An Interview With The Gates Star Janina Gavankar
The 26-year-old Indian-Dutch actress dishes on her new ABC show, The Gates, her naked coworkers, and what being in a girl group taught her about acting.
Details: What's going on in The Gates? What makes it a compelling place?
Janina Gavankar: It's a gated community, and, you know, you've driven by these huge gated communities before. I have always felt like they should never really be trusted. Why do they need a gate? What's going on in there? In our gated community, everybody is living amongst each other being fairly normal and upper-class. But some of the neighbors happen to be supernatural, and they're all living in this suburban utopia.
Janina Gavankar: Controlled utopia.
Details: Are you similar to your character, Leigh?
Janina Gavankar: Leigh's very reserved. You're always wondering what she's thinking. I'm never going to deny that there's a piece of me in every character. I know that you have to be reserved about certain things in your life.
Details: Do you have any memorable stories from the set?
Janina Gavankar: You mean, besides the fact that there are a lot of men who are naked all the time and I love it? [Laughs] Let me tell you, it's really hard to go to work every day.
Details: You played Papi on the fourth season of The L Word. What was it like playing a player?
Janina Gavankar: I 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. I'm actually a really good girl, but all of a sudden I'm figuring out the choreography of a sex scene.
Details: Are you straight or gay?
Janina Gavankar: I'm straight. I. Love. Men. I love men.
Details: Was it difficult to play a lesbian?
Janina Gavankar: No, it wasn't difficult. It's not any different than playing a person of a different ethnicity, age, or walk of life. Sexuality doesn't scare me at all. It's always been a nonissue.
Details: Was there anything surprising about the experience?
Janina Gavankar: I never thought in a million years that I would be told that my next episode would be where I had to make out with Pam Grier. There are definitely moments in your life where you're like, "How did I get here?"
Details: You were also once a member of the girl group Endera, signed on to Cash Money/Universal Records—a privilege few can lay claim to.
Janina Gavankar: We were together for two solid years, and then it started falling apart, as girl groups do. We did the whole thing. I went to artist-development boot camp in Atlanta. There, I learned how to dance, which helped a lot with the physicality of Papi. I feel like in Atlanta, if you were a female dancer, the more you can dance like the boys, the more respect you get. I was thrust into that kind of dance culture, and it was in my body.
Details: Have you ever played a role that was outside your comfort zone?
Janina Gavankar: I don't really feel comfortable unless I'm slightly uncomfortable. I don't want to play myself all the time. Who the fuck wants to watch me be me? That's boring. If you give me two projects where one is kind of safe and one is "Whoa, this is a stretch," I'm always going to go for the stretch. There are enough people who want to be safe. Let them!
Details: You're really a jack-of-all-trades—you did theater, performing arts, dance. On top of that you produce, DJ, and record music. Is there anything you can't do?
Janina Gavankar: I can't work out without a trainer! I have to get into a bikini soon for The Gates, and I've never done something like this. I feel more comfortable doing a sex scene naked than lying on a raft in a pool in a bikini.