True Blood Star Janina Gavankar On Being A Geek Girl In Hollywood

Mark Drapeau (Washington, DC) —

You may recognize actress Janina Gavankar from her role on the popular HBO series True Blood, whose fifth season premiere happens this Sunday. But she’s also recognizable for her activities online, using Twitter and other social media and apps to interact with her friends and fans and promote her professional activities. She also attends events you might not expect to see her at – like national security events in Washington, DC and video game conferences in Las Vegas. What’s she doing there? I talked with her to find out.

  • Janina Gavankar attends Geek 2 Chic: LA

    Janina Gavankar attends Geek 2 Chic: LA
    Photo from Microsoft.
  • Janina Gavankar watches Geek 2 Chic: LA

    Janina Gavankar watches Geek 2 Chic: LA
    Photo from Microsoft.
  • Janina Gavankar attends 'Suits & Spooks'

    Janina Gavankar attends ‘Suits & Spooks’
    Photo from CNN.
  • Janina Gavankar at a Syfy/E! Comic-Con party

    Janina Gavankar at a Syfy/E! Comic-Con party
    Photo from San Diego, 2011.
  • Janina Gavankar and Assassin's Creed III

    Photo from Ubisoft. E3 conference, Las Vegas.
    Janina Gavankar and Assassin’s Creed III

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What does “being a geek” mean to you?

I think that we should define the word geek. To geek is to love. Whereas somebody else might be flippant about something, geeks have no problem sharing the extent of their love loudly and proudly. People are very aware of the things that I love, because of the way that I share them.

Where does your interest in technology or gadgets come from originally?

I’m not a gadget queen… I had a Blackberry for a long time until it died on me. I just switched to an iPhone because of Siri… It’s not really about the device, it’s about what it can do for me. I don’t have an iPad, I don’t even have a purse! My iPhone case carries my credit cards, etc. I’m not about newness, I’m about useability.

As it pertains to technology, and especially “social,” I’m an entertainer, so I’m always looking for ways to share projects that I’m part of with anyone who’ll listen (laughs)… the interwebs go hand in hand with promotion…I missed the “artist’s mailing list” trend, but I was the first actor to use Twitter. I met Chris Sacca on Richard Branson’s island and that’s where I first heard about it. It’s an opt-in mailing list. And I get to share the amazing things I’m involved with in my life with anyone who’ll listen.

So learning about Twitter was a defining moment in your evolution as a geek?

I was on Facebook and MySpace at that point, but yes, the usefulness for my profession, and the idea of community as a living, breathing thing fascinates me. I’m also interested in controlling one’s presence online. IMDB, for example, is anti-artist…or at least not pro-artist. Last year, I took Posterous and created a theme for actors to have essentially an “online calling card” and control all the space around their photos (unlike Yfrog or Lockerz or similar tools). I did it free for artists, because they need all the help they can get.

I am always trying to fix problems for myself. Someone’s gotta do it, and until someone does it better, I’m going to do it.

How did you hear about the “Suits and Spooks” conference in Washington, DC, where we originally met? What was your experience attending it?

I just got a random email asking me if I wanted to attend! And then I realized later that I was being asked to speak…I flew into DC for less than 24 hours, I basically told everyone my opinion, and then went home (laughs).

The coolest thing about the event was meeting people like you, because people like you aren’t hanging out in LA (laughs). It was a chance to meet like-minded people that I wouldn’t get a chance to meet anywhere else.

I recently produced Geek 2 Chic: LA, a charity fashion show in Santa Monica, CA with all-geek models, and you were in the audience. What did you think?

I absolutely had fun! One of my favorite things is taking my geeky friends who think they don’t have any style out shopping, and I took my good friend Matt to Geek 2 Chic. That’s the superficial part. The other thing that was really cool was the charity involved, NFTE, is great. Arts and education is a huge platform for my mother, and all of this research we have on arts in education is so important, my father was an entrepreneur, and I was so impressed by the organization and I didn’t know anything about them until I got there.

Finally, seeing all these guys [the models], I was hearing about all these companies I hadn’t heard about before.

You just got back from the entertainment technology conference E3. What were you doing there?

I somehow talked Microsoft into taking me with them as part of the Xbox LIVE team!

Who or what was the coolest thing you saw at E3?

My favorite game is Assassin’s Creed, and I got three demos and I met the writer of AC 3, and I fangirled all over this guy. I was fluttery. I said, “You’re my hero!” [Editor’s note: the guy was Corey May.]

What’s a common reaction when you tell people in LA that you’re not just an actress, but also a geek?

Well, at first, they don’t really believe me… There’s sort of a misconception. I think the word “geek” is being overused now and people don’t know what it really means. Look, I’m building a music project right now, I’m engineering all my own vocals, I’m in the studio the whole damn day, I’ll go to the studio tonight until four in the morning, I take pride in everything I do…but people think I’m just the “face” of the operation. They don’t believe you until they really see it. But I don’t really give a shit either, I am who I am, whether you believe me or not.

We know Ashton Kutcher, for example, is a geek. Who are some “closeted geeks” in Hollywood that our readers might not know about?

That’s a really good question! Vin Diesel plays Dungeons and Dragons, and apparently he has a tattoo about D&D somewhere on his body!

What do you think is the future of being a geek in Hollywood? Will it become more common?

I’ve already seen the answer this morning at the What’s Trending studios, Cody Simpson, he’s a young beautiful blonde kid, I took a photo of him, then others were taking photos of him with their phones, and he [Cody] took the most beautiful shots. He’s the personification of the instant gratification performer, he’s always thinking about how his performance is used to connect with people through new technology. There’s a whole generation of musicians and performers already thinking about new devices and how to leverage them to connect.

That doesn’t mean that [instant gratification artists] don’t have to still be artists; that kid sat in his chair, played his guitar, and it was perfect. Everything has to be perfect. But he also is mastering this instant access performance and that’s a new part of the performance puzzle.

Where can people follow you online?

The best place is probably still Twitter, where I’m @Janina. [Editor’s note: Janina has over 65,000 followers and has been tweeting since November 18, 2006.]

Dr. Mark Drapeau is the editor-in-chief of and part of the Microsoft Office of Civic Innovation.

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