THE FIRST DREAM
Many moons ago, Paunovic was en route to fulfilling his family tradition of becoming a prizefighter. His grandfather, his father, and his uncle were all competitive boxers, and the big man from Winnipeg was eagerly following in their footsteps.
“I loved boxing so much,” he says. “I just have so much respect for the sport.”
That love and respect resulted in Paunovic spending the majority of his childhood in and around the ring, and with boxing in his DNA, he quickly rose to the top of the Canadian amateur scene.
As an amateur champion, he was poised to fight in the Pan Am Games, and hoped to someday go professional. Unfortunately, however, a serious shoulder injury stopped those aspirations in their tracks.
“That shoulder injury was definitely a catalyst to the end of my competitive boxing career,” he says.
This was a bittersweet time in Paunovic’s life. Spending less and less time boxing was certainly tough on him, but it also offered him time to focus on other passions. Perhaps a blessing in disguise, that shoulder injury he suffered in the pre-Pan Am Games is exactly what he needed for his next dream to become a reality.
THE SECOND DREAM
Toward the end of his days inside the ring, Paunovic was working on what would eventually become his second dream job: being a musician. The jam band he’d started back in junior-high, Specula Black, was garnering significant traction in the Canadian heavy metal scene, and the demand to see them began to grow beyond his nearby towns.
Eventually, he found himself on tour, playing in towns and cities across the country, ultimately leaving the boxing dream behind for a life on stage. “My focus at this time was solely on the band,” he says.
“We played, and we played, and we played — we played all over Canada and we had a really good thing going.”
Paunovic, Specula’s bassist, says the band was renowned for its live show. It was full of energy, excitement, and theatre.
“Our live show was talked about quite a bit, and we made a name for ourselves off of it,”
“It was such a fantastic feeling walking into a new town and seeing people who had heard of us. Playing and touring the country with all of my best high-school friends was the best thing I have ever done in my life. I cherish those times and all of the people who I met through the band.”
What Paunovic didn’t know at the time, however, was that this life on the road would eventually present him with the opportunity to chase yet another dream.
THE THIRD DREAM
Even with boxing and music occupying most of his time as a kid, Paunovic always kind of had acting in the back of his mind. His interest in theatrical performance was piqued way back in high school, when he participated in his school’s production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
While he admits he only ever got involved because he wanted some easy credits, he ended up enjoying himself so much that he began to ponder pursuing a career in acting. Several years later, as fate would have it, that dream would also become a reality.
While performing with his band in a Winnipeg- based venue, a casting director happened to be in the crowd watching. Paunovic must have played a hell of a show that night, because the performance was convincing enough for the casting director to approach him with an opportunity. “After the show, he asked me to come audition for some role,” Paunovic recalls. “I said, ‘hey, what the heck? Why not?’” At the time, Paunovic saw the audition as nothing more than an opportunity to do something fun and to try something new — he had no idea what might come of it. But it turns out he nailed it, and suddenly found himself preparing for a role on a TV movie called Heads.
“From there, I didn’t look back,” he says. “I really wanted to be a part of this industry for a long time, so I dug my heels in and I got to work. I studied really hard to make sure I could succeed. I really wanted to learn all the ins and outs of the industry.” To do so, he studied under esteemed acting coaches like Larry Moss and John Cassini, and did his best to surround himself with the people who could set him up for success. Well, 108 acting credits later, I guess you could say it paid off.
Paunovic’s story is somewhat of a Hollywood anomaly. Not only did he skip the starving artist stage that so many actors suffer through early in their careers, but he’s also Canadian. While, yes, there are hundreds of Canadian success stories in cinema, they are few and far between when juxtaposed against the rest of the world. “It’s definitely harder for Canadians to break into the Hollywood scene,” he says. While Paunovic defied the odds, he insists it wasn’t easy. In fact, in the early days, he ballparks that he was rejected from about 95 per cent of the jobs he auditioned for.
“There were a lot of ‘nos’ before the ‘yesses’ started coming,” he says. “Learning to deal with that sort of rejection was di≈cult in the beginning, because you really start doubting yourself. But, over time, you come to learn that it’s part of the business and you just have to move on to what’s next.” What’s next for Paunovic is a long list of shows, movies, and shorts he’s been working on over the past few years — among them is the highly anticipated summer blockbuster War for the Planet of the Apes and a new TV series called Van Helsing. While he’s sworn to secrecy on Apes, he says Van Helsing will be a hit with the fantasy and sci-fi crowd. Currently airing on the Syfy Channel, Paunovic stars as Julius, one of the lead vampires in a show that chronicles the story of Vanessa Helsing, a distant relative of famous vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing. Preparing for the role as Julius required Paunovic to bulk up. The showrunners tried to accentuate his muscles as part of a grand plan to make the vampires look as badass as possible, so he went through some fairly rigorous training to ensure he looked the part. This wasn’t the first time he’s had to undergo a major transformation for a role, however. Back in 2007, Paunovic put on 60 pounds of weight — “and not good weight,” he admits — for a role as a mentally challenged man in a movie called Personal Effects, which starred Ashton Kutcher and Michelle PfeiΩer. As a former athlete, the backwards transformation was hard on him.
“I was depressed, I was sad, my knees hurt, I couldn’t sleep, and I had a lot of judgment come my way from people who didn’t know about the role,” he says. “It would be difficult for me to fluctuate in weight like that again unless the right role came along.”
To pack on the pounds, Paunovic ate ice cream and drank mass-gainer shakes as often as every two-and-a-half hours. He’d set his alarm for 3:00 a.m. every day, and wake up in the middle of the night to consume a quick 8,000 calories before going back to bed. “I really had to force it down,” he says. “It wasn’t fun at all.”
On top of all that, he performed literally no physical activity for the months leading up to filming. But he did it all in the name of creating an authentic character. He didn’t want the character to appear strong; he wanted him to look extremely vulnerable. There’s a scene in the film where Kutcher’s character beats up on Paunovic’s, and Paunovic wanted to make it clear that his character doesn’t know how to take care of himself — that he would be easy to beat up. If you’ve seen the movie, then you know damn well his hard work paid off. Two months later, Paunovic took on a role as an ex-football player who took so many steroids that he’d become chemically imbalanced. Obviously, that meant he’d have to transform again. So immediately after set work on Personal EΩects wrapped up, Paunovic was training non-stop. He focused