Get ready to meet the new antihero of the Star Wars universe.
Star Wars: Battlefront II, the sequel to the 2015 reboot of the Battlefront series, not only generously expands its already massive multiplayer gameplay, but also introduces a single player campaign with a new story that’s part of Star Wars canon.
When Battlefront drops this week, players are put in the combat boots of Imperial special-forces squad leader Iden Versio, voiced by True Blood‘s Janina Gavankar, who also did motion capture for the game. After the events of Return of the Jedi, Iden’s Inferno Squad will stop at nothing to avenge the Emperor. But Gavankar says being on the side of the Empire doesn’t necessarily make Iden a villain. Read our full interview with the actress below:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you land this role?
JANINA GAVANKAR: I got an audition. I don’t know if you know this, but they don’t have to tell you what you’re auditioning for; that’s a standard industry thing. So you don’t necessarily have to know what you’re auditioning for when you audition for video games. But I’m a crazy stalker creeper on NeoGAF, which is like a more focused Reddit, if you will. It’s the best way to keep tabs on what’s being developed for the industry, so I knew exactly what it was. I immediately felt the pressure. I’ve never bugged my reps about anything more than this game. I think I called twice a day, every day, just calling them, “Have we heard anything?” I felt like if I didn’t get it, I was going to die. It felt like the entire world was on the line with this gig. It meant so much to me.
What is an audition like for a video game?
Actually, it’s exactly the same as what you would do for any audition. I sent in a tape. It was an on-camera audition. I sent in two scenes, it was fully scripted. It is an on-camera experience. There are 1,000 cameras around you when you shoot motion capture, so it’s exactly what you would do [for any audition] because you are still on camera.
What does it mean to you to get to be part of the Star Wars family now?
Oh my Lord. It’s so great. There are so many feelings. I don’t even know where to begin. I get so overwhelmed that it’s ridiculous. Where do I start? Star Wars just lives in the hearts and minds of every person with access to media on this planet. Unless you’re a psychopath, you love it in some way. Growing up, I can’t even say that I dreamt of this, because I never thought it would be a possibility. It’s literally beyond my wildest dreams. I never thought that I’d be able to be anywhere around the Star Wars galaxy, let alone get to play the lead character in a Star Wars story.
What can you tell us about the single-player story and who your character is?
By the way, there’s a book that’s the backstory to the game about how we all came to be as a squad, it’s the dawn of Inferno Squad. It’s really good. I actually got to voice the audiobook, so even if you want to be lazy. Here’s what I have to say: If you call yourself a hardcore Star Wars fan and you’re going to play Battlefront II and you haven’t read the book, which is the backstory to the game, then you’re faking it. [Laughs] Calling them out! If you want to be lazy, you can literally just listen to the audiobook, so get it and be ready. Inferno Squad is a special ops team. Many people don’t know about them because they are sent in to clean up messes and get out before anyone notices. So at the beginning of the game, you are on Endor doing your job when the second Death Star explodes. Instead of feeling the intense grief that you instantly feel, you have to get off of that planet and save your own asses so you can avenge your Emperor.
Does Iden really think what she’s doing is good or does she question her mission?
I mean, when you are the literal poster child for the Empire, it’s not very hard to be aligned with the Empire. Her father was an admiral, and her mother was a propaganda poster artist. She drew Iden into her posters, so that is a part of her DNA, literally. Of course she has no problem! Also, a million people just died in the sky in front of your eyes, and they’re your people.
They’re not necessarily great people.
[Laughs] It depends on which side of history you’re on. Who said the most cliché thing that every villain thinks they’re the hero of their own story? Oh, that’s so funny, I just googled it and someone said, “Quote by Tom Hiddleston.” I’m so sorry, he’s not the first person to say that. I’m really sorry, internet. It’s not something he made up. [Laughs] It’s one of the oldest quotes about writing and character work. So that’s how you approach things as an actor, and I can’t see it any other way. Is it complicated working for the Empire? Yes, especially when you read the backstory, you’re going to see it’s not easy, but war never is. And it is a Star War.
Now that you’re part of the Star Wars family, were you trying to find out spoilers about The Last Jedi?
Oh, I have Star Wars spoilers! I got to be a part of the loop group for The Last Jedi, so I’ve seen a lot of it. I don’t know all of it, and I’m trying not to, because I’m trying to enjoy it, but I’ve seen some of it.
What are the logistics of recording the audio, but also doing the motion capture? Is everything exaggerated?
You don’t even really need to exaggerate it anymore. The technology has caught up so much that you can deliver a subtle performance and it will catch your micro-expressions. Of course, I’ll see how much that is actually true when I play the game, because I decided to deliver as subtle of a performance as I would on camera. The thing that’s been the most exciting about this entire experience is about how collaborative it has been. But when it comes to the actual process of performance capture, I prefer it in a lot of ways. One of the first things you learn when you go to theater school is to get over your vanity, because vanity is your enemy. Ironically, you leave theater school and you enter the industry, especially as a woman, and you have to put all of that vanity back on yourself to even get hired once. That’s the unwritten law of quote-unquote Hollywood. But when you show up to do performance capture, none of that matters. There is no makeup chair, they put dots on your face and the only thing that matters is your performance. It is exactly what you would do on camera or in theater without the vanity. It is pure in that way, and I prefer it.
Have you gotten a chance to play as yourself yet?
I will not do it. I’m hoping to be able to play it for charity. I’m trying to figure it out, but hopefully with a bunch of the wonderful Star Wars friends I’ve made. This is also unexpected: When I went down to Star Wars Celebration in April, that’s when they announced the project and character and the story, and I met so many wonderful people in and around Star Wars, from authors of books to Jett Lucas, who is George’s son, who has become a friend. All of these wonderful people who are in and around Star Wars have become friends, so I’m hoping to bring all of them together and we’ll experience the story in one long marathon for charity. I’m really trying not to play it or see gameplay or anything, like I will post a link to gameplay, but I won’t actually watch it. I’m trying to wait.
Can you talk about how important it is for women to be involved in the world of video games?
We are involved in the games industry and have been for a very, very long time. It has to happen more and if that means we have to shout about it for more women to be attracted to the industry to know that they have a place in it, then fine, I’ll shout to the heavens! I myself have had an incredible time in the industry. I have not really been met with a lot of negativity in any way. I mean, I have, but it’s like every other industry, you just have to fight your way into it. Why is it important? It’s important because this is a very new medium and we cannot allow it to take 100 years, like traditional Hollywood has, to hear our voices. Hollywood is just making changes. It’s pathetic. You can make an earlier change in the games industry, which will surpass traditional Hollywood before we know it.
Star Wars: Battlefront II will be released Nov. 17 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Microsoft Windows.