Aleks Paunovic stands out in a crowd in many ways. At 6'5" tall, he quite literally towers over most people, but, honestly, it's his incredibly friendly and enthusiastic demeanor that is most memorable.
He is one busy guy and has been for quite a while. The odds are excellent that you've seen him on both small and big screens in his roles on TV shows like Van Helsing, iZombie, and Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, as well as films like War for the Planet of the Apes, Numb, and Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters.
Even just talking over the phone, it's hard not to get swept up in his passionate approach to the various projects he's working on and dreaming about.
Most recently, he's been winning (and breaking) hearts as Breachman Bojan "Boki" Boscovic aboard TNT's hit show, Snowpiercer. With the Snowpiercer Season 2 finale nearing and Season 3 filming already on the way, what does the future hold for The Last Breachman?
Paunovic spoke with TV Fanatic from an undisclosed location that was definitely not Vancouver, BC, Canada, where Snowpiercer films. So, what gives? Where's Boki in Snowpiercer Season 3?
"We're working that out right now. Timing-wise, it looks like I'll be back, hopefully, by the last half of Season 3."
Whew. That's a relief to hear.
"Believe me; I don't want not to do this character. I love this character so much. We're going to do everything we can to make this work."
With the infamously long post-production Snowpiercer Season 1 had, Paunovic has lived with and learned about Boki for over three years now.
It turns out it was a relationship that began right at the auditions where Paunovic, whose mother is Croatian and father is Serbian, improvised a Serbian accent for the Polish character he was reading for.
"So I did the audition and a few [callbacks]. Then, when I got the job, I talked to Graeme Manson and said, 'You know, it'd be really interesting if we could make this character Serbian so that I can keep the improv, and it'll be more authentic. But if it's integral to the story to keep him Polish, I totally understand.'
"And he thought it was interesting and wanted an unassuming name. So when I mentioned 'Boki,' he liked that. It was basically a tip of the cap to my brother because my brother's name is Bojan, and his nickname's Boki.
"To have this emotional and blood family connection with the name, with my brother, and keeping it Serbian, keeping the heritage, this character is so close to me; it feels like it is me. So there's something just really beautiful in that aspect of it.
"And then the evolution of the character. [He starts as] this boisterous, jovial dude who doesn't care about anything else except having fun and fixing the train.
"Breachmen are in their own class because it's the most dangerous job. To see the camaraderie between them, and [also] his devotion for Mr. Wilford because he's the one who kind of brought him into this and treated him like his own son.
"And so, while this is happening in the show, I get to really use the emotionality of it. Like, losing my Breachmen is something... They're family. They're more than family.
"So to see the evolution of the character from the boisterous, jovial guy in the first season to see the trauma he's going through, the pain that he's going through. It's just a testament to the writers and gives me a lot more to play with to tell the story of Boki."
Throughout Season 1, fans looking for more information on the show on IMDB found themselves staring at the cold and frosty face of Breachman Boki. Did Paunovic know that he was going to be the face of the show on IMDB?
"I did not know that! When I saw that on IMDB, and people were sending it to me, I was just like, 'Are you kidding me?!?' Yeah, I had no idea; it's pretty awesome.
It's easy to see why the image was chosen. While everyone else sees The Freeze as the end of their world, Boki just breathes in the cold, ready to do his job.
"It's one of those things I envisioned. This is where he's needed. That cold gives his life some meaning. He doesn't look at it as it being cold; he looks at it as being salvation.
"He's adapted to it because of the job he's been asked to do. When he's breathing in the cold, he's breathing in life; he's breathing in the meaning of his life on Earth.
"He's the only one that can do it, and your brain can switch gears like that, and just go, 'Okay. This is where I'm needed; it's the most dangerous job. I'm gonna take it, and I'm gonna love it.'"
Growing up in Winnipeg (aka WINTER-peg), Manitoba, Canada, Paunovic is familiar with true cold. Did that inform any of Boki's reactions to the -117 degrees Celsius temperatures Snowpiercer exists in?
"Absolutely! Honestly? There was a time when I was in Winnipeg with the guys in the band that I played, where we had to walk to our rehearsal hall, and it was freezing.
"But I remember the joy of going with those guys to the rehearsal hall and breathing in that cold air that frosts your nose hair, and roses your cheeks, and that feeling of doing something with other people. It was amazing even though it was so cold. That's definitely what I was envisioning during that scene."
(If you're curious about the band in question, Specula Black, check out the video above, recorded 30 years ago! They've recently released a remastered five-song demo on all streaming sites. Check it out when you have a chance!)
