Q & A with Janina Gavankar Part I: “I’m a Classically Trained Music Nerd” > MTV Iggy

BY: Kishwer

When I called Janina Gavankar today, she’d just come fresh off the set from filming an action scene for ABC’s The Gates and was dying to tell me all about it. “I just did the coolest thing today,” gushed Gavankar, who plays policewoman Leigh Turner in The Gates, “I did a stunt today that I cannot talk about — it would give away too much. But it was so exciting!”  The actress and singer was hanging out in her apartment in Shreveport, Louisiana, where much of the series is shot, with fellow Gates actors Colton Haynes (who plays high school student Brett Crezski) and Rachel DiPillo (who plays a werewolf). “We all genuinely like each other,” says Gavankar. “You’ll see us hanging out around town all the time.” The veteran actress, who’s appeared in movies such as Barbershop — as well as in television shows such as The L-Word and Stargate Atlantic, has been busy this summer. She’s been bonding with her new cast and also working on her music –  recently releasing a remake of Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown.” That’s no surprise to those who know the multi-talented Gavankar — before acting, she was a part of girl group Endera, with Universal Records.  She took some time away from work to talk with MTV Iggy about her extraordinary summer.

Q: In The Gates, you play the character of Leigh Turner, can you tell us a little about her?


A: Leigh is a police officer who is responsible for security in a gated community and she has a lot to hide. She moved there partly for her own security, but the audience doesn’t know a lot about her yet. But they will soon.

Q: What’s the best part about playing a cop? Have you played one before?

A: I’ve played a space trooper, which is kind of security work. [Laughs. ]  The best thing about playing a cop is having to do the brain work to figure out how you would keep a place secure and putting somebody else before yourself. It’s a lesson in selflessness.

Q: Which of your characters do you identify more with, the prim search assistant, Ms. Dewey or Papi, the Latina lesbian player on The L Word?

I have played a great variety of people — from  pregnant meth addicts to space troopers to Latin Lotharios. I’m really lucky because people hire me to play a variety of characters. I loved Dewey — she was maybe my favorite gig to play. She’s got this weird international accent, she has a manservant  and she’s smarter than everybody – she’s very interesting.  I’m not as cool as Papi. [Laughs.] I guess Leigh is the most like me because when I booked this role, I was going through much of the same stuff that she did. (Which the audience, doesn’t know about yet.) But, I like to think I’m not as interesting  as any of my characters.

Q: What was the hardest part of playing the sensual, confident Papi in the L Word?

It actually wasn’t that hard. I feel like it’s easier to play someone  who’s 100 times different from you than someone who’s close to you. You get to clean the slate, so to speak.  I got to start completely from scratch with Papi.

Q: What’s the scariest thing you ever had to do for a role?

I played this meth addict on The Cleaner, the Benjamin Bratt show – that experience was exhilarating and harrowing at the same time. I spent two works trying to understand the brain of an addict and having to understand that – it was intense. Incidentally, it was also one of the first Indian characters I played on television. It was scary to have to learn how to smoke fake meth. I’d never even inhaled a cigarette before — I had virgin lungs. But I had to learn how to strike up a crack pipe and look like I’d been smoking meth for a year.

Q: Is there a role you wouldn’t play?

A: I wouldn’t play something close to what I’ve played before. I’m not interested in repeating myself. Diverse roles excite me.

Q: if you had to choose — music vs. acting — what would it be?

A:  I think it’s clear that I’ve chosen acting. I just recently stepped back into music. I have a grand piano in my loft in L.A. and an 8-foot marimba. I really walked away from the music industry because one, I was burned out and two, I really wanted to focus on acting and do it right. It’s nerve-wracking to come back and show the world my music because they don’t know me as a musician.

Q: Did you say you own an 8-foot marimba?

A: [Laughs.] I’m a classically trained music nerd.

Q: What are some of your upcoming projects – both in music and in television and film?

A: I am working on some secret music stuff, including work on a side project with a few producers, one of which is this amazing dub producer named Downlink. And there are some projects — some independent films — in the works.

Q: So any truth to the news that you maybe be doing a guest appearance on Grey’s Anatomy?

A: No, that is totally a rumor. I’m not doing that. Unless everybody suddenly writes to Grey’s Antomy and requests that I be on that show. Because that does work…

Q: Are you a Bollywood fan?

A: I’m not an avid Bollywood watcher, but my family has quite a few connections to Bollywood. It’s funny because growing up I had no idea that my family was involved with Bollywood — just not in front of the camera. My great-uncle was actually the sound engineer for Sholay. Also, my father’s best friend growing up was R. D. Burman – who was just Uncle Pancham to me. I had no idea about our family background. When I realized I was going to be an actor and my family was involved with Bolywood, it was a bit of an “Oh wow, of course I”m suppose to do this, It’s in my blood” reaction.