#Movies & TV
“True Blood’s” Latest Shape-Shifting Star
by Lois Elfman
Gavankar, 31, has been a fixture on the small screen for more than a decade, including a season on Showtime’s The L Word where her sexually ravenous character, Papi, showed someone could rack up conquests while still maintaining her humanity. Shortly after wrapping this season of True Blood, Gavankar hit the recording studio to pursue her other passion: music. Her single, “Waiting for Godot,” comes out on August 28. We talked to the actress about her role on True Blood and how she’s a bit of shifter in real life when it comes to her multitude of talents.
DivineCaroline: A wonderful, but tricky, thing with True Blood is portraying these far out stories but infusing them with reality. How do you as an actress approach that?
Janina Gavankar: Luna has only one priority: her daughter. The world could crack in half, and all she would be thinking about is Emma’s well-being.
DC: How do you feel Sam Trammell did in portraying you/your character when Luna shifted into Sam?
JG: (laughs) I loved it. When I got the script, I couldn’t believe it. But Sam nailed being Tommy (in season four), so I couldn’t wait to see him take a crack at Luna. I loved watching him swing his hips. We had a blast doing the first shift, at the mirror. Stephen Moyer (who portrays vampire Bill Compton) directed that episode, and he had me do the first bit, sneak out of frame and have Sam take over. We’d run to the monitors to watch playback.
DC: When Sam isn’t hogging your lines, how is he as a scene partner?
JG: He makes work very easy. He’s relaxed and real, and as long as you step up to his plate, you walk away feeling good about the day’s work.
DC: Playing a character that can literally shift into all sorts of animals and even another person, how do you try to give a perspective on those experiences when you play Luna in her human form?
JG: That is my favorite part about playing a shifter. The connection to other forms, the idea that this body isn’t the only vessel that connects you to your soul.
DC: When I first saw you on True Blood I thought, this woman played the sexiest character on The L Word but managed to never take off her clothes. Your second scene on True Blood you were naked. Does the nudity faze you at all?
JG: I’m not afraid of nudity, and I’m not afraid of sexuality. Real people get naked, and real people have sex. If you want to tell their stories well, you have to be unafraid of their entirety. Shifter nudity is a non-issue to me, because of their connection to other forms. They don’t feel naked as a horse, so they don’t really feel naked in their human form because it’s not sexual to them. It keeps me in an easier headspace.
DC: Speaking of The L Word, you played a character with supreme self-confidence. How did she impact you?
JG: All of the characters I’ve played feel like old friends. She is a favorite because she found a point of connection with every person she met. She also came from a place of non-judgment. Those are two things I’ve carried with me.
DC: You are not Latina, but you are often cast in Latina roles. How do you work to defy categories or classifications in Hollywood?
JG: I’ve made sure I’ve learned every “brown accent” possible, so I can be ready for anything. I change my makeup in subtle ways to change my look. I take each character’s life very seriously, and if there is a cultural reference, even if it’s subtle in the piece, I research like a maniac.
DC: On your website, http://janinagavankar.com/, you have your remake of Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown.” What do you love about that song that inspired you to record it?
JG: At some point I figured out I hear the radio differently than most people, so I wanted to try and deconstruct a mainstream song and celebrate the bits about it that I loved. That included some of the melody and all of the lyrics. Kanye wrote a deeply poetic song. Everything else was changed—the meter, the key, the flow, the essence, etc.
DC: You’re in the middle of making some music right now. What are you working on?
JG: I’m producing an EP right now. I’m releasing it on Randy Jackson’s label, Friendship Collective. The EP is experimental and very indie. People are telling me it sounds like Sade, Imogen Heap and Massive Attack had a baby. I’m collaborating with people I’ve been dying to work with, and creating pieces one by one. Whatever I love will make the final EP.
DC: Have there been any interesting moments in your career where your music and acting got to combine?
JG: I haven’t played a character that is a musician herself, yet. I don’t like injecting my own personal background into a character, unless it makes sense, but I’m constantly using my musical training in my work. I was incredibly lucky, I had access to fantastic teachers growing up, and they gave me a process that also applies to acting. I always feel like the more strides I make as a musician, the more strides I make as an actor.
DC: You are a tech savvy person. What is it you love about social media?
JG: I love that it helps independent artists be available to individuals who would have never had access to them pre-social media.