Thanks to Peak TV there's been an abundance of onscreen deaths on programming ranging from zombie shows to tearjerker dramas. We see people die a lot on television these days, which means there are also a lot of conversations that have to happen behind the scenes between the showrunner and the actors who are about to lose their onscreen jobs. In the case of Van Helsing, creator Neil LaBute and cast member Aleks Paunovic have been in an epic prank war during the filming of the first three seasons of the Syfy series, but things bumped up a notch this season when LaBute decided to fake a script to the whole cast that indicated his character Julius was going to be killed off. At Comic-Con 2018, LaBute indicated he had the opportunity to pull off the perfect prank and he took it.
So, toward the end of the year, our last script was going to come out, and I realized that this was my perfect opportunity, so I told all the writers and just a couple of other people that I'm going to kill [Aleks' character] in the draft that we send out to everybody. And to not let anybody know. And so it landed on the weekend and I get this call in the evening; [he's] just slightly kind of panicky, but trying to sound like, 'This has been so much fun. I've had such a great time.'
If you've kept tabs on Van Helsing, you may already know that Aleks Paunovic and Neil LaBute get into these sort of prank wars all the time. They were actually started by Paunovic, who also admitted he once saw LaBute's directors chair, and made a video where he walked up and kicked it as a little bitty prank that ended up spawning a war. In the case of the epic death prank, Paunovic says that he was at home sick when he first read that he was being killed off on the series. (Again, he wasn't.)
Let me digress. I was sick and had a fever. I was hanging out at my buddy's house in L.A. I'm going to go out and get some groceries. I said, 'OK.' Let me just read this episode before we get back and go to the movies. I was like reading the episode [going], 'Oh my God, this is great, this is great. WHAT. The. Fuck. And so I started pacing around. I'm sweating even more now from the fever.
It would be one thing to play a little joke on the one actor, but Neil LaBute went all out for this epic prank. Not only did he send this fake script to the entire cast involved with the season finale, he also went a step further and talked to Aleks Paunovic, blaming the writers for sending the script before he had talked to him. He went on for 20 minutes before revealing the joke. If that were the end of the story, it would be an epic prank. As it stands, it's certainly one of the best pranks I've ever heard -- a prank the other members of the Van Helsing panel called "George Clooney-esque." But it didn't end there, because of course, the entire cast had been fooled, as well. Paunovic said while at the Van Helsing Comic-Con panel:
He's like stone cold, too. 'You know, you never know. You might come back. You know, we sometimes bring somebody in a flashback.' He's like, 'Yeah, totally.' The rest of the week, people are coming up to him because they all read he died. Because he didn't do a revision. He just let it hang for three, four days. So everyone's going, 'I'm so sorry.' I'm like, 'No, it was a joke.' They're going, 'Yeah. Right...' So that was the worst I've ever been gotten on a practical joke.
Van Helsing isn't exactly the type of series where all of the characters are safe at any given moment. There are plenty of deaths on the series, and even with the joke-y nature of the relationship between the show's creator and his favorite actor to prank, it's not hard to see why Aleks Paunovic was sweating bullets when he first saw the script. (Whether or not he was actually feverish.) Still, Julius will be back in Season 3, and we can't wait to see what other off-screen tricks are in store.
Van Helsing is going to premiere this fall in September or October--whenever the network decides to announce the official premiere, according to the cast. We'll keep you updated on any more news that drops about Season 3, but for now, I get the feeling Aleks Paunovic would appreciate any advice on how to top Neil Labute's truly epic prank.