Snowpiercer has dramatically shifted gears between Seasons 1 and 2. Having been on board since the beginning, what is Paunovic's take on the changes?
"The first season was the revolution, setting everything up, understanding the classes. I think it's great how they did the show, where you get to immerse yourself in all three classes, and feel like you're a part of the Tail, feel like you're a part of First Class.
"And I think that gives a ton of lenience to the character development. So Season 1 was basically setting everything up and getting the vibe of each class.
"I think in Season 2, we understand the classes now, we understand the trials and tribulations, and now the revolution is looking for a better way to live, and everyone should live a certain way.
"For Boki and the Breachmen, the only reason why we're here is because of Wilford. We're not turning our back on Wilford. When it's time for us to make our move, we'll make our move, but right now, we're just sitting tight.
"You guys can do your thing. We'll come out when we're ready, and when we do, it's definitely going to be something that's going to be not forced upon us, like the revolution was trying to do, but it'll be our call. It all lies within Mr.Wilford for us. He is the man for us."
On Snowpiercer Season 2 Episode 3, Roche and Till venture into the Breachworkers' train car, humorously dubbed "Muscle Breach," according to the sign outside.
This is the first time viewers get to see all the Breachworkers together, in their own space. It had the vibe of a fire hall when firefighters aren't on a call in many ways.
"It definitely did! Definitely felt like that. I love that, I love that idea, [comparing it] with a fire hall, and now we're completely in the other realm, where now it's about the cold. We're fighting the cold, and not the fire, so it's kind of really interesting how they made that happen."
The camaraderie among the Breachworkers is a genuine affection that one cannot miss, whether in Muscle Breach or drinking in The Chains.
"It's interesting because I wanted that vibe. Cherry (Camille Ateve), she played her stuff so great, and I was like, we gotta feel like we're so comfortable in small spaces, and we have to be a family in this, and that's the only way to survive.
"We go out of our way to make sure it's a family. And I really tried, in between shots, and just talking to them before we would shoot, you know, just getting that touchy-feely thing happening.
"It's a group that is so comfortable with each other and loves being with each other and wear the emblem of Muscle Breach and the Breachmen on our chest. Like that, that to me, [means] they're lifers.
"I wanted to make sure that you see the relationships between everyone, how they love being together, and the physicality makes that something so visual. It was definitely something I thought about and wanted to make part of the show."
That use of physicality and proximity to convey emotion and relationships is something Paunovic has explored personally by performing live theatre.
In 2010, and again in 2012, he played the title role in John Patrick Shanley's play, Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, on stage to great critical acclaim.
An intense, dangerous foray into a volatile relationship, its use of tight spaces and big emotions is a lesson in craft Paunovic continues to use in his performances.
"Danny and the Deep Blue Sea! You're right. That was something that you just need to [give in to]. It's energetic, allowing both energies to say it's okay to be in that proximity and share the energies.
"And I feel like that was definitely something that we did in Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, and it was a conscious effort for Snowpiercer to make sure that scene was something that we were together in."
Colleague Chelsea Harris, who plays Sykes, Wilford's intimidating advisor and operative, mentioned in a recent interview with TV Fanatic that the train cars are on rollers to simulate the train movement.
As a Breachworker, whose job takes him out and all over the train's exterior, that dynamic nature to the set adds a whole other element to shooting his scenes.
"We're actually on the train, we're doing the work on the train, and the green screen is all behind us. But the train is literally the train. In one of the episodes, I'm outside of the train, and I'm hanging off of it.
"It was an amazing day for our stunt team, who are phenomenal. And they let me do all the action! It was tough -- and tough on the old body -- but it was so exhilarating.
"They had these massive fans, blowing all the snow, and I can't really hear anybody calling 'Action!' I'm just doing it until the fans stopped. There are some precarious moments where I'm flying, kind of like being swung back and forth to try to get the object out, and that was literally us doing that. I'm so happy they let me do it."
As the production often shoots a lot more footage than they'll need, cast members often have no idea what will make the final product. Paunovic is circumspect about how much needs to be cut, recognizing that good editing will only intensify those scenes.
"It was a full, full day of shooting. I think we did it over a couple of days. Obviously, I haven't seen it yet, so I'm really curious about how they shot it and how much of it they shot.
"For instance, the scene where I'm crying because of the Breachmen, there was a whole huge part that was in the show when we shot it that didn't make the edit. It was a big, emotional scene, but it made sense because you see that range of emotion when I see The Last Australian (Aaron Glenane).
