Janina Gavankar is a self-proclaimed geek. At least, that’s what every other interview says about her. She’ll admit to an obsession for video games, Comic Con and the world of tech but maintains that ‘to geek’ is just to love. And boy, do geeks love her. In any incarnation. Whether it’s as a shape-shifter on True Blood or on the face of a trophy in The League, fans can’t get enough. We caught up with Janina at the Toronto release for Far Cry 4—a video game in which she voices a character—to chat about the game, her badass roles and, yes, Shiva Blasts.
Who are you in the game?
Her name is Amita and she’s one of the leaders of the Golden Path in Kyrat. She has specific views on what she thinks the future of the country should be. I had a very clear vision of who I wanted to play. I was not interested in playing a diminutive female character. Strong female characters are seriously lacking in this world. I’m proud to say that Amita is the first female leader in her country and she doesn’t need you, the player, to help her. She will be doing all the badass things that you will be doing with her own two hands.
Very cool. I was actually going to ask you your thoughts on women in video games. They always seem to need help.
Yes, absolutely. It’s definitely a problem. Female representation in almost any medium is a problem. I’m happy to be talking to a woman at an event like this. The industry needs more strong women creating, writing and directing these games. It has to come from within. It’s no different than Hollywood. A lot of shit needs to change. But the more that men really prove that they like strong women, the easier it will make the progress. It’s okay to have boobs! Don’t print that! [laughs]
You have to tell me honestly: how many Shiva Blasts do you get hit with every day?
Not enough. But one happened the other day. I was out and this guy Shiva blasted so loud it made everyone stare. Like a room full of strangers. I’d say that I’ve really only gotten three unabashed, full-bodied Shiva blasts in my life. Everyone says they’re going to do it and when I tell them to get it out of their system they can’t pull it off! They crumble after the first few syllables. But I want people to feel safe enough around me to do it. It’s a safe space.
I have to hear about the work environment of The League, it’s such a funny show.
Well, you have to know that it’s all improv. The ‘script’ essentially is a page that says something like ‘Exterior: Andre’s apartment. Shiva walks in, she’s pissed. She curses everyone.’ That’s it. It’s insane. We just go for it. Those guys are such a well-oiled machine at this point. They all know each other so well that I’m afraid to show up to set! I’m like an outsider. I also do a weekly podcast* with some fucking awesome people. Brilliant brains. I’m like a zombie; if you’re smart and weird, I want to get in there and fucking eat your brain. They’re the most talented motherfuckers.
I think Shiva is mostly the straightforward man to the guys and their buffoonery.
Which role would you prefer to be in, personally?
I’m kind of a pain in the ass on my current show The Mysteries of Laura. There are definitely some comical moments for my character Meredith. But I don’t know. I don’t really change my position as an actor. There’s no switch in my brain where I say ‘okay, I’m doing comedy now,’ I just fully believe in my character from start to finish.
*Janina’s podcast is for a website she’s developing called AltFound launching next year.
How does one get hooked up with a video game?
One auditions. This was a traditional audition. Video games at this point are interactive movies and the actors in it need to be good. I got a call saying that they wanted to see me for this part and I fought so hard. I feel like I willed this into existence.
What’s the process behind voicing a video game? Some people think that you’re still locked in a dark room with a microphone.
This is full motion capture. We are suited up with dots all over our body and face on a sort of soundstage. The dots will capture very subtle emotions. Any thoughts or emotions, no matter how small running across my face are being captured. For me, the process was no different than it is with TV and film. I created a character as real as I could make her based on all the information I found in the script and talking to producers.[At this point we’re interrupted by a rep]
I get two or three more questions.
Great. Whatever. We get as long as we want. I’m on a rant. You can’t stop me! In a perfect world I would either look like I’m in the Matrix everyday or be in head to toe geek fashion that is a reference to my favourite games. I’m not interested in wearing Gucci. I’m interested in wearing something that is an extension of content that I love. I’d want to look like I’m wearing high fashion, but when you looked closer, it would actually be references to alternative culture.
Whenever I read something about you, your ‘geekdom’ is always mentioned. What does being a geek really mean to you?
Let’s define geek: to geek is to love. When you’re a geek about something it means you have an overwhelming love and obsession for some things. So to geek is to love. The things that I’ve always been interested in are more on the ‘nerdy’ side. Especially the way that I interact with them which is 110 per cent, fangirl vibrations at all times. Growing up I was a band geek, swing choir geek, theatre geek, drum corp. geek, all of that. Now, I’m a gamer, a tech geek and an involuntary early-adapter. I’m so enthralled by tech that I might have ended up in it if I wasn’t such a weirdo artist.
Geek fans seem like the most loyal and devoted bunch. Can you confirm?
Yes! And protective!
Do you have any crazy fan stories?
No, and I’ll tell you why: we’re the same. We are the same breed. When I go to Comic Cons—either as a fan or as a person signing autographs—my friends or coworkers who aren’t geeks are afraid for my safety. They don’t understand that I shuffle around just like everyone else.
Tell me about the event we’re at.
We are here at the launch of Far Cry 4, a beautiful, badass game. I talked someone into giving me a download code and I started playing to last night until 2 a.m.. It’s like I can’t get home fast enough to keep playing. I’ve already finished nine campaign missions. I’m in it now. And I’m literally in it! This is the biggest life hack than I could have ever imagined me pulling off.
Most of the shows you’ve been on like Arrow, True Blood, Vampire Diaries, it seems like you have a fantastical edge to you.
Well, going back to the geek thing…there’s got to be some reason why I keep going back to shows I watch. Those are shows I would watch. The other side of it is that I’m not a twig or a pushover and no one wants to hire me to be a little shrinking violet. I’m not saying I can’t play that, but Hollywood isn’t trying to hire me to do that. The most badass women live on those kinds of shows.
The shows with the most unreal edge to them are the ones that let women be as badass as possible.
And they’re also created by geeks. There’s something about geek culture that is very pro-smart, strong women. This community that is perceived to be nerdy boys is not just nerdy boys first of all. And nerdy boys need smart women to contend with and they’re everywhere.
If you could shape-shift into anything what would it be?