Actor. Musician. Geek. That’s what the gorgeous 26‐year‐old Indian‐Dutch all American Janina Gavankar calls herself. Best known for her role as Papi on Showtime’s The L‐Word, Janina has made appearances on several of TV’s most popular shows, starred in movies, been signed to a major label in a girl group and blazed the trail for South Asians looking to make a mark in Hollywood with every step she has taken. Her versatility as a performer is groundbreaking and setting the entertainment industry on fire.
Growing up with parents who were ardent supporters of the arts, Janina was fully immersed in pursuing music. Classically trained as a pianist and as a percussionist, she says that if you can hit it, she can play it. Vocally, Janina studied opera first, but when she discovered she couldn’t actually sit through an entire opera, she shifted her focus to Broadway, rock, and pop.
So, how did acting happen? She didn’t grow up as a budding ingénue with stars in her eyes, but when she landed the role of Maria in West Side Story – her fate was sealed. "I had an
out‐of‐body experience where I was living in a character. It sounds cliché, but it changed my life." Janina says that acting is “a high I've been chasing since”.
After high school, Janina was living three lives. She was studying theater, music and psychology at University of Illinois Chicago; auditioning for everything she possibly could and was a member for Endera – an all girl musical group signed to Cash Money Universal. All of that work led her to Los Angeles. Janina graciously admits that she found work right away. "I think I had only said 4 lines on TV when I got my first series." She joined the cast of The L Word in its 4th season with the breakout role as Papi, and has done a myriad of TV shows like NCIS, The Cleaner, Grey's Anatomy, Dollhouse, and many others. "I've been infinitely lucky. Hollywood has allowed me to play a wide variety of walks of life." Janina is a strong creator of various forms of expression and believes in art for art’s sake. As an anomaly amongst the generation of South Asian actors who have had to first pursue traditional fields and put the arts second, Janina can’t wait to see what sort of talent is
nurtured from the coming generations who are given the freedom to nurture their passion the way that she was. "They're unstoppable."
See Janina as Papi
Currently, Janina is appearing on “The Gates”, one of the hottest shows on ABC. It premiered June 20th and you can see Janina on Sundays at 9pm.
It has been confirmed that the actress will return to Showtime's hit series "The L Word". Gavankar is also rumoured to be joining the cast of Grey's Anatomy for the upcoming fifth season!!
ASIANCE: How did you get into Opera?
Janina: I was a classical kid. I played piano and percussion already, so it made sense to stay within the same world.
ASIANCE: How did you get your role on the L-Word?
Janina: I auditioned. haha!
ASIANCE: Tell us about The Gates and why you’re so excited about it!
Janina: Yay The Gates!! It's a show about an affluent gated community where some of the inhabitants are vampires, werewolves, witches, and other supernaturals. I'm excited because my character is pretty rad, and I'm a fan of shows like this in general. (I'd watch it even if I wasn't on it!)
ASIANCE: Are there any South Asians’ career you follow? Who do you think we should watch out for, besides yourself?
Janina: We all kind of watch out for each other, actually. There are so few of us, that we're protective and uber-supportive. I'm VERY excited for Jay Sean's next album, Aasif Mandvi has some very interesting projects coming up this year, and Amir Khan is the junior welter weight title holder.
ASIANCE: Do you have any daily South Asian customs or what has your mom taught you about your South Asian heritage?
Janina: I love me some chai. Haha!
ASIANCE: What music do you have in your iPod? Do you like M.I.A? She’s a prominent South Asian face.
Janina: Heck yeah, I'm an M.I.A. fan. She's queen of cool. My iPod is very diverse. It ranges classical to dubstep.
Janina's flip on Kanye West's smash "Love Lock Down"
ASIANCE: Are you dating anyone?
See Janina on "The Gates"
ASIANCE: Do you have a secret crush?
ASIANCE: Well? Who is it?
Janina: If I told you who it was it wouldn’t be a secret. (Laughs)
ASIANCE: How do you balance your career and a social life?
Janina: I don't "go out". A club isn't my natural habitat. Most of my closest friends are artists, so we find time to be together by creating projects together.
ASIANCE: Is there a particular part or role that you would like to play?
Janina: I want to do a musical so badly, it's ridiculous. Haha!
ASIANCE: What do you want the next generation of Asian artists to know?
Janina: We're working hard to build careers that aren't based on our ethnicity, but on solid work. All we need is your support. Watch our shows, buy our albums, go see our movies. Your presence helps all of us.... And I'm excited to see what you guys do next.