Thursday, April 26, 2012

Exclusive Interview: Janina Gavankar – A Renaissance Woman

Originally published on The Vault -

I had the opportunity of meeting up with the very lovely Janina Gavankar who plays Luna on True Blood at a party in Hollywood and when we spoke together, I asked her if she would be willing to speak to me for an interview. She consented and we spoke together this week where I asked her about True Blood and all the other many projects she is involved in.

Janina is bright, energetic, and above all talented. She is not only an accomplished actress, having been in several television series in addition to True Blood, such as The Gates, the L Wrod and several films now, but she is also a musician and a self proclaimed Internet Geek, and proud of it. In my opinion, she is truly "a renaissance woman" and has her life in full gear!

When we sat down for our chat, I started our conversation by asking about what I know all the fans want to hear about, True Blood Season 5.  She was quite candid about this upcoming season without giving away too much.  From what she revealed, it looks like its going to be an exciting season for Luna and Sam and also for all the shapeshifters.  And, another big spoiler she gave away is that she confirmed that this is the "year of the bromance."

Learn what she had to say about our favorite show, and about all her other projects, by reading below:

Lynn: How’s is Season 5 going?
Janina: It’s awesome, it’s insane. I can tell you that for shapeshifters, we’re in episode 8 right now and its complete craziness for shapeshifters. Well, it’s crazy for everyone right now, but for us, it’s insanity.

Lynn: Stephen Moyer’s directing this one right?
Janina: He’s awesome he’s a great director. He has this great way of going in your face about the moment and being completely relaxed about it.  He doesn't move on ...he doesn't move on unless you, the actor, are completely happy with the take. Most director’s make you THINK they are going off of you, but are really going off of the DP (director of photography) before they move on. Ha ha! Stephen is one hell of an actor, and not surprisingly, he is one hell of a director as well.

Lynn: Is there anything that you can share with us? What is the general feel of season 5?
Janina: It’s different for me because it’s my second season so I’m much more relaxed. I would say that overall that this year is “the year of the bromance.” I can’t tell you who I am speaking of. It’s also when we will see where vampires come from and that’s really cool, but pretty scary.

Lynn: Can you give us any hints as to what Luna’s going to have to go through this season?
Janina:Without giving too much away, I've said before that something happens to her that she’s going to have to deal with for the rest of her life and she still dealing with the fact that her husband is dead. It’s not like he was just human or a shapeshifter but he was a wolf and an “Alpha.” An Alpha dying within a pack is a lot to deal with in its own way and we’ll see some of that and what that means.

Lynn: Sam and Luna seem so perfect for one another; will they at least find a little happiness together?
Janina: They found happiness last season and I think they really got to find each other and fall in love and that was really nice, but Luna’s a complicated girl and that’s something we’ll learn about this year. She’s not perfect and she is really just trying to keep life together, but remember she is a shapeshifter who ended up marrying an alpha wolf. For a chick to do that, she has to be a little crazy. To put yourself through that, you know and it’s not like, at least when they first met each other, they were in love, but they definitely fell out of love. What she went through to have fallen in love with a wolf and to deal with the repercussions of being a shapeshifter and being the one who got the alpha, to me that means she is a bad ass.

Sam and Luna from Promo for Season 5 - click here to see the promo

Lynn: Well, one thing we know about Alan Ball is that none of his characters are ever perfect and Luna falls right into a description of a typical Alan Ball character.
Janina: Right, exactly, she’s a complicated chick. You’re going to learn about the wolves through Alcide, but the thing that’s interesting is that even if their storylines aren’t intersecting you’re also learning a lot about what Luna has gone through in her life because of what Alcide is going through dealing with the pack. You have to remember, that He (Alcide) killed Marcus last year and we saw a wolf coming after Sam at the end of season 4. What we’re going to see from this world this year is that they obviously think that Sam killed him, so we’re going to have to deal with that, because we’re picking up [Season 5]  from the moment we left off last season.

Lynn: The death count of True Blood is notoriously high. Do you fear for your place on the show?
Janina: When I signed onto the show, I knew that any moment I could die so I’m not really worried until somebody tells me that I have to go and then I’m like I’m going to go big. No, that’s what the show is and I don’t mind, if I gotta go, I gotta go. I don’t want to sound flippant about dying or wanting this gig, because I will be devastated if they have to kill me, but I think we all are. I think everybody who has died on the show is like “Shit, it’s the best show on Television.” But if I have to go, I will be proud to go.

Lynn: Do you have a favorite scene in True Blood so far?
Janina: My favorite line of the entire fifth season is said by “Hoyt.” He gets to say my favorite line.

