When Wetpaint Entertainment spoke with Janina in an exclusive interview, she talked candidly about filming nude scenes in freezing weather, how she totally embarrassed herself in front of co-star Nelsan Ellis (Lafayette) and why Milli Vanilli is her best Halloween costume.
Wetpaint Entertainment: True Blood is known for having its actors show a lot of skin. Are those scenes difficult or awkward to film?
Janina Gavankar: It’s difficult when you’re in 34-degree weather, which is what that first lounging around [scene was.]
It was 34 degrees?!
Yeah it was freezing. Scott [Winant] — the director of that episode — was telling me that he was walking and his foot crunched on something and he looked down and it was ice. I‘m so glad nobody told me that in the moment. He said that at some point he remembers me losing control of my mouth, my lips started freezing. You can tell on camera. So in that regard — environmentally — it is difficult.
Awkward? It can be, but this is Season 4 and everybody is so used to it at this point that it’s like, whatever. It’s an incredibly smart show. I’m much more worried about getting every single moment right and building a character that’s real. In that moment that is of the utmost importance, not the fact that the whole crew can see my boobs. And millions and millions of people watching in the end. The crew who have seen it all before, and then some, I’m not really worried about them.
What does your family think of your role on True Blood?
My dad will most probably not watch it. He doesn’t really like dark things — he says it gives him nightmares. It’s so cute. I was like look, ‘If you don’t like some of the stuff you see in the news you definitely are not going to like True Blood.’ Not that he won’t like, just that he won’t be able to take it.
My mother loves it, she loves the show. She likes the character a lot. Luna’s a nice girl, ya know? I’ve played a really wide variety of people in my career so far and not all of them have been nice [Laughs.] My mother sometimes says, “Why can’t you just play a nice girl?” Now ya got one mom!
What’s your most embarrassing on-set experience?
[Laughs.] I have the hugest talent crush on Nelsan [Ellis.] I fall at his feet [laughs.] He’s amazing. We all watched the first episode together — I can’t believe I’m telling you this — Alan [Ball] and Gregg [Fienberg] screened it for us and the cast and crew sat around behind Merlotte’s bar and watched it.
After it was done, I forgot a ring that I had to give back to costumes and I was looking for somebody, kind of roaming around, and I walked into the makeup trailer and Nelsan’s in there. He just looks at me and he goes, ‘You are so gorgeous on camera.’ And I kind of froze, like lost my voice. [I was thinking] you can’t say that to me! I just left!
I completely hold him in such high esteem, he is such a talent and I can’t wait to see what he does next. We are going to see that man for a very, very long time. He’s just such a talented actor. I wilted under the glow of Nelsan, that’s my most embarrassing experience.
This season makes it so hard. I used to think Team Bill, but watching Alcide pine over her, I might just say Alcide. When she [Sookie] said “So, friends?” and hugs him, and he’s like, “Oh my god, she used the f-word!” [He was like], “I don’t want to be friends with you, I like you, like like you like you.”
Yeah, Team Alcide. I think he makes the perfect trifecta. I’m gonna go with Team Alcide.
In addition to acting, you’re also really accomplished musically. Can you tell me a little about that?
I grew up playing classical piano and percussion. I’m sitting here in my loft right now looking at my 8-foot marimba and I studied voice — I sang opera first. I did all the musicals in my high school, I was in a pop group signed to Cash Money Records in college, music has always been a really big part of my life.
Do you watch Glee?
[Laughs.] I can’t watch Glee because I get so jealous that I’m not there with them doing it, that I can’t even watch. You know what I do watch? The Glee Project. I saw the first [episode] when I was on a treadmill — because I am on True Blood — and I was running and they had the TV on and I was like, this is that show. These kids want it so bad and it’s just seeping out of their pores. I tweeted about it — I think I cried like six times in a half-hour. I was like, this is ridiculous. They are way too much.
Do you dress up for Halloween?
I sometimes do, I sometimes don’t. I always feel like I’m so busy. I had a great costume once. I was at my ex-boyfriend’s place and we all decoded to go to this great Hollywood Halloween party where you can either dress up as a dead celebrity or a celebrity you would like dead. You could take a whack reality television character …
I showed up to the house, I had no costume, it was all very last minute. I’m looking through his closet … and I thought of the greatest character ever. I took his biking tights — they’re super tight — and I had black sneakers on and then I wore a normal T-shirt and I wore one of his blazers and I braided my hair back and I was Milli Vanilli.
Amazing, right?! I was totally proud of that one. That’s my proudest moment.
Growing up I had some amazing costumes. [My favorite was] a peacock. [My mother] had a huge, decorative fan — it spans like 4 or 5 feet — and it was turquoise. We had a friend who had peacocks in his backyard and they shed so he had all these peacock feathers.
And [my mother] found this little leotard — I was 9 or 10 — with peacock feathers and blue tights, etc. etc. It was super cute. I’m sure there are pictures somewhere, I think it made the yearbook. It was pretty epic. She’s super talented in the creative area.
Who’s your current celebrity crush?
I don’t know, who’s doing it for me right now? You know who was for the longest time? First it was Benicio del Toro, then he got nominated for an Oscar, and then it was Adrien Brody and he got his Oscar — or whatever the order was — and then it was Sacha Baron Cohen. Not Borat!
He [Sacha Baron Cohen] is actually beautiful and so smart. He went to some fabulous school in the U.K. — I think it was Oxford. He’s my crush I should know this. He’s beautiful and he’s smart, and hilarious obviously, and has great taste in women because Isla Fisher is so dope.
Now it’s this guy on this show — Man vs. Wild — Bear Grylls!