You know who we’ve been seeing a lot of on “True Blood” recently? Janina Gavankar. You know how much we like that? A buttload. We have a buttload of like-that for Janina Gavankar. And she’s got so much more to offer than a pretty face (and boobs); she’s also a musician and a software designer! Oh, our love is spilling out of our hearts and onto the computer and this is what it makes.
Janina Zione Gavankar was born on November 29, 1980 in Joliet, Illinois. Her father, Peter G. Gavankar, came to America from India in 1960 with nothing more than a suit, eight dollars, and a scholarship to his name, and he ended up becoming a world-famous inventor and businessman after helping to develop the Mr. Coffee machine, a classified item for NASA’s Gemini project, and a soft-serve ice cream machine that delivers the perfect consistency and swirl. Not surprisingly, Janina speaks highly of her folks:
“My parents raised us so we never had to feel confused between two cultures. They didn’t want us to feel we were different in a bad way. When I was growing up, I always felt I was special because I was Indian and different,” says Janina, who admits she feels ‘atrociously American’ whenever she visits India. She also regrets never having learnt Hindi or Marathi. “My parents would use it as a code language so we wouldn’t understand what they were saying.”
Now, we’ve been having a little trouble figuring out how or when Janina got bitten by the acting bug (perhaps sometimes before or during her studies in Theater Performance at the University of Illinois at Chicago), but we know that she went straight from home to Los Angeles and started auditioning “every time they would accept a brown girl in the room.” Her first big role was in 2005′s “Cup of My Blood,” a movie about a porn photographer who somehow ends up in possession of Christianity’s most powerful relics–this movie contains, we believe, Janina’s first nude scenes, although very little of her body is visible thanks to dark lighting and close-up shots. Her next big break wasn’t for a movie, but for a piece of viral marketing made by Microsoft: Janina played Ms. Dewey, an interactive search assistant who commented on keywords entered by a user, made jokes, and busied herself by looking business-sexy at her desk.
Before “True Blood,” Janina was most popular for her role on “The L Word,” that of Papi, a badass lesbian who stole the hearts of many a gal on the show. When asked how she gained such swagger for this role, Janina credits her time in the Cash Money Records-signed girl-group, Endera, for providing her with sexy and confident Atlanta-style hip-hop dance prowess. “Basically got to be a dude for a year. I got to walk around and do the brainwork on how to make girls move with me.”
A word about Janina’s music career: it’s always going on in the background. Besides her few year stint with Endera, she’s done a bunch of solo work and is perhaps best known for her cover of Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown.” Music is and has always been a passion of Janina’s, and it’s never competed for space in her heart. Quite the contrary, actually:
“Music informs my work so intensely. The better actor I become, the better pianist I become, and vice versa. I was playing a piece, just recently, that I haven’t played in awhile and, because I’m working on the show and I’m working actor muscles and emotional muscles so much more, I played it in a way I’ve never played it before. At this point in my career, they are one in the same.”
And by the way, Janina minored in Music Psychology in college.
There’s clearly a lot of great reasons to be obsessed with Janina Gavankar, but we must return to the fact that we first got to know her as Luna on “True Blood”–more precisely, we got to know her because of her nude scenes. She’s quite confident when it comes to showing skin, but she’s given different responses as to why in different interviews. When talking with AfterEllen, she credits her comrades on “The L Word” who demonstrated fearlessness in front of the camera and encouraged her to get naked while she’s young. When talking with Interview, her response takes on a more fantastical line of reasoning:
When it comes down to it, I’m kind of a nerdy actor. With nudity for a shape-shifter, we’re not even really connected to our bodies because we can shift into anything. The vessel that we’re born in is malleable, so vanity isn’t really a huge part of the identity of the shape-shifter, so nudity isn’t a big deal. You’re just as naked as a horse as as a person. That’s very real to me as Luna, so I was even more okay with the nudity on this show than on The L Word.
Really, we feel that Janina’s bravery–both as Luna on “True Blood” and as Janina Gavankar being naked on camera–stems from her willingness to dive into the unknown. “I don’t really feel comfortable unless I’m slightly uncomfortable,” she told Details. “I don’t want to play myself all the time. Who the fuck wants to watch me be me?” For the record, we would love to watch Janina be Janina.
What would Janina do if she had her druthers? She’d be in a musical! “I grew up on ‘The Sound of Music’, ‘Mary Poppins’ and ‘Singin’ in the Rain.’ I watched those, over and over again, so of course, I want to do musicals.” Perhaps, if we’re lucky, there’ll be a musical episode of “True Blood” a la that one episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Until then, we’re happy watching (and listening to) Janina do everything she’s good at, which is pretty much everything.
Be sure to check out:
· Janina Gavankar’s Twitter (twitter.com)
· Her official website (janinagavankar.com)
· Her cover of Kanye’s “Love Lockdown” (youtube.com)
· Her Wikipedia page (en.wikipedia.org)
· And one of her many appearances on Funny or Die (funnyordie.com)