Lynn: If you could bring back one True Blood character from the dead who would it be and why?
Janina: That’s a good question, I would bring back, hmmm, I love Bill’s maker Lorena. I think she is who I would want to come back. I really like her. She’s amazing.

Lynn: How has your life changed since you started playing Luna on True Blood?
Janina: Not much really, this is my third series; I previously did the L Word and The Gates.

Lynn: Do you think your role in The Gates had any influence on your getting the part in True Blood?
Janina: I don’t think so; I don’t think anybody had seen that show when I auditioned for this show. Interestingly enough we shot The Gates in Shreveport, Louisiana so I lived there for five months and the entire back story I have for Luna is based on the experience I had there.

Lynn: Can you talk about how you got the role of Luna?
Janina: Once I decided to audition, I was like; I want this show very, very badly. And, it’s not like I had seen it because I had only seen one episode, but everybody who’s taste I respected loved the show, so there are some trusted people in everybody’s life and if they tell you it’s amazing you believe it. And, when I did my chemistry read with Sam it’s like, oh this would be so great to work with him. He’s such a sweetheart and a super soulful guy.

Lynn: Can you talk about playing an American Indian vs. your real culture of your mother being from India?
Janina: Both of my parents are from India, and my mother is half Dutch and Luna is half American Indian. I do research on every character that I play and it’s not just an ethnic study. Do Irish people only play Irish people? And, if they play someone Italian do they have to do more research because they are Italian? Maybe, maybe not. But, I talked to just as many American Indian people as I did teachers. These are all the things that make up a person; nobody is just their ethnicity. And she is a mother too, and by the way, I didn't know that she was a mother when I got the part. I think its episode 3 that she is revealed to have a little one, I was like “what, she’s a mom?” And she was even a single mom. That was a lot more back story to make up. So, I did a lot of work on Luna.

Lynn: One thing we know is that you are an Internet Geek, can we talk about that? Tell us a little about your online life, i.e., Posterous and Ms. Dewey, etc. By the way, I want you to know that I knew Ms. Dewey back when.
Janina: Ms. Dewey was an interactive search engine using Microsoft live technology and I just like any other acting gig, I auditioned for it. But, the funny thing was that when I went into the audition and the directors were trying to explain and, I’m sure they had to explain what it was going to be about to a lot of people, so they explained it to me that it was going to be an interactive search engine, and I was like, that’s freaking awesome, let’s do it. So, I went big with the character.

I think she’s probably my favorite character that I’ve ever played. She was such a bad ass, and she knew everything, she was smarter than everybody and she knew it and she was such a super smart lady and those are always fun to play.

Video of Ms. Dewey

Lynn: Is Nerd the new Sexy?
Janina: It always has been for me. [Laughs] If you’re not smart, then I am not interested.

Lynn: According to you what social media application should be developed this year? What are we still missing?
Janina: The end of last year, I created a template for artist and actors to use. Do you know this? Yes, on Posterous. I created this because I feel that everyone in the public eye should have an easy way to be able to control their online persona and presence. There really was no tool for that, which infuriated me, so I just made it on my own. As the years go by there is always going to be apps, new platforms and ways for people to connect so, it’s kind of like finding the one that can apply to all, and right now Posterous is doing that the best. They just sold to Twitter, so I was like, "Ah ha, I told you so."

Lynn: Do you have stock in that company?
Janina: No, I wish! And you know I was the first actor to use Twitter, so I’m kind of two for two right now.

Lynn: You've certainly been promoting them, that’s for sure.
Janina: Yea, but only because I think they [Prosterous] are doing the best job and I will continue to do so unless they fail or somebody else replaces them. Probably you saw me give the social media talk earlier this year. That was pretty telltale because the major shift is that people are locking down their usage and/or their content. People want to share less with less people. We’re either going to fuel big brother or we’re not going to let that happen. I think that people have realized that social networks are not going to go away anytime soon and it’s really what you make it and however you use it, there’s not a “right way” to use social media and it’s absolutely OK if you un-friend people.

Lynn: You are also a singer and musician, right?
Janina: I am. I’m in the studio right now.

Lynn: What’s your instrument?
Janina: Piano and percussion and I oftentimes use my voice as an instrument as well. I’m not a go in the booth and cut this song I wrote kind of person. I have a heavy hand in everything I do. I produce and engineer my own vocals and I’m pretty anal about it.

Lynn: You have all these technical skills and now you’re producing music and doing all these wonderful things. Have you ever been interested in working behind the camera?
Janina:Yes, absolutely, but “all in due time.” I've produced shorts and I have many a talented friend and I’m the first person to show up and help at any moment. I've produced my own music video and with my very talented friends, Caitlin Pashalek and Ian Lyman  and, Ian is a technologist as well. I’m up for anything as long as it’s a challenge and I've never done anything like it before.