"I thought it was one of those cuts where you go, 'Oh, man, that was such a great part of that scene..', but when you watch the show, you go, 'I'm so glad they took that out because it almost felt repetitious.' It made that Last Australian encounter that much more vicious."
The scene with The Last Australian takes place on Snowpiercer Season 2 Episode 7 and, as evidenced by the behind-the-scenes footage shared by castmate Kwasi Thomas (who plays Tailie lieutenant Z-Wreck), a lot of effort goes into creating that viciousness.
Near the end of the scene, Thomas makes a fearless leap onto Paunovic's back to restrain him.
Paunovic laughs, reliving the work. "We did it like, I think, five, five, or six times. It was adorable the way he jumps on me to do stuff."
In keeping with everyone TV Fanatic has spoken to from Snowpiercer, Paunovic is keen to expound on the power of the ensemble togetherness on this show.
"I think it all starts from the leads. It all starts from the top. Graeme Manson wants everybody involved. Directors and producers treat you like you're a part of the team.
"Mickey Sumner, Stephen Ogg, O'Malley, everybody, they make you feel a part of a team, and it just literally gives you more freedom to know that your contribution matters.
"It's always, always a great feeling for an actor that's coming into a show or [who is] already part of an ensemble. The idea's that the welcoming helps you be more creative.
"I've been on shows where it wasn't that, and you just want to do your job and stay within the lines. You just want to do your job and get out, basically. And it's not a very great feeling a lot of the time when you have that experience.
"But with Snowpiercer -- and I was fortunate enough with Van Helsing to really have that -- but with Snowpiercer, it's the exact same vibe, where everybody wants everyone to succeed, to make this show better. And you really feel that from the extras to the leads."
As with all productions, COVID-19 disrupted the final days of filming of Season 2. Graeme Manson shared in July 2020 that they were only 7 or 9 days out from wrapping the season. Paunovic felt the change the pandemic had wrought when he rejoined the team later that summer.
"Yeah, I went in after COVID hit, and we were cleaning up and shooting some of the last couple of episodes. It definitely was a different vibe. The protocols needed to be done, but it was a different feel because, you know, I'm a big, touchy-feely guy. I love huggin' people, and high-fiving, and, you know, joking around.
#Snowpiercer tonight @SnowpiercerTV! Wilford's got a lot of whup ass up the sleeve of his fur coat for Layton, and Boki's bad to the bone @alekspaun @DaveedDiggs #BreechmanBoki pic.twitter.com/JcnOIyeF3x— Graeme Manson (@GraemeManson1) March 15, 2021
"To have that removed from set was just a little weird for me. But, everybody rose to the occasion. We got it done, but it was very trippy, to be sure."
Protocols remain strict for everyone's safety on his current project as well.
"Well, we're doing three tests a week. Everyone's getting picked up in their own vehicle. Even traveling from set to circus, everyone's got their own vehicle. It's a massive production here, so they can afford to do that.
"But all the protocols are in place. We were shooting outside the other day, and we had the Covid officers just reminding everyone, and you know everyone's staying on point. It's a different way to live, and it's the new norm.
"Hopefully, it will go away to the point where we can go back to where we were. Production's rolling, and yeah, it's a monster, so they're really taking the safety into account."
With all the major franchises and productions Paunovic has been a part of in his career, was there a moment where he felt that he had truly arrived as an actor?
"Oh, man. Huh. I don't know. Van Helsing was the first gig that I was really a part of. For five seasons. That family aspect where you go on set, you know everybody.
"That was like that in Season 1, with Simon Barry, Neil LaBute, Jonathan Walker, and everyone that's a part of the show. It just felt right, right away.
"And to have that for five years! I'm a huge advocate of people that come on the show, and I want to welcome them. I want to host them and have them have an amazing time on the show.
"Like I said, I've experienced not being on a good show and not feeling great with my work, and then somebody makes me [feel welcome]. Like Supernatural. Those guys? Those guys are the best hosts I've ever come across. And they've done fifteen seasons of that! You can ask anybody that has been on that show. They're the best hosts!
"The way they made me feel the first time I did the show, I was just like, 'This! This is what I'm supposed to feel like!'
"You know, I want to make other people feel that. And that's what Van Helsing allowed me to do.
"I felt like that was the moment, shooting that show. I feel like I can have more experiences like this and be in this position to elevate a show and elevate the people around me.
"So that's when I kinda really felt like this is where I want to live. I want to live in these types of scenarios."
