You may have seen Aleks Paunovic as Breachman Boki Boscovic in TNT’s series Snowpiercer, but he’s so much more than meets the eye. Dubbed the King of the Sci-Fi World with myriad of credits including Battlestar Gallactica, Supernatural, iZombie, War for the Planet of the Apes, and Jason Momoa’s SEE for Apple+, the Winnipeg, Canada native knew from a very early age he was destined to tell stories.
Describing himself as “creative, compassionate, loving, athletic, and a people person,” Aleks is here to make sure everyone around his environment is having a good time, or at least feel like they are in a safe place if they just want to talk. He states, “I’m a fan of a positive fun environment, but I also recognize if someone just needs an ear to chat.”
Whether it’s with his fists as a boxing champion, with his instrument as a musician, or through his roles in acting, Aleks is a scholar in all that he does, proving you don’t have to be boxed into any one thing. Being the descendent of 3 champion boxers instills in him unwavering passion, razor sharp focus, and the work ethic to achieve nothing short of greatness.
In fact, it was during his days as a member of a rock band where he was “discovered” while performing on stage, consequently asked to audition for HBO’s Heads—his first acting role that catapulted his career to the next level. Flaunt caught up with Aleks via Zoom, who splits his time between Vancouver and Los Angeles. Read below as we discuss his roots in Canada, balancing 3 careers, love for music, his role in Snowpiercer, what he feels when he acts, why it’s important to uplift others, anti-bullying, best advice from Anthony Hopkins, goals, and more!
What was it like growing up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada?
My parents immigrated from the old Yugoslavia. My mom’s Croatian, my dad’s Serbian. They ended up in Winnipeg. We weren’t well off at all– an immigrant family just scraping by. My dad was working up north so he was away from the family for 3 months at a time, and my mom was cleaning offices trying to put food on the table. This is one of the reasons my parents would push us to get better and do better, especially my mom. She led by example because she went from cleaning office buildings to owning her own travel agency, which was a dream for her because she always loved traveling. Not only did she start working at a travel agency but ended up owning her own business. I watched her succeed with her dreams, which really had an impact on my brother and I. My brother’s a doctor in Winnipeg, so we’re both pretty proud how the journey has come to fruition. It wouldn’t have been possible without the love of mom and pop.
Your dad was a boxer, you have 3 generations of boxers in your family. When did you fall in love with it?
I boxed my whole life, I’ve always had boxing in my family. As time went on, my dad and I didn’t have such a great relationship, like a lot of teenage sons and fathers. I absolutely love boxing, but doing the sport I love, also meant having to be around the tumultuous relationship with my dad. I was a testosterone filled kid, what do you expect. [laughs] As time went on, our relationship got even further apart. I decided to do what he loved to get us closer together, so I started training so we could hang out, and he could teach me. I had matured more, so we became able to have some sort of relationship. He trained me…I had some fights and we bonded. It was great for not only me, but for the family because it got him into the gym and into training kids. He still does that till this day, it’s pretty great.
Talk about your love for music as well, you’re part of the rock band Specula Black.
Yeah, I love talking about music and making music with my boy! A few months ago, we released a 5-song EP of old songs we recorded 30 years ago. We remastered it and put it out on Spotify and other streaming networks. It was born out of our executive producer for Van Helsing, Jonathan Walker, who remembered I used to play in a band. He asked, “Hey, do you have a song that maybe we can put in Van Helsing?” That sparked us to remaster the songs. Now, we have a song in the Van Helsing soundtrack which is really exciting.
I started playing in bars when I was 14 years old. I know, I know, we aren’t supposed to be in a bar at that age but the staff would escort us off stage and right into our dressing room, so technically we were never in the bar—just on the stage. It was really great—we got to cut our teeth at playing live music at such a young age. I played with those guys well into my mid-30s, which is when I made the switch from playing music to acting.
Were you nervous auditioning for the HBO movie, Heads?
