“Janina Gavankar Embraces Acting In Video Games”

In today’s world, technology dominates the little free time that the average person has throughout the day. Whether it is checking Twitter, Facebook, watching a movie, or browsing the internet. One of the most lucrative industries within our technological obsessed society is the medium of entertainment that is ever expanding: Video Games.

A vast majority of the American population partakes in the hobby of video games. Whether it be on the subway to work playing a game on a smart phone, or sitting on the couch at home with a controller in hands playing the latest high budget game. It is no secret that video games have invaded mainstream culture, and are, for the most part, considered socially acceptable and part of an every day life. With the level of advancements in game engines and graphical horsepower, the games that we play on the big screen are becoming increasingly realistic at an unprecedented pace.

Environments look real, gameplay is accurate, and the characters within games are getting to the lifelike level of film. With that being said, the voices behind the characters are somewhat hidden to the players. Over the course of the past decade, voice acting has become an integral part of the games that we play since technology has allowed developers to implement cut scenes that mirror real life in which we sit and watch character development and story progression. The industry is expanding and potentially becoming more appealing to talented actors that generally work on screen in film or television. Likenesses of actors such as Kevin Spacey, William Dafoe, and Ellen Paige have appeared in games over the past year with startling resemblance to their real life counterpart. We recognize these people, and their voices, but what about the actors that are not exact replicates of their own personas? Are they interested in pursuing the growing field of acting in video games?

Janina Gavankar, best known for her roles in True Blood, The League, The L Word, and currently, The Mysteries of Laura on NBC, auditioned for what became Far Cry 4, the latest game in the edgy series out of the largest game studio in the world, Ubisoft Montreal. She portrays Amita, one of the main supporting characters within the intricate story of a rebel group against a tyrant in the remarkably accurate resemblance to the region of the Himalayas in the imagined world that the developers at Ubisoft Montreal dubbed Kyrat.

The rich, famous, and beautiful are not immune to the impact that video games have made on society as they have become more realistic, and increasingly appealing to actors and actresses. Gavankar is one of the pioneers. Unlike other on screen performers who have taken roles in games, Janina’s likeness is only registered through her voice, as Amita does not resemble her physical appearance.

Gavankar took some time out of her day after displaying her motion capture talents at Ubisoft Montreal to answer a few questions about her immersion into the field of video game acting with her debut role in Far Cry 4.

How did you get into video games?
I grew up in a strict upbringing and was not allowed to play video games. My ex-boyfriend was a gamer, not in like a massive way, but you know, he would play video games like normal people. Not an obsessive gamer like I am now, but he brought Bioshock home and I was like ‘what’s that?’ and we just started playing and I very quickly was stealing the controller. I think my gateway-wow this is an embarrassing story-

You’re having your nerd moment.
(laughing) Nerd Moment! He was playing Bioshock and do you remember when they had those hacking moments?

Yeah, I remember them. That was a defining game for the industry.
That was when I would tell him to let me do that and hand me the controller. We would play the game together and I would tell him to go this way or that way or to kill that splicer. So I would take the controller and do the hacks, and then he would go to work and then I would finish the game.

So you started gaming in 2007 when the first Bioshock was released?
That sounds about right. Siri, when did Bioshock come out? (A European male Siri checks for her). 2007, you’re right! Good job!

I know my games.
You do. And then I played The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. I found every single Poe in the game. Then Half Life 1 and 2 and then one of my good friends saw what was going to be a future-obsessive gamer and handed me The Orange Box.

Oh, that’s bad news, yeah.
And that changed everything. That was the tipping point for me.

Yeah, Portal. I have a six foot piece of fan art that I made that’s in my house. You know the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ thing? I made one that said ‘The Cake is a Lie’ in photoshop and had it professionally printed on a six foot canvas and framed it (shows me a picture on her phone).

That is awesome.
Yeah, and then right next to it is the Lego Death Star which is discontinued.

Did you buy that and construct it yourself?
No, I just bought it like that or glued it together. Of course, I made it myself!

I didn’t know because you are a busy person and not a lot of people have time to make a Lego Death Star in their free time anyways.
Did you Google me before I got here? Who are you talking to? (laughing) Anyways, next question.