As someone who is always open to new opportunities, what sort of role does Paunovic dream of taking on one day?
"I love the idea of one of the characters in True Detective. You know, like the True Detective-type vibe, because I'm usually the guy committing the crime in shows. So it would be nice actually to solve them a bit, once in a while.
"But to have that partnership and a chemistry with another actor, but having it layered that deeply, that's something I would love to do for sure."
As busy as he's been, he's been able to sneak in some escapism in his down-time in the rebooted 80s nostalgia of Netflix's Cobra Kai.
"Honestly, I have been addicted. I watched that whole thing, and it was so smartly done how they cut between the old stuff and the new stuff. And I thought the actor that plays Johnny (William Zabka) is just phenomenal in the show. So yeah, that's been my guilty pleasure.
"It was just great to watch because it has the cool, really cool fight scenes, really great stuff, a little bit of the 80's type vibe, and they had the 80's music.
Aleks remains a life-long learner, always adding to his skills and experiences, even revisiting texts he knows quite well because he may have a new perspective on it now.
"And I'm rereading a book called The Intent to Live by Larry Moss. It's just really great, about acting and how Larry Moss teaches. I took some of his workshops, and he's basically been the dude that inspired me with the way I do my work. So, giving that a reread."
Returning to the topic of Boki's development, could a voiceover episode be in his future? Voiceovers on Snowpiercer have served well to sharpen focus on themes that are deeply personal to specific characters.
"I would LOVE Boki getting a voiceover episode. I think he would focus on the devotion he has for Wilford and how that hurt him when he figured it out. To put everything into somebody that he believes in, that believed in him, and then seeing me not be that important to him, and is there a payback for him?
While we await Boki's return to Snowpiercer, where else can we see Paunovic's work?
"There's [a movie], XCII [edit: retitled Zero Contact] which we shot during the pandemic. A really good friend of mine produced a film called Blackway, that I was in, with Anthony Hopkins.
"Right when the pandemic hit, he was about to shoot something else, and then the pandemic hit. He and his whole team just go, 'We can't just stop being creative. Let's shoot something.'
"So they wrote a script in 10 days, and we shot the whole movie. Six different actors, six different countries, and this one story to save mankind type thing. It's pretty great.
"We talk about how this movie was done without a handshake. Everyone was on Zoom. We had iPhone, FaceTime, GoPro, security cameras, some drone shots.
"We did the whole film over Zoom. And I just saw a screening of it about a month ago. I'm excited about it. It's really cool. It's really, really well done.
"They're in the middle of the sell right now, so we're hoping within the next month or two it's going to be released, but we don't know what streaming service yet.
"I actually produced this too. It was really something. [It was great working with] Rick Dugdale. You can see his credits. He's done some amazing stuff. And we'll be working on more stuff together, so I'm pretty excited about it."
As he moves forward with his life and career, Aleks has an eye on giving back to his hometown of Winnipeg by establishing a film studio in the city. Nothing, not even a pandemic, is deterring him from that vision.
"We're still moving forward. We're getting more meetings with the government, hopefully getting some government funding, along with some private investments.
"We're still moving forward. I mean, if it were easy, everybody would've done it already. Just keeping the dream alive. I always think of my visualization, cutting the tape with all my friends around and my family around, cutting the tape to the new studio.
"That's what I'm focusing on, to make sure we get it done.
"The industry [in Manitoba] is fantastic! They have the best tax credit, arguably, in North America. They have one studio, but that was built, like, 20 years ago.
"They have four or five projects happening at one time because they don't have enough crew there. Hopefully, we can bring an establishment there. A studio there [would] not only will house future projects but also be a training ground for other people to come in, and we can build crew within Manitoba and create jobs.
"It's the ripple effect. Once you build it, the lumber yards are gonna get busier because they're building more sets, and hair, and makeup... Hopefully, we can train a number of people so that the money can stay in Winnipeg, and we can grow that industry even more.
"The arts industry is second to none, seriously, per capita in Canada. Winnipeg is so creative, and they have so many amazing, outstanding actors and teachers there. I think once we get it happening, people will really get to see what Winnipeg can do."
As you can tell, Paunovic's enthusiasm for life and all its possibilities is infectious. His love for his family, his work, and his hometown, heart-warming. From vampire to Breachman, producer to studio exec, he'll keep us guessing what adventure he'll be off to next!
Don't miss him in the two-hour season finale of Snowpiercer, airing on March 29 on TNT 9/8c!
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.