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July 6, 2015, 1:14 PM  |  People

“We can limit ourselves so much when we think something is unattainable, that it’s different from who we are. But it’s not, you know, “ said actor Aleks Paunovic when I asked him about what it was like sharing screen time with Academy Award winner Anthony Hopkins.

“The movie I did with him is called ‘Go with Me’, and also starred Julia Stiles and Ray Liotta,” Aleks explained. “When I found out I was going to be working with Hopkins I had a good two weeks of ‘I’m going be working with Anthony Hopkins!’ I just wanted a moment where I could go up to him and say –you have influenced my acting so much, thank you for all your work. Just that.”

Aleks said that when he arrived on set he had rehearsed in his head ‘Sir Anthony Hopkins’, until Hopkins turned to him and said, ‘Hey, call me Tony.’

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Aleks and ‘Tony’. Photo courtesy Aleks Paunovic

“It was awesome!” he exclaimed. “We just hit it off. Even one of the producers said to me, ‘what’s it you say or do to Hopkins, because he loves you.’ I don’t know how that happened either, but it literally just kicked off with us talking about boxing and now we’re texting each other almost every week, just seeing how things are going. It just blows my mind.”

Before he relocated to Vancouver Aleks was already working in the film industry in his hometown, Winnipeg. He was a member of the stunt community and was in almost every movie that came to town. He found moving to Vancouver a bit of an eye opener and the unpredictable nature of the industry started to take its toll.

“I had a year when I just wasn’t booking,” he said. “I started questioning what I was doing and how I was doing it. It got to the point where I started to go into auditions, not as the person I knew I could be.”

He thought about his experiences being in a band and the confidence he knew he had from years of performing live on stage. He began to ask himself how the guy on stage was different from the guy going into auditions. Channelling his inner rock star, he began to walk into the audition room like he used to walk into a club before a performance – like he owned it.

His reinstated confidence lead to some dramatic career turns, but Aleks was still contending with what he saw as a sizable obstacle, one that dated all the way back to his first Vancouver audition.

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Aleks at Eastside Boxing in Chinatown. Photo by Shenpenn Khymsar

“It was a KIA commercial,” Aleks said. “I was told by a friend of mine to fudge my height on my resume (I’m 6’5”). I’m not going to get a lot of stuff at that height. I was new and green, and so I was like okay, so I put 6’3” on the resume. I ended up booking this KIA commercial – but I couldn’t fit in the car. It was such an embarrassing moment and I thought I was going to get fired. Then I realised what everyone was talking about. They were perplexed why I couldn’t fit. I found out they were upset because the car is supposed to fit someone 6’3” and here I was 6’3” and I didn’t fit. They didn’t question for a second if I lied on my resume.”

It was his determination, commitment and passion for his craft that eventually got him over that hurdle. “It was just about working, it was just about doing good work.” he said. “Then it got to the point where I’d fought my stereotype as the big guy who was going to beat up people. And then once I embraced it and wasn’t the ‘bad guy’ it became more about a character that is willing to go that much further for what he wants. And so then I started embracing that aspect of that character. I can do five, six, seven roles and then that one role will come where I’m not that bad guy and I don’t die in the end and I am the hero.”

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Aleks at Eastside Boxing in Chinatown. Photo by Shenpenn Khymsar

Now with nearly a hundred credits to his name the roles he has played have varied dramatically. Aleks now looks at the challenges they presented as inspiring. One particularly pivotal role for him was a character named Tom in the movie ‘Personal Effects’ also starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Ashton Kutcher and Kathy Bates. The role came at a time when Aleks was struggling with the feeling that he would always be typecast. He said that in his audition with director David Hollander for Tom – a mentally challenged man who has to defend his innocence when the girl he loved is killed – he felt for the first time he was really seen.

He said he had a similar experience when he took to the stage and starred, alongside Lori Triolo, in ‘Danny and the Deep Blue Sea.’ With director Jason Goode they embarked on a journey that Aleks said was both scary and amazing, but even then he had little idea of the impact this performance was going to have.

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“Numb” went through four years of development before going to camera early this year.

Alek explained: “I had a family friend take me for a walk and say, ‘How do you do that? How do you let all of that rage out in your work and not have a residual effect? Because I have that rage and I’m scared to let it out.’ I told him I was just telling the story that we all go through. He was weeping when he said that he feels what Danny felt and he also felt tonnes of relief knowing that he wasn’t alone. That to me was just such a beautiful moment, that the art told his story and that he could pull me aside and be vulnerable like that. Those moments shake me to the core.”

Alek became friends with director Jason Goode after working with him on two short films and ‘Danny and The Deep Blue Sea’. They began looking for more projects to team up on. Aleks said Jason approached him with the character Lee, from the screenplay ‘Numb’, written by Andrew Harden. Aleks took on the role and a producing position on the film. The film went through four years of development before going to camera early this year.

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Aleks at Eastside Boxing in Chinatown. Photo by Shenpenn Khymsar

Aleks said that in addition to the usual challenges of indie filmmaking they had to battle with the elements since 90% of the film was shot outside during the winter months in BC’s snowy interior. But despite any of the obstacles presented Aleks claims it was a thrilling experience.

“I got to be involved in everything as opposed to just watching it,” he said, “I didn’t realise how much I would enjoy it. It was tough but it was so great. I was waking up at 4 a.m. in the morning and going to bed at 9:30 or 10, but I was always up a few minutes before my alarm clock I was so excited for the day.”

After hearing how his career choices have impacted and shaped him to date, I was still curious about what he took from his experiences with Tony (Anthony Hopkins).

Aleks just laughed and told me, “The craziest thing is that I was thinking – what can I take away from this, what can I learn from this experience? In the end it was that he demystified the idea that an Academy Award winning actor must be doing something different than I’m doing, something totally different that I don’t know yet. It was literally that he was having so much fun; he was childlike, as in ‘explorative’. It was just two guys jamming, working.”

“But the biggest shift for me has come through all of my experiences combined,” he said. “I have gone from, ‘I know I can do this and people just have to see it’ to ‘people have seen it and I’m doing it.’”

 

By Dani Kremeniuk

Photos by Shenpenn Khymsar

A very special thank you to Brian Grant and the whole crew at Eastside Boxing.

Gazette is a proud supporter of Aprons for Gloves 2015.

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