'Imagine making a movie, except a hundred times harder:' Star Wars Battlefront II's Janina Gavankar

'Imagine making a movie, except a hundred times harder:' Star Wars Battlefront II's Janina Gavankar
From CBC - November 22, 2017

Janina Gavankar knows how to make an entrance: accompanied by a retinue of fully armoured Stormtroopers marching to the Imperial anthem.

Such was her introduction to gamers around the world at Electronic Arts' E3 newsbriefing earlier this year to announce the next blockbuster Star Wars video game.

"I am Janina Gavankar," she boomed, "and I play Commander Iden Versio in Star Wars Battlefront II." Her black dress was accented with the same military markings that denote her character's elite trooper status.

She remained as stern as her in-game character for a few segments then brokeinto a smile, thanking her mom in the audience and gushing at finally being able to talk publicly about the role of a lifetime.

The actor, whose previous credits include television'sTrue Blood and Sleepy Hollow, hasa charismatic,easygoing stage presencethatinstantly made hera favourite among gamers and the enthusiast press. "Please let her host everything [at E3] next year," wrote Polygon's Ben Kuchera.

'It has been a very loud week'

Fast-forward to the week before Battlefront II's release, and the wider narrative has gotten more complicated.

Fans erupted with discontent at its in-game economy, locking major characters like Darth Vader behind a tedious progression system, as well as its loot crates that randomize in-game rewards and, many argued, pushed players towardpaying real money for rewards rather than earning them through gameplay.

As the lead character in the single-player story, Gavankar's involvement in the controversy was tangential. But that did not stop any tweet about her promotional appearances from being buried in responses about loot crates instead.

"It has been a very loud week for my cellphone. Any time there has been a change we have gone through the process of this launch, it's like my phone just starts vibrating and it wo not stop. So I know something big has happened," Gavankartold CBC Newsof the lead-up to release.

"This is what it's like to be a part of, ostensibly, the most anticipated game of the year. And it has been exciting to be a part of it, in every way."

Gavankar, who is of South Asian descent,joins an increasingly gender- and background-diverse cast of leads in the new era of Star Wars, including Daisy Ridley, Felicity Jonesand John Boyega.

"It's crazy. I am so thankful that Lucasfilm and EAand Disney, quite franklywould choose to put a person of colour in the protagonist's spot of a Star Wars story. You know, growing up I did not dream of this, because I did not think it was possible. And it just means everything to me."

It's an improbable culmination for an actor and self-professed mega-geek who, growing up, was not allowed to watch television or movies in the first place.

Gavankar to Hollywood: take games seriously


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