Is this the first game that you worked on?
Yes it is. I’m still so emotional about it. It’s so crazy to think about-I mean it’s seven years later. Since the moment I started playing in 2007 I’ve been telling everyone that asked me why I was playing games so much and what was so great about them, I asked them if they liked movies. Well then you are going to like video games because they are interactive movies.

Yes, that is exactly what they are turning into.
So now seven years later, it’s even more so. As a game player it’s a dream, but as an actor, it’s so fulfilling. I feel like I’ve been trying to get into a game for seven years.

Have you tried that hard?
Every person I’ve met in the gaming industry, I’m sure I have hinted my interest in being in a game in some way. And then I got an audition for this so I fought for it. I liked the character, but I didn’t know it was Far Cry, and when I found out, I freaked out.

So they don’t tell you what game you are auditioning for? I’ve heard that before. It’s true?
No, I didn’t know what game it was for. They called it “Chronicles.”

How was it working with Troy Baker?
I never worked with Troy, which is a real bummer because I’m a super fangirl.

He is like the voice actor of all video games.
He is the actor of all video games. He is the best. He is just a beast of an actor, transformational, and so underrated. Troy has a massive career and a million other voices, and the thing that infuriates me is because I’m in the on camera world and no one knows who he is there. I have been single handedly telling casting directors to bring him in because he would smash it. I don’t even know if he wants to do it because he has a really successful artistic career and I don’t know if he wants to do on camera work at all, and I would fully respect that. But I mean the farther that I get into this industry, I wouldn’t be surprised if I was more artistically fulfilled here and pull away.

I’ll tell you why. When I moved to Los Angeles, all I wanted to do was turn into different people. Nothing’s changed. I’m so bored with the way I look. I’ve had the same hair for seven-eight years. My first series-

You transformed all the time in True Blood though.
See and that was an attractive opportunity. My first series was The L Word. My character walked differently and talked differently than me. It was so fulfilling. All I want to do is feel someone else’s life and that’s what I was doing. I am constantly chasing the dragon of feeling somebody else’s emotions.

So whether that is on camera or through motion capture?
I don’t care how you watch it. In fact, I care less about an audience ever seeing it than the process itself. But here is the rest of the Hollywood story, I guess. The farther I’ve gotten into my career, the less they allow me to change into different people. They want that chick from True Blood, but I don’t see myself as the chick from True Blood. I’m a trained actor who is interested in changing into different people so if I have the opportunity to change completely in the video game world, it’s inevitably going to pull me away because it is a much more creative experience.

It’s definitely out of the normal for someone who has had this much success on screen to want to switch to working in video games. It doesn’t happen very often. You don’t normally see that.
Why do you think that is?

I think that a lot of it is that actors want to be on screen, but I think that will continue to change as technology advances.
It absolutely will. The truth is, in that regard, I’ve always been an early adopter. I was one of the first actors on Twitter. I have countless things-actually I’m starting a site for stuff like this. It’s called Alt Found. I’m launching it in January. My whole life, I have constantly been finding alternatives whether it’s counterculture or the cheaper alternative to the thing that you are coveting that no one should pay that much for. So Alt Found is that. It’s geek-centric for the grown geek because guess what? We are all geeks, but we don’t look the way geeks used to look. That’s what this site is. Anyway, I am constantly trying to find an alternative to any experience, and that goes for my career as well. I don’t know what the future will be, but this character in this game is potentially the start of something epic.

And you want to continue doing this?
I don’t want to just do it, I want to do it on an epic scale because I’m passionate. I have a million voices and a million perspectives and I want to turn into a bunch of different people. Maybe even a dragon.

You can experience one of Janina Gavankar’s perspectives and the voice of Amita in Far Cry 4 which just released on November 18th on Playstation 4, Xbox One, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and Microsoft Windows.

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Steven Petite

About Steven Petite

Steven Petite received his Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing from Cleveland State University and is currently pursuing a Masters in Publishing Studies at Southeastern Louisiana University. His journalism has appeared in Playboy, Huffington Post, Crixeo, Ranker, New York Game Critics Circle, and others. His fiction has appeared in Cigale Literary Magazine. He can be reached at stevenpetite@gmail.com.