Sometimes there are characters in the world of fantasy that are just tough to cast or properly translate when it comes to doing a live-action adaptation. There are characters out there that are so beloved by people that it immediately puts up a wall of sorts when it comes to who gets cast in a specific role since we all have our own vision of what the character should look and act like. Most of the times when it comes to casting a character in a fantasy based project it can be a hard thing since a creative team is tasked with somehow bringing a 6’5 muscle bound warlord to life without it being completely silly or going to the closest gym to see which juicehead can say two words without stumbling.
But in the case of Mortal Kombat: Legacy we may have the perfect Shao Kahn on our hands with actor Aleks Paunovic. For the past few years Aleks has made the rounds on a variety of projects such as Stargate and Sanctuary, often playing a villain due to his huge size and somewhat intimidating nature. Standing tall at 6’5 and being someone who’s used to working in the world of genre projects, Aleks is pretty much a perfect fit for the new adaptation of Shao Kahn that MK: Legacy Director Kevin Tancharoen has come up with.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Aleks at the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo last month and chatting with him about a variety of things. While Aleks sadly couldn’t completely spill the beans on his role in MK: Legacy, he was extremely forthcoming concerning other aspects of his career which included a stint in EA’s Fight Night Champion.
Ian Fisher: This may be a basic question but everyone has a pretty unique story when it comes to this: how did you get into the acting business?
Aleks Paunovic: Well it’s interesting; I played in a band for years and right out of High School I played in a band. I was playing on stage one day and this casting director asked if I wanted to audition for this HBO film called Heads starring Jon Cryer and Jennifer Tilly and that was my first experience, I got the job and I was like yeah man this is fun. And then I started getting into stunts right away and from stunts I just went into straight acting and hopefully you know combining acting and the stunt fighting.
Ian: Along with your work in film and TV you’ve also done a lot of indie films the most recent being The Hostage with your friend Tahmoh Penikett. Now are indie films something you want to get into more and do you favor doing the indie stuff more as opposed to big film and TV projects?
Aleks: Well it’s interesting because you kind of get a pocket when you‘re dealing with studios and networks that you usually play. I love the fact that you know that I have a great group of people that are extremely creative writers and directors – Brent Cote being one of them who we worked on The Hostage with. Tahmoh and I decided to executive produce a project and almost you know if a studio would’ve cast the film they would’ve flipped it. So that’s what we really wanted to get a part of – do things that are outside of our box and challenge us creatively and we’re going to keep on doing that and those are the things that I really enjoy.
Ian: An upcoming project of yours is the action-comedy film “This Means War” which stars Tom Hardy (Inception, Bronson) and Chris Pine (Star Trek, Unstoppable). Now I don’t know how much you can say about that project since the studio hasn’t released any footage or immediate details about it, but can you give us an overview of your role in that film?
Aleks: I’m not too sure I can really divulge a lot of information about that but it’s a nice cameo spot that I really enjoyed and I got to know Tom Hardy whom my scene was with and he’s awesome. Tom Hardy is awesome and I loved his work in Bronson so it was a pleasure to work with him.
Ian: Something that I’m excited for is the Mortal Kombat web series in which you have a role in. I know that everyone is staying on the down low as far as details are concerned and you’re in a way unofficially playing Shao Kahn since it hasn’t been formally announced. Can you give us a few details on what we can expect from the series as far as your role is concerned?
Aleks: You’re going to expect some big stuff. I can’t really divulge any information on it but I am playing Shao Kahn. It’s one of those projects that I’m absolutely privileged to be a part just of because Kevin the director – his trailer online just gave it an unbelievable vision of the new Mortal Kombat the rebirth and I’m super stoked that both Tahmoh and I were able to be a part of it.
Aleks as Shao Kahn in Mortal Kombat: Legacy.
Ian: A lot of your former colleagues in the Canadian acting scene where also a part of Mortal Kombat: Legacy so did you have any scenes with any of your fellow colleagues or friends?
Aleks: My scenes were pretty compact so it wasn’t really a wide range that I could spend time with my friends like Ryan Robbins who I think is a phenomenal actor. There’s not a lot of scenes together with a lot of stuff and that’s all I can say.
Ian: Something that some people out there may not know about is that you did some motion capture work for the Fight Night Champion video game and before you became an actor you were a former boxer. So what was it like doing the Fight Night game and being familiar with boxing yet you’re in this completely new environment with the mocap suit and stage?
