Janina Gavankar has slowly, deftly managed to become one of the most nerd-friendly actresses working today. Currently costarring on NBC’s The Mysteries of Laura, Gavankar has logged time on FX’s The League, on HBO’s *True Blood and on the CW’s Arrow and Vampire Diaries. Now Gavankar has gone virtual in her first video game gig with Ubisoft’s Far Cry 4 — she’s playing Amita, who helps guide the player through the open world game — and she opens up about her own love of games, why she’s more excited about augmented reality than virtual reality, and how she deals with GamerGate.
It’s gotta be a blast to literally step into a video game.
I’m an avid gamer. Anybody who knows me knows this already. I feel like I’ve been trying to speak this into existence for seven years, and it’s finally happening and I’m vibrating with excitement. Even putting on this motion capture suit today, I’m 100 percent living my dream. It’s the coolest thing ever. It also helps that it’s an incredible game and the character is cool. I mean that’s icing on the cake to the fact that I just get to be in a game, let alone Far Cry 4.
For some actors, performance capture is a liberating experience while others find the lack of contextual environment kind of isolating. Where do you stand?
I feel like this is the perfect blend of the experience that I love in theater and the experience that I love in film. There’s also something that feels like when I fell in love with acting doing my high school musical because we’re just using rafters that are being put together by the carpenters. You get on it and use your imagination and now it’s a building. So there’s something really theatrical in that. And technology has advanced so much that I can have really intimate moments where I can talk to the gamer and get in their face and have a very vulnerable and minute performance. It’s fascinating.
As a gamer, what have you learned about them by making one?
There are all these little things I learned here at Ubisoft. I might be telling you too much, but when a cinematic happens and then it fades to black, and then gameplay starts again, at Ubisoft they call it a Matteo, which is named after some guy that fucking hates the “fade to blacks.” So they named this thing after him and that’s just hilarious to me. So this poor guy has this shitty thing that he hates named after him. I love it. And then even just the detail of walking through a door when you’re playing a game. If you’ve ever noticed, you always push doors open. You will never open a door towards you. So on our stage in the volume — that’s what we call a stage — the gamer will always push. But in the cinematics, the performer acting with the gamer is pulling open a door towards.
When did you get into games?
In 2007. That year I played BioShock, Portal, Half-Life 1 and 2. My very good friend Ian Lyman was a gamer — he handed me The Orange Box and changed my life. In Zelda: Twilight Princess I found every Poe Soul. That was the year that I was like forever changed. And then everybody was like, “Why are you so into it? What’s your deal?” And I’d say, “It’s an interactive movie. You like movies? You’re going to love video games. It’s that’s simple.” Now here we are, years later, and the games are even better. It’s just…I fucking love playing video games.
What are some of your recent favorites?
I had a really good time playing Resident Evil on a Wii, which was weird. Who knew? Dead Space was great. I found every flag in Assassin’s Creed. Every flag, homie. Every flag. You know what I I fucking hate, though — and since we’re here in Montreal I should find the guy that made these and yell at him for making them — I hate that you have to run after the floating manuscripts in Assassin’s Creed IV. I can never get them and then they disappear. It’s infuriating. I really like Wolfenstein and I’m playing Borderlands 1 right now, but it doesn’t really have a plot. I’m also playing Alien: Isolation.
We’re also seeing this new push towards virtual reality. Have you tried the Oculus?
I have not tried Oculus, but I’ve seen all of it. To me that’s sort of like, “Duh.” Obviously, that’s next. Call me when it’s ready. AR is more interesting than VR to me at this point.
Do you use a lot of augmented reality?
Yeah. Monocle has been around with Yelp for years and people are not giving it the attention that it deserves. Do people even use it? It’s awesome. It’s my favorite thing. And this has been around forever. I don’t even remember where I saw it, but there was like an ad or sort of a trailer for a video game that you could play on your phone but it was working within your environment. So somebody could be in the middle of New York where Space Invaders are trying to hit the buildings and it’s amazing. That’s what’s going to happen. I want that now.
Hollywood has tried — and failed more often than not — to translate games into movies. Why do you think they fail?
It’s not just a gamer thing. It’s a geek culture thing. Let’s first define geek. I define it as a person who shows love in a very specific way, an unabashed love, that’s how we love. Hipster is the antithesis of geek. Hipster is to hate. Geek is to love. We’re also very protective about the things we love and we don’t want people to mess it up, so in that regard it has to be very tough for development [executives] because if you start worrying about all of the fans it’s basically the same exact things as a comic book world. But guess what: comic book movies and TV shows are the biggest things on the planet right now. So if they figured that out, the video game world can figure it out too.
Do you have any thoughts on GamerGate? Well, I have a lot of thoughts. It’s funny because I was [one of] the first actors to use Twitter. I’ve seen it grow. I knew it was going to become the biggest thing, but because of the limitation of characters it is not really allowing people to access information the way that I think that they should. And it’s not allowing them to speak about something that’s complicated the way that they should be allowed to, and should take the time to do. So I think the real point of it all was lost almost immediately, and now it’s become something bigger than all of us and we need to rein it in.
John Gaudiosi has been covering video games for 25 years for outlets like Playboy, Wired, Fortune, The Hollywood Reporter and Reuters. He’s also a co-owner of gaming site www.shacknews.com. He tweets at @JohnGaudiosi.