I actually wasn’t. A casting director watched me play one night and asked if I’d come in the next day for this role. Because it wasn’t anything I was pursuing, there was no pressure. I had my band I was playing with. Fast forward a bunch of years, now it’s something I do for a living. I get more nervous for other auditions than I ever did for my first one. I always use that first one as an example to not overthink it. Go in there, do the job, and get out.
What do you feel when you act?
I love telling stories. I love to find the cracks in the little idiosyncrasies that I can do some script analysis and really figure out what this character is. I love being able to tell stories in that way. I’m very much an emotional actor. I use things that affected me in my life and find a parallel in it, so I can tell the story as authentically as possible. I love exposing that within myself and learning from that. I love always trying to get better at my job.
Fast forward to 2021, you’re shooting TNT’s Snowpiercer. How has that whole experience been?
That whole gang has been absolutely phenomenal. Graeme Mason is a showrunner/executive producer of the show, who did Orphan Black, which I’m a huge fan of! It’s an eclectic, extremely talented cast. Massive ensemble…we work really well together. The scripts are phenomenal, and everyone’s been so kind. It’s exciting to be able to work on the set because in Vancouver where we shoot, the train is built within the studio. That’s been really interesting… to walk on set and see all of these train cars in different classes. You get to be in there and feel the environment. The storytelling again for Snowpiercer has been great. It’s been awesome, and I’m very grateful to be on this journey with such a great team.
What are you most excited for this season?
The evolution of my character BOKI, gets me really excited. Fans got to see the introduction of my character in Season 1. In this season, you really get to see and go through the gamut of emotions and physicality. It’s something I’m really proud of. When I started reading the script for Season 2, I was blown away at the way it was written, and the story that’s being told. I’m so in love with this character. He was originally a Polish guy named Harold. When I went in to audition (I like to improv once in a while), I decided to use my native tongue—which is Serbian.
I ended up getting the job and told Graeme, “Look just so you know, that’s not Polish. I’m improvising. It’s Serbian. If him being Polish is integral to the story, I totally get it. But if we could make it Serbian, then I can keep the Serbian improv.” He then says “well I wanted an assuming name, because you’re a big guy and Harold’s very assuming.” I had immediately thought of my brother who’s one of my heroes, my brother’s the best. I thought of my brother name and said “what about Bojan?” He hesitated a little bit, then I jumped in quickly with “my brother’s nickname is Boki… I said “what about Boki??” He says “Yeah, I love that, Boki,” And that’s how the character name was born. To me it makes it that much closer to home. I was able to pay homage to my brother, my background, my heritage being Serbian, and developing this character around the choices I made in the audition. It means that much more to me, very close to my heart. And I thank the producers for allowing me that gift.
You really believe in gratitude and uplifting others, where that comes from?
I’ve had 3 different careers. I played in a rock band.. Music was a dream. Songs were expressions, and story-telling. I love that! Even though I boxed when I was young, I didn’t compete until later, and at the same time I was playing in my band. So, Imagine this, I’m playing in the band, boxing, and starting to get into the film industry. I had 3 different lives so I really got to experience all 3 by serendipity, I love the word YES! I say yes to most things and then I figure it out later. There were some trying moments for sure. Think about it..It was really tough for me playing on a stage where tons of people are cheering, the lights are on me, holding the bass feeling like a rock star. Then that night, 2 hours later, I’m going to set—I was basically a gopher for the stunt team because I wanted to learn the industry.
The stunt coordinator Rick Skene and I became friends. I go from being this rock star on stage to someone yelling to me “Hey, grab that mat for that guy. Oh, and get me a coffee.” It was really a huge ego hit, but I knew I wanted to stick with it because I loved what was happening around me. There was something special happening and I needed to be a part of it. I love the idea of telling stories. For people coming into the industry, I understand the fear and insecurity. I had that at almost 3 different stages. There’s nothing like training for a boxing match. Right before you’re doing that walk to the ring, your mind is screaming “turn around, don’t do this. Why the hell are you doing this? This is insane, why put yourself in that position?” You walk through those doubts until you get to the ring and you face your fear. Its exhilarating!!
