The fourth time’s the charm.
For actress Janina Gavankar, it’s business as usual. The actress and Joliet native has joined the cast of the Fox series “Sleepy Hollow,” which returns for its fourth season at 8 p.m. Friday on WFLD-Channel 32.
“This is my fifth series as a series regular, and the third that I’ve joined in the fourth season,” the actress says with a hearty chuckle during a recent phone conversation.
Gavankar, whose previous TV credits include HBO’s “True Blood,” NBC’s “The Mysteries of Laura,” and the CW’s “The Vampire Diaries,” is thrilled about her new show, which is set in present day but draws its main character, played by Tom Mison, from the fictional literary character Ichabod Crane (from the Washington Irving novel “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” published in the early 1800s).
Blood-curdling demons, witchcraft and a “Da Vinci Code”-like solving of clues are also part of the mix in the supernatural/fantasy series in which Crane has been raised from the dead and transported through time to solve a mystery that dates back to America’s founding fathers. Gavankar is his new “partner” on the journey, Homeland Security agent Diana Thomas.
Diana’s arrival follows the demise of Abbie Mills (played by Nicole Beharie), who was killed off at the end of last season. Social media went not-so-nice bonkers over Abbie’s fate. Gavankar is taking it all in stride.
“It’s always a little weird to step into a show that’s [so well-loved by fans],” Gavankar said. “It’s a little bit of birth by fire. I have to believe my bosses when they told me they were never going to replace Abbie [per se]. The cast is in such mourning