Lynn: You went to the Dallas Film Festival for the premiere of Satellite of Love and you've been to other film festivals right?
Janina: Yes, I’ve been to other festivals, but this was the first time I’d been to a world premiere of a film I’d done and this was the first time I’d seen the final cut, so I was nervous beyond belief. But, it was good; I was happy with it.

Lynn: Is it going to open anywhere else?
Janina: Yes, I think it will be doing a few more festivals. NAPA just asked for the film to be included and we’ll do a round of festivals and I’ll definitely keep you posted on that. If you can get Netflix to distribute it, than many more people will see it. Also, for the readers, Shannon Lucio who played Bill Compton’s wife on True Blood roped me into it. She guest starred on The Gates and I like her so much and think she is very, very talented. She is also a filmmaker herself and she was signed on to do this movie and then said that one of the characters, the one that I played, was the last to be cast and she wanted to pitch me. I read the script and I loved it and I signed on because of her.

Satellite of Love trailer

Synopsis: To atone for his absence at their wedding, globe-trotting and hard-partying musician, Samuel, invites his best friend Blake, a successful chef, and Blake's new wife Catherine (with whom Samuel has previously shared both a bed and a bond) to idyllic Nadi Vineyards for a week-long party in paradise. Samuel imports hottie, cosmopolitan DJ, Michelle, from Barcelona to stir the pot and as the wine flows and records spin this complicated, revolving love amongst young "adults" is thrown out of orbit. Satellite of Love stars Nathan Phillips (Wolf Creek, Surfer Dude), Zachary Knighton (The Hitcher, Happy Endings), Shannon Lucio (The OC, Prison Break) and Janina Gavankar (True Blood, The League).

Lynn: Have you had any weird fan encounters?
Janina: No, nobody really recognizes me unless I’m really done up in some sort of fabulous look as if I’m going on the red carpet. So, if I’m not red carpet ready, nobody notices me.

I also think you ask for it. I would say that more people recognize me as Shiva from The League, because Shiva is a more normal girl. Going back to what I said, you have to ask for it. I got off the plane at LAX this weekend, and came up to baggage claim and there were paparazzi there and the guy looked me straight in the eye and I just casually walked right by him. I think he was like, “I know her, I know her, maybe…” But, I think if I walked out and I changed my posture, and I looked at him and looked away like, “please don’t photograph me” or I did something erratic then I would cause attention to myself and therefore ask for it. But, I really don’t do that; that’s not why I became an actor at all. So, it’s stayed pretty tame for me and I get to do whatever I want, and I’m ok with that.

Lynn: What’s next for you?
Janina: I just finished a film called, “I'm Afraid of Virginia Wolfe." This is not the play “Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf,” this is a film within a film within a film. We re-enact Virginia Wolfe. We basically do a super-bastarized version of Virginia Wolf in this film. It’s amazing. And the cast is Guinevere Turner. Guinevere pulled me into it. Guinevere, who wrote American Psycho, was one of the writers on the “L” word and that’s how I know her. She was signed on to do it and then she called me and said, by the way, Carrie Preston is in this movie. And, Carrie has amazing taste, she is a filmmaker, and her film did so well at Sundance (That’s What She Said) and we also have the same managers. So, I went to my managers and said, tell me about this project and they said, well Carrie likes it, so OK, well that’s all I need to know.

And, I’ve never worked with Carrie. I don’t think Arlene has ever served Luna at Sam’s diner, or at least not that I know of so, it was my chance to get to work with her and she is “awesome.” So, I’m so glad I signed on to it. Now, that movie is now officially done and is in post-production now.

I’m also always doing Funny or Die videos and I’m in the studio making music. I’m a busy girl.

Here's one of the videos that Janina did for Funny or Die - "Self rehearsal" with Justin Miles

Janina: And, Randy Jackson, of American Idol is now overseeing my entire project.

Lynn: Really, that's awesome!
Janina: Yea, he kind of noticed me at the end of last year and we took a meeting. I’ve had a few people sort of fall out of the sky, like big fancy people, but they all want me to do a “pop song.” I’ve been signed before and it’s also not authentic to who I am?

Lynn: What’s your type of music?

Janina: It’s hyper musical and I’m kind of finding the perfect middle ground between acoustic instruments and electronic sounds so I’m picking really very cool producers and we’re making little music babies together.

It was so much fun talking to Janina and hearing the energy just come right out of her.  She is an inspirational woman and we know that she will be successful in all her many pursuits to express herself artistically.  I am so looking forward to see what happens to her character this season in True Blood.  Be sure to look for her when True Blood Season 5 starts on June 10.

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