A few weeks ago, we had the chance to speak to Janina Gavankar about her upcoming role as the lead character in the upcoming Star Wars: Battlefront II. It was clear from the moment that we got onto the phone with her that she was absolutely brimming with excitement over not only playing Iden Versio, but the games industry as a whole.
HOW DID YOU END UP LANDING THE MASSIVE ROLE OF IDEN VERSIO IN BATTLEFRONT II?
JG: Well you know that I’m a massive gamer right? So, I didn’t grow up playing video games because I wasn’t allowed to play them. I started playing games in 2007. It was the dawn of the AAA game and honestly felt like the best time to fall in love with video games. This put me on the path of begging everybody that I knew to be a part of the games industry. I first got to do this in Far Cry 4 and then when I got the position for this, because I was a massive creeper on NeoGAF, I knew what the game was before it was even announced. The breakdown just said the word DICE and I knew that DICE meant Battlefield but I knew a new Battlefield had just come out, so I figured it was a new Battlefront game that must have a single player. I actually didn’t know I was the main protagonist until they scanned my face, and even then I still couldn’t believe that I was about to play the main character in a Star Wars story. I’ve honestly never wanted anything more than I’ve wanted this part.
DID YOU HAVE FAMILY AND FRIENDS THAT HAVE ABSOLUTELY LOST THEIR MIND ABOUT THE ANNOUNCEMENT?
JG: Absolutely. It’s Star Wars. It’s permeated every single person’s heart on the planet. It’s part of all of our lives. Obviously I didn’t get to tell people. Obviously, I told my mother (because she’s a vault) but I knew nobody would even believe her even if she did tell people. I had to keep it locked away until it was announced at Star Wars celebration, an entire 6 month period.
WHAT’S BEEN THE MOST CHALLENGING THING ABOUT WORKING ON THE GAME?
JG: I would say keeping my cool at various times throughout the whole process. Obviously today we’re doing a press day. I just watched the brand new story trailer in front of a room of 10-15 people and I literally started weeping. I feel a massive responsibility to keep my shit together to represent the project, but I fail at that often. It’s really hard.
DID YOU GET TO PUT YOUR OWN SPIN ON IDEN OR WAS IT VERY STRUCTURED?
JG: I thought it was going to be structured, but it’s been surprisingly collaborative. I got the script and started talking to Mitch Dyer immediately. We started working with military consultants so I could learn how to move together with a squad. We had a LucasFilms story member with me every step of the way in case I had any questions. They were on speed dial too, just in case I needed anything. A massive amount of attention to detail has gone into it to make sure we absolutely nail each and every one of the characters.
HOW DID YOU GO WITH PORTRAYING IDEN? YOU DO KNOW YOU’RE ON THE BAD SIDE, RIGHT?
JG: Who says that I’m on the bad side? It honestly doesn’t feel like I’m on the bad side. The story begins with you watching the Death Star exploding. It is an analysis of an empire without an emperor.
WE KNOW THAT THERE’S QUITE A FEW ICONIC CHARACTERS IN THE CAMPAIGN. WITHOUT SPOILING TOO MUCH, IS THERE A MOMENT IN PARTICULAR THAT MADE YOU FANGIRL?
JG: Yeah, oh yeah, yeah yeah. More than one, but I can not tell you any of them.
WHAT KIND OF EMOTIONS DO YOU THINK THAT STAR WARS FANS WILL FEEL WHEN THEY GO THROUGH THIS STORY?
JG: I think that they’ll feel conflicted as they play the character because they’re used to only seeing only side of history, but this will show them that there’s more than one side to the story.
THERE’S A LOT OF VOICE WORK IN THIS GAME BUT HOW DID YOU FIND THE PERFORMANCE CAPTURING?
JG: I loved it. It’s not the first time that I’ve done it, but I love it because it’s a more liberating version of what you would do on television and film. Because it’s a little bit more physical and it’s also a little bit more like theatre in the sense that the takes are long and you can’t screw up so you have to release a lot more. It also lacks vanity so you don’t have to worry about hair or makeup. You can just worry about the emotional work. Our Director Tom Heagan is the best Director that I’ve ever worked with in any medium. He expected a lot from us, emotionally so it was invigorating.
DO YOU PREFER MOTION CAP OVER ACTING FOR TV OR FILM?
JG: As an Actor, I prefer making a game because it’s an experience. In this game, we’ve basically made multiple movies. We’ve made our own trilogy essentially.
IF YOU COULD CHOOSE ONE OTHER CHARACTER TO PLAY (IN THE STAR WARS UNIVERSE), WHICH WOULD IT BE. OBVIOUSLY IT WOULD BE JAR JAR BINKS SO HE’S OFF THE TABLE.
JG: It’s funny that you say that because Ahmed Best has actually become a really good friend of mine. Anakin is probably my favourite character. I actually learned something from Jett Lucas’ son. The name Anakin is actually based on Ananke, the Greek goddess of Inevitability. That’s what you feel when you watch his journey. That creeping darkness is inevitable, you cannot stop it. The process of him growing and turning into who he was going to be was fascinating. Does that mean I would want to take his place? That’s a pretty tough thing to think about. R2 would also be great. He saves the day constantly.
BATTLEFRONT II WILL OBVIOUSLY BE THE BIGGEST GAME OF 2017, BUT WHAT ELSE HAVE YOU ENJOYED PLAYING AND WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO?
JG: Oh yeah, I’m looking forward to finding some time to play The Lost Legacy. I’m also super pumped for the Horizon Zero Dawn DLC. There’s so many games to play this year. I’m also playing through The Witness on iPhone at the moment and that’s super awesome.
WHAT GOT YOU INTO GAMING IN 2007? WAS THERE A SPECIFIC GAME?
JG: My ex-boyfriend who was the founder of Deviant Art was obviously into gaming and he was playing Bioshock one night. I would constantly help him hack the tubes until the point that I took over and would always do those parts. It came to the point where he would go to work and then I would just jump on and play for the entire day. Then one of his friends told me that I was a gamer at heart, but didn’t know it. He then handed me The Orange Box and I started playing Portal. We also had a Wii, so I started playing Twilight Princess and Resident Evil 4. It was the best year of my life, realising that there was a whole entire world that was made for me to discover.
STAR WARS IS THE BIGGEST BRAND IN THE ENTIRE WORLD. WHAT’S NEXT? HOW DO YOU TOP THAT?
JG: I’m obviously working on a few big things, that I can’t talk about. The thing that is crazy is that this is a dream that I didn’t even know I could be allowed to dream of. I honestly can’t say that I dreamt of this, because I didn’t think it was possible. Now that I know that the impossible is possible, I know realise that I have a lot of work to do.
Star Wars Battlefront II releases on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows PC on November 17th.