That experience helped me in film, and in life.
Support the people around you. Be with people that will make you better at life. I had great support but I also had a lot of doubters. People who didn’t think I could do it, people that made fun of me in certain areas, but you push through. For me, I really want to be the cheering squad for people trying to do something new, be creative and take a risk in their lives. That idea’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not about succeeding. It’s about falling down, getting back up and going for it. I’m a huge champion of people that are out of the box and try to live the best life they can.
Talk about being an advocate for the Canadian Red Cross anti-bullying, I know you’ve had your own experiences.
I’ve had experiences being bullied, it’s usually something very small—little moments that grow into something. I feel that most bullies don’t remember that they were being bullied. To make others around feel less than. It’s never about the victim of the bully, its’ his own ill equipped ways of dealing with struggles. Integral struggles that come with how you are raised and being able to talk about how you feel with someone you look up to and trust. When I look back and analyze the way I grew up I can totally see how some moments in my life I was probably a bully. And if I had someone I could talk to, and feel safe with to explain all these crazy emotions it would really make me be more compassionate to the people around me. When a young person is in a fear state, they lash out. We need more super-heroes like teachers (who should be getting paid much more) to be there and guide. Having peer groups to make it a safe place to share struggles. If we can do that and open the dialogue we can eliminate bullying in the world.
Talk about building the film studio in your hometown.
It’s definitely an uphill climb but we have a great team. Winnipeg’s where I grew up, they have an amazing talent and crew there. It’s the best tax credit arguably in North America. They have one studio and we thought another studio would really help out the city. Not only a place to shoot film and television but to have amazing instructors come in an teach the local community and create more jobs for our city. It makes me quite emotional visualizing cutting the tape to open this studio. I’m really excited to be working with Bill Sarine and Eric Mark from Los Angeles. We’re working with the city of Winnipeg, and we are really excited to see this happen!
Best piece of advice Anthony Hopkins gave you?
Oh man, his advice has been with me every day of my career. I asked him one day while we were sitting on set. I was nervous because my acting idle is sitting right across from me, but I can’t pass up this opportunity to get some insight from a great, so I asked him, “What do you have tucked back in your acting tool box that other people don’t? What’s the secret?” He was just looking at me, struggling with what to say.” I stammered, “The work you did in Silence of the Lambs,” and the whole time I’m talking to him my hand gestures going upward, “What did you do?” As I’m looking up at my hands that are above my head, “How could someone get there? I finished my rambling waiting for his holy grail of knowledge, and he looked at me and said “Well, you’ll never get there.” It shocked me. He then continued, “It’s because you are referring to what I do and what I am as something above you. You’ll never achieve what you want because you’ll always be below it. When you do this gesture, (he imitates my hands flailing) it’s something you’ll never obtain in your own eyes. What we did in the scene we just shot together, you and I were in the moment acting and reacting as a team. Never gesture anything above you because you’re hitting your head on the bottom of a pedestal that I never put there. You did. You’ll never get past.” That absolutely floored me, it really made me look at the process. Exactly what we did in the scenes we worked on is exactly what I’d do in acting class when I started. I was really excited to work in class and to learn. Here I am doing the exact same thing on a set with one of my legends. He really taught me not to put myself underneath anything.
Goals yourself as an artist at this point of your career?
One of the biggest goals is the studio. I’m determined to make it come true. And to keep telling stories. I love to explore different emotions, showing a little bit of humanity that can affect people. There’s a film I did called Personal Effects, where I played a mentally challenged man that was accused of a murder. I really wanted to be seen as an actor and not just a big guy because that’s what I was being cast as at that time in my career. I had to be brave to change my trajectory. And here was an opportunity to show my humanity, vulnerability, and the art. When we shot the film and I saw it in the theatre, people were really emotionally affected with my character. I had a sense of pride that I made someone feel what the greats made me feel. It was a beautiful moment. I just want to keep telling stories.