ClexaCon ’22: Janina Gavankar

ClexaCon ’22: Janina Gavankar

To a number of people, she’s forever Papi, the woman who slept with more women than anyone else on The L Word (at least according to Alice). To others, she’s Luna, the shape shifter who can turn into a horse, and to one poor woman somewhere in West Hollywood, she’s just a heart breaker. Janina Gavankar is an actor, musician, voice actress, producer, film maker, and more.

She sat down with us, Tagg Magazine, and to talk about the new L Word: Gen Q, video games, the pandemic, and guilty TV pleasures, with a dose of The Morning Show.


LezWatch.TV: So how has playing a queer character on The L Word influenced like the rest of your career?

Janina Gavankar: My gosh. I don’t really know. I feel like … has it? I just think that I’ve always been a subversive person. I’m an artist. I was born like that, you know? I’m always going to be attracted to an opportunity where I can be a part of telling a story that hasn’t been told yet. To me it’s not arbitrary that the first real job I got was on a queer show. And I think that there’s — if I look at everything I’ve ever done, there’s probably been I don’t know… 

I just don’t know. I just think it’s just, to me, it’s not a big deal. It’s never been a big deal even at the time, even though it was the first lesbian show, supposedly. But that doesn’t mean that there weren’t queer people writing stories that had queer themes and queer characters even though they didn’t actually follow through for years before that right?

People who are marginalized have to exist and tell their own stories in the best way that they can that changes through the years. It looks different as the years go by The L Word was the first one to look and feel that way. But queer stories have been told with different faces and different names for years. Do people still, if you if they see you, do they still call you Papi?

Gavankar: They didn’t even back then. No, because we’re different. Our presentation of self — meaning, Papi and I — our presentation of self is very different from each other. So nobody really recognized me. 

I did have one fantastic moment and we — I play video games, I’m like, I’m a geek, right? So I’m not really going out much? But while it was airing, in those years, I happened to be out and somebody recognized me. Somebody said, “Hey Papi” and I think she thought she was being kind of a smart alec, and I just looked at her, but I looked at her as Papi, I said like, “Hey girl,” and she basically shrank inside of herself. That was super fun and I’ll never forget it. That was so long ago now, Papi isn’t as on the skin as you used to be for me, right?

But she had a point of view and an opinion that is so different than mine, that she when she looked at women through me, they knew it and they could feel it. Rhat’s why it made this woman lose all of her power on the sidewalk outside of some club in West Hollywood, and I’ll never forget because I can’t do it anymore.

I could probably get her back. You know what I mean? Like I could probably get her back, but she was still on the skin at the time. Even if I tried right now, it’d be hard and it would be embarrassing for me as an actor because I’d be like, oh shoot, I lost, I gotta get back to work a little bit to find her.

But that was that was it.

LezWatch.TV: Would you go back to playing her if they called you and said, come to L Word Q?

Gavankar: That’s a deep question. I don’t have an answer.

Tagg Magazine: Have you watched the new show? Generation Q?

Gavankar: No, but I have met some of the cast socially and they’re wonderful. What is your take on? I’m just dying to know what everyone else’s take on the show. 

Tagg: I really like it. 

Gavankar: You like it.

Tagg: Yeah. I think there’s always room for improvement in everything. But that’s the thing. It’s like if this is the one show that has like an ensemble queer characters, it can’t stand for everything. You know, it’s not gonna be everything.

Gavankar: Thank you! This is the stuff that I said, listen, if you dig up my press from back in the day, I used to try to say that. I used to try to say it’s the first and the only, this cannot be it. This is just the beginning.

Tagg: I’m glad that I got renewed for a third season.

Gavankar: Oh good! excited to see to see what happens next. Good. Whose show running that? 

Tagg: Marja-Lewis Ryan.

Gavankar: I will probably — let’s be honest — I will probably binge. Yes, I’m most likely to wait until the third season is completely done, so I have that much to binge. Then it becomes, like, this is a juicy amount of content to put in my brain. So you’re going to be in a panel about [L Word: Gen Q] later today, right? Because my question was going to be so what’s your general take on it? But you haven’t seen it yet, so what’s going to be about?

Gavankar: We’re going to talk a lot about the original show. I’m sure we’ll have a lot to talk about.

