move on. I love that aspect that people can have this exciting time of making money and selling things off, but also having a fractional ownership of something that they actually like. So that idea and how it works is really attractive to me, that the artist is really driven by the content.
Why are the NFTs the next big thing in Hollywood?
I think it’s the next big thing because it is fractional ownership and artist driven. I think in Hollywood everyone’s still trying to catch up to understand it. It’s the same thing that happened when streaming happened. When it first started happening, people were like “I don’t get this”. But it went from these little projects on the internet to now Disney+, Apple TV and it has become the staple of amazing television. So I think NFT is in the beginning stages of something like that. That’s what makes it really exciting for me, that we could be on the ground floor of something that isn’t going anywhere, it is gonna stay. And it being so attractive to the artist and the consumer makes it that much better.
Your first NFT was a feature film ‘Zero Contact’ opposite Anthiny Hopkins, which gained such successful profit that you’re currently already filming the sequel. What can you tell us about the sequel at this point?
What I can say is that it’s more than a sequel, it’s a franchise. We’re shooting the second movie and the third movie at the same time. The first film was all done on Zoom. This was during the pandemic and we just wanted to be creative, so Cam Cannon, who is a writer for Enderby Entertainment, and Rick Dugdale, who is a producer director, came up with this script that we could actually do this type of movie. I didn’t have to leave my house, the set was my house. I love that aspect of filmmaking and what we are doing for the second and the third movie is we’re flipping it and we’re going to 12 countries.
Now that the pandemic is on its way out, we’re going to all these places in Europe and we went to Antarctica. That was our very first location. No one has ever shot a Hollywood scripted film in Antarctica. So we did some history there, which was amazing to be a part of. What I love about the second and third movie is that we’re now going to all these countries and making this film. And there’s something really special about it, because again, we were in one place for the whole first movie and now we’re going to 12 different places. It’s exciting.
As you said, the sequel was the first Hollywood film ever to shoot in Antarctica. How was it filming there?
It was unbelievable because there was a lot of things that had to happen for us to get there, which is why probably no one’s shot there. You have to go through a lot of things. When we got there, there was something so quiet and beautiful. Nothing lives where we were, there were no animals, there’s no plants, it’s just 7.000 feet of ice. It was very cold, but we were prepared. It was one of the most coolest, beautiful experiences.
There were things we couldn’t do, we had to have our goggles on all the time. You couldn’t take the goggles off for more than a minute because you could get snow blindness. We landed the plane just on ice, there’s no airport there, which is insane. We didn’t stay in a hotel, we stayed in tents, so we had to make sure everything was down and that we had warm clothes. It was 24 hours of sunlight, so we never saw darkness for over two weeks. It was all these new things that I’ve never experienced and I never thought I would be going to the Antarctica to shoot a film. I feel very fortunate and we get to work together with some amazing people. And Rick Dugdale, the director, is one of the best and most creative guys that I’ve ever worked with. I’m just excited we got the chance to do that and that’s something I can tell my kids about.
On April 13th ‘GenZeroes’, the first ever life action NFT series, which you produced, will premiere. What is the story of ‘GenZeroes’? Who is the main audience you believe the series will attract?
It’s the world’s first NFT Sci-fi, live action show. I come from Sci-fi, I’ve done a ton of Sci-fi, so I think our audience is so devoted. They champion each other and it’s really amazing to watch that. I just started to watch the NFT community when they do projects and to know that the Sci-fi community is gonna be a part of that and how welcoming they’re gonna be with the Sci-fi community is really exciting for me. The story takes place 200 years after an alien invasion and it picks up in 2222 when the aliens are long gone. What they did was they came and they took all the resources. They weren’t coming to the earth to kill, but if they had to, they had to. They just took our planet with all its resources and now for 200 years were slowly coming back with it. Even though the population isn’t what it was in the stone age, technology wise we’re very advanced because the aliens left a lot of stuff that they didn’t need anymore and we could re-engineer. The story takes place of 10 factions, 10 leaders of different groups that feel like the way they wanna see the world is the best way to see the world and how the world to continue. And that’s where the controversy hits and our story starts 200 years after that, that initial alien invasion. And then everything unravels from there.
How would you sum up the third season of ‘Snowpiercer’, that just premiered at the end of January?
It’s so interesting, because the first couple seasons you really get to see the class struggle and the takeover. And I’ve had enough, I can’t live in the back of the train anymore. The struggle was always there, but now you see it differently in the third season. The leaders emerge from this. It really kind of goes into a different way because we start seeing that the world is warming up now and that you can actually live outside. So finding all these new places to go and not staying on the train, on ‘Snowpiercer’, is really exciting in season three.
You’ve played Ivan, the famed leader of the Tracksuit Mafia on ‘Hawkeye’, based on Marvel Comics, that ran on Disney+ at the end of 2021. What makes ‘Hawkeye’ stand out from all of the Marvels?
I loved all the series that Disney+ and Marvel have been doing. I think what makes Hawkeye a little different is that he’s just an everyday man that just wants to be with his family and that whole reluctant hero, the person that doesn’t wanna do that stuff anymore, but has to because he has to save his family and he has to save New York from this new vigilante. When you’re a reluctant hero, that’s just really appealing to me. And there’s no superpower involved, it’s just a normal dude that has extraordinary circumstances around him. I think it also makes it different because it was a Christmas show and it wasn’t so much about having superpowers. It was more about a normal guy doing normal things. And the relationship between Jeremy Renner and Hailee Steinfeld is amazing in it. The comedy’s amazing in it. It being set at Christmas just made it that much more special. It’s six episodes and it takes place in six days, so it’s this linear thing that kind of moved forward. I like that kind of storytelling.
Besides your NFT projects your filming schedule is very busy these days. Which upcoming projects are you most excited about?
I’m super excited because I’m as an executive producer and an actor on ‘GenZeroes’. We’ve been coming to work from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM, we’re designing weapons, costumes, what the show’s gonna look like. For me being an actor, I usually just come in, say my lines and I leave. I’m not a part of the whole process. And it’s exciting to be a part of the whole process and seeing everybody work so hard to make this the best show that we can. I’m most excited to be a part of that from day one. And obviously going back to shoot with Anthony Hopkins is exciting. It’s just been a very blessed, exciting time for me, but ‘GenZeroes’ is the thing that I’m extremely excited about right now.
NTERVIEW BY JANA LETONJA
Photography: Ben Cope
Styling: Jules Wood
Grooming: Michelle DeMilt for Celestine Agency
Editor: Timi Letonja