Rising Star: 'True Blood's' New Shapeshifter Janina Gavankar
He’s been abandoned, pushed around, beaten up and had his heart trampled on, but this season, love is finally on the way for “True Blood’s” bar owner Sam Merlotte in the form of new brunette beauty (and fellow shapeshifter) Janina Gavankar.
Wide-eyed and with a beguiling mix of confidence, innocence and a little mischieviousness in her deep brown eyes, AccessHollywood.com’s newest rising star is on a path toward charming Bon Temps and beyond.
But, as it turns out, her series regular role as Luna on the now hit HBO show almost didn’t happen.
The actress — perhaps best recognized for her roles on the “L Word” (she played strong Latina lesbian Papi) and ABC’s “The Gates” (she portrayed deputy Leigh Turner) — had to be coaxed into even auditioning after feeling a little “prudish” after only seeing the pilot.
“I was very aware of it, but I was like, ‘I’m not going to do it,’” she recalled of being approached by her people about the role of Sam’s shapeshifting love interest, Luna. “They were basically like, ‘It’s ‘True Blood’ and there is nudity involved,’ when they sent me the material.”
Having found regular work since her move from Chicago to Los Angeles several years ago, including recurring roles on the now-canceled “Traffic Light” on FOX, and FX’s “The League,” Janina wasn’t ready to jump at the opportunity.
“’Fine, I will only do it if it’s a strong recurring,’” she recounted of her conversation with her agents. “They were like, ‘It’s a series regular.’ I was like, ‘Fine, I will only do it if’ — ‘cause I know everybody has sex – ‘I will only do it if she’s not a vampire, because vampire sex kind of freaks me out.’ They are like, ‘She’s a shapeshifter!’ I’m like, ‘Fine!’ My last thing was, ‘I will only do it, if I am not like a stripper,’ and they [said], ‘She’s a school teacher.’
“I auditioned the next day,” she added.
While taking on the “True Blood” role has meant some disrobing, Janina credits the veteran actresses she met during her “L Word” stint – stars like Jennifer Beals, Pam Grier and Cybill Shepherd — for helping her become more comfortable with baring it all on camera.
“That was a show that dealt with sexuality. These women are uber-smart and dedicated to telling important stories and playing full-bodied characters, so they had no problem in that show doing it right,” Janina said of the risk-taking acting and the lessons learned during her first big job in Hollywood. “Some of them are like, ‘Eh! Do it while you’re young,’ And I was like, ‘Gosh I never thought of it that way.’
“And I am the kind of actor, I just don’t like seeing people hold back,” she continued. “You can tell when an actor is holding back. I don’t want to be that actor. I want to be the actor who gives their all.”
While she hasn’t felt a big shift in her popularity just yet, the day after “True Blood’s” Season 4 premiere, the actress admitted she boarded a flight out of town for an indie film she is currently working on (“Satellite of Love”) and overheard the passengers discussing the show’s return, something that made an impact.
“That was crazy! Can you believe that?” she said, still surprised by the conversations.
As more show fans get to know the leggy actress by name, they’ll find out she can do more than just light up the screen thanks to her powerful set of pipes.
“Music’s such a big part of my identity, it’s such a natural flow,” she said of writing songs when she’s not working.
While the former girl group member can play the piano, drums and the marimba, she’s kept her singing secret on set.
“I’m always so sensitive to the idea that someone’s gonna be like, ‘Oh lord, here it is, it’s the Janina Gavankar Talent show,’” she sighs.
But she’s hoping to one-day combine her loves on the big screen.
“I want to do a musical so badly, you have no idea. It’s seeping out of my pores,” she laughed.
For now, though, the actress is concentrating on finishing off Season 4 of “True Blood,” and taking her growing success in stride.
“The point of success to me is longevity, so in this lifetime I plan on doing all of it and if people actually notice, then that’s even better,” she said.