LezWatch.TV: So you were on the first big … This is all queer women all the time show. How have you seen the queer landscape on in media changed since?

Gavankar: They all have, it’s been incredible. Thank God. Thank God. I love how this next generation is like “Lesbian? That’s do binary for me.” They are not here for that bullshit. I love it. I just think Gen Z is gonna save us all. They’re gonna force every person who thinks black and white to think in a rainbow. They’ve already added more colors to the rainbow. It’s a beautiful thing. 

LezWatch.TV: You’re a gamer. What’s your favorite? I mean right now, I know it changes for all of us. 

Gavankar: Right now? I mean, there’s one that rules them all to me is Portal. But what am I playing right now? Just I’m 100%-ing Spider-Man right now, which came out a few years ago. It was, it’s one of the best games ever made. There’s nothing I don’t get extra credit points for liking Spider-Man, you know what I mean? And then of course Miles Morales, it’s the follow up that they launched the PS5 with is incredible. Stray. Have you played Stray yet? 

LezWatch.TV: I couldn’t, I looked into it and then I’m like, wait, it hurts the cat. I can’t do. 

Gavankar: It doesn’t, it doesn’t?

LezWatch.TV: Okay, then somebody lied to me and I’m gonna go check it out.

Gavankar: I mean, listen, if you’re going to play a game that has to be consequences right now. But as soon as you feel like that’s not gonna trigger you in any way then you should totally play.

LezWatch.TV: I’m making a note for myself.

Gavankar: Yeah, I just put it on a list somewhere it’s beautiful. And then of course the re master of The Last of Us and then I’ll go right into The Last of Us II and then I’m sort of timing that to all be around the TV show. 

LezWatch.TV: Are you going to watch it?

Gavankar: Of course! Troy Baker, who plays Joel in the games, is a dear friend of mine and that’s really the opinion that you need. Not mine.

LezWatch.TV: I personally am looking forward to it. I enjoyed playing it when it came out. 

Gavankar: It’s a masterpiece.

LeWatch.TV: Yeah it was a story I wasn’t expecting in a zombie game.

Gavankar: That’s right and love comes in many many ways. 

Tagg: I’m curious if you could talk a little bit about your experience on the morning show because it’s one of my favorite shows and I know the last season had a really great queer storyline. It sounds like it may continue next season. I’m not sure if you’re returning or not, but we’d love to hear just a little bit about your experience.

Gavankar: Oh my gosh it was just it’s just like a bucket of genius. It’s incredible. It’s a really big show. By that, because I’ve been on a few big shows, but on that, that’s a very big, big show. I explained that .. it sounds fake, here’s an example. My first day on set, I’m sitting in the cup, that’s what we call it, cause it’s like a little coffee cup. So that’s the desk, you’re in the cup. There were two modes of production happening at the same time simultaneously.

The real show that you see, which is like the cameras on the back, right there on tracks, there behind the cameras that are shooting us creating the news network show. All of that content is being piped into the real heart where you see the room that has all of the screens.

I wasn’t told that because like as an actor, if you’re not a producer, nobody’s telling you shit, you’re just showing up and doing your job right? But because I produce, because I love technology and I’m like watching everything, I’m like stepping out of myself and then stepping in as the character sometimes, right?

So I’m sitting down and having Alison thoughts, right? All of her thoughts and then they yelled cut. And then I just looked around for the first time and I was like, wait, hold on. So you guys are shooting and then I can lean this way and I could see everything was live on those screens and I was like, this is a fucking circus!

There’s so many moving parts and this is fucking big! I was talking to Desean [Terry] and I was like, do you see how big this is? I’ve never seen anything like that. I don’t even know if it exists on any other show. There have been shows about the news before, but I don’t think there’s ever been a set like that.

That shit is sexy. 

LezWatch.TV: Now I want to go see it. That set sounds amazing. 

Gavankar: It’s incredible. It’s incredible. By the way, I’m not even talking about the level of actors and writers. I’m sorry about that. The example I used was something that is not what everybody else talks about. Right? It’s a big show. Are there any future shows that you can say something about or maybe any projects that we can support you with.