Aleks: I love the fact of being inside the big EA room which is a phenomenal facility in Vancouver and boxing. It was almost harder than normally boxing because you’re throwing these punches at a high rate and not hitting anything and I’d rather hit something you know. So getting involved with that and just the specific ways that they needed some punches done but those guys have made it a blast to shoot and I’ve done a few shows with them like Army of One so I’ve done a few things with them.
Ian: Now are you much of a gamer or do you just watch it from afar?
Aleks: I watch it from a far and I just admire my brother playing video games.
Ian: Another big project of yours is In the Name of the King 2 and the man behind that is Uwe Boll. I interviewed Uwe in the past and I’ll admit that some of his movies are bad but some of them are just silly fun that can be enjoyed if you just have an open mind. So what was it like working with Uwe concerning his history and all the crazy stories that have surfaced about him over the last few years?
Aleks: I’m telling you right now that I’ve heard everything about Uwe so I had an expectation going in. He was nothing but hilarious and pleasant to work with and he gets the job done. I had a great time with him, he’s mouthy and he’s opinionated and he knows what he wants and he was nothing but pleasant with us and the cast. I had a blast and I got to do some great horse scenes and fight scenes and the fight scene in there is probably one of my favorite fight scenes that I’ve ever done.
Ian: And who do you play that project? I know that they haven’t released too many details about it so far?
Aleks: I play a man named Allard, who is the right hand man of the king who is played by Lochlyn Munro. So I’m kind of in there with Dolph Lundgren a little bit so you can figure out how that goes.
Ian: Two years ago you were in the film “Personal Effects” with Michelle Pfeiffer and Ashton Kutcher in which you play a mentally challenged man that’s accused of murdering a young woman. Compared to some of your previous roles in which you played the big hulking bad guy, what was it like to jump into a role like your character in Personal Effects? Was it a bit difficult to find the balance of how to portray that character without going too over-the-top or overboard?
Aleks: What was really interesting with the role was that the casting process was interesting because they went after a lot of people and David Hollander, who directed it, was unbelievable to me in the casting room. It is a very emotional role and you really have to put yourself out there and he was nothing but generous with his time in the audition room. When I got the role I put on probably about 60 pounds of pizza weight because this guy does not look like he’s in shape and I knew that there was a scene close to the end of the film where my shirt was going to be off where it would really show. It helped with the character because I didn’t feel strong close to the end of the movie where it helped with how meek and scared this man was. So that was one of my favorite roles just because of diving in a role that consumed me physically and mentally and feeling deep down that I hit a lot of the marks and that was a challenging role. And David Hollander is a dream to work with and it was a dream to work with and I couldn’t have done it without him.
Ian: You’ve done a lot of sci-fi, action and dramatic work so is there something that you haven’t done yet that you really want to jump in to or would like your career to be known for or do you want to continue doing more genre based work?
Aleks: I love the sci-fi community. The sci-fi community and the fans are nothing but amazingly generous so I have no problem staying on the sci-fi end of it. But there are some roles that I would really like to do, I would love to do a dirty and down cop show. That to me is a huge thing and just trying to figure stuff out and everything; I love that type of stuff and I would love to get more into that kind of stuff.
Ian: Somewhat of a riff on the last question but is there anyone in the industry that you would really like to collaborate with in the future?
Aleks: Clint Eastwood, hands down man. A friend of mine just finished working with him and he said it was nothing but great and that he’s an actor’s director and it was great. Something like that you know, you’ve seen this persons work be acclaimed all over the world and you’re stepping into those shoes and getting direction from Clint Eastwood would be awesome.
Ian: Besides Mortal Kombat, what upcoming projects do you have in the pipeline that you’re really excited about or you want people to check out?
Aleks: Tahmoh and I have a few more things that we’re working on feature wise to do because we’re going to keep on doing the executive producing end of it and trying to get our own projects out there. Mortal Kombat is coming out, this film I did called Charlie is coming out, and This Means War. I’m also trying to create my own stuff also. I love getting into the room and love working networks and studios but I also love the indie aspect of doing your own dream type thing.
Aleks may look like an intimidating guy and speaking to the man who’s responsible for playing the ruler of Outworld was a bit daunting, more-so since his big stature made me feel a bit tiny by comparison even though I’m a big dude. In my brief time speaking with Aleks I was really impressed by his general enthusiasm about acting and how laid back he is about everything along with just be an extremely gracious chap.
Huge thanks to Aleks for taking the time out to participate in the interview given the schedule shifting that went on. Hopefully with the success Mortal Kombat: Legacy has had so far we’ll see Aleks pop up in more kick ass projects in the future.
Stay tuned to a very special Mortal Kombat: Legacy interview next week with one of the many fierce female warriors from the series.
Article originally posted on April 27, 2011