Aleks Paunovic has spent his life performing for audiences, but one performance in particular really freaked him out. This was before he became a regular on the Syfy series Van Helsing and before he landed a major role in last summer’s War for the Planet of the Apes. In 2012, as Paunovic was about to do his first play, he found the nerves were getting the best of him. So he started shadowboxing.

“I just felt so at home—I thought, ‘This is exactly what it feels like before a fight,’” he says. “I attribute my success in acting to boxing because it was the buffer for me.”

Paunovic’s father was a championship boxer in Yugoslavia before immigrating to Canada, so Paunovic grew up in boxing gyms. When a teenage Paunovic was touring Canada as the bass player for a heavy metal band, he’d sneak off to boxing gyms without telling his bandmates. After Paunovic gave up music, he won several local Golden Gloves titles and was on his way to the Pan American games when his shoulder popped out of its socket, ending his boxing career.

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Acting was a natural progression: Paunovic found that performing for an audience or a camera was exciting, similar to his stints as a bass player and a boxer. The 6’5″ Paunovic tends to play physically imposing figures like Julius in Van Helsing and Winter in War for the Planet of the Apes. And he finds that his boxing training gives him an edge both mentally and physically.

“Having a fight background has gotten me gigs,” Paunovic says. “The producers don’t have to bring in a stunt guy, because I can do my own stuff. And because of my stature, it’s usually fight scenes that I’m doing.”

Van Helsing airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. EST on Syfy.

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