Gavankar: [slyly] Yes. I’m living in an umbrella of secrecy right now. I have four, five? I’ve been working on a lot of games in the pandemic, which is very exciting. Really dope stuff I’m so excited to be a part of. But this pandemic has been really interesting, you know, I did a show called Big Sky which is now you can watch all of it. I had a lot of fun and I joined a show that was a — this is what I can say — I joined the show, it was a very big hit show and it got canceled three days before we were all going to ship out to make it.

So it was announced that it got canceled. It was a very intense moment. In that moment as an actor, you are so you are added so late to a project.. That, to me, I’m just like who gives a shit what I think? Are the writers okay? The director that’s been up there planning for months? Are they okay? How about the entire crew that doesn’t have a job now, are they okay? 

It’s very intense. So that just happened. I was not supposed to be here right now, but so that’s why I’m sort of like happily not off shooting something. Other than that I’m producing and developing a lot of stuff. My creative partner and I have a very dense slate of projects.

I also started a full service podcast production company last year and the first one that is out right now is called Truest Blood. It’s a look bad podcast for HBO. Really good. 

LezWatch.TV: HBO Max just had the wave of cancelations where so many people— I was gonna ask, you know, how do you feel?

Gavankar: Oh we’re just a little podcast.

LezWatch.TV: True, but how do you feel about seeing all those cancelations?

Gavankar: I’m devastated, especially because HBO is subversive and that is where marginalized communities have shined on HBO in the past. So that’s very scary to me. 

Tagg: Would you jump at the change to play another supernatural character?

Gavankar: Oh yeah. I mean, I’m doing it all the time, especially in the game’s world, right? 

Tagg: Would you be like another shapeshifter? A werewolf? A vampire?

Gavankar: To me, that doesn’t matter. It’s really the back story and the forward motion of the character. So all of those things are just Trojan Horses to be able to tell a story in a different way that makes it more palatable to somebody who might not understand what’s really being said. That’s the magic of genre. 

I made a short film that came out in the pandemic. We made it before the pandemic, and it was about a woman stuck in her house, that’s hilarious now, and who coughs a lot. It’s a horror piece and it has it has body horror and it’s scary and it’s just a way in for a lot of people. Basically like if you know you know exactly what we’re saying here, and if you don’t that’s fine you can come for the gags okay, you know?

But even if you look at The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe isn’t at all like a Christian tale, just a morality play, you know, it’s just like CS Lewis was just trying to put his own spin on these morality tales into a fantasy novel series. 

I guess I’m expanding too much upon the first answer, which is it doesn’t matter.

Tagg: Do you think that you enjoy playing supernatural characters more than not?

Gavankar: No, not more or less. It’s fine either way, because in the end it’s just it’s the humanity. It doesn’t really matter if they can fly or not.  Can’t we all fly?

LezWatch.TV: What super power would you like to have?

Gavankar: Like voluntary immortality?  I just want to know what tech is gonna be like in 100 years. I’m like if this is where we are now, hahahaha! Are we gonna make it 100 years? I don’t know. I want to know that’s, why I want to be voluntary, because everybody’s gonna die. If I’m not gonna talk to, you know what I mean?

Tagg: What woman doesn’t want to turn into a horse whenever she can?

Gavankar: But why just limit it to horses? Now that I’ve been a shapeshifter, I would never just only one. A horse is the first thing I turned into on True Blood that you saw. But like her life, she’d been many things of it. I always think of course because they had that but how cool is that?

How cool is that, that they decided that she was part of some support group because she, it’s a very small community, and even though vampires were out, shape shifters were not so they had this support group and then they used to just go run and be horses together. Oh I love it. Oh so good. 

LezWatch.TV: What’s your favorite guilty pleasure show to watch? Reality TV is open.

Gavankar: This is not guilty at all. I was gonna say reality the best of reality television right now is Love on The Spectrum. If you haven’t watched it, everybody has to go home and watch it right now watching us one first and watch one into the Australian version. That is the order in which you have to watch it.

That’s not guilty though. Guilty is Love is Blind. Guilty!

About Mika A. Epstein

Mika has been deep in fandom since she could say 'Trekkie.' With decades experience in running fansites, developing software, and organizing communities, she's taken on the challenge of delving into the recesses of television for queers long forgotten. Making this site with Tracy is nothing short of serendipity. Mika lives with her wife and their cats in Southern California. Of course she has a hybrid, but she'd rather ride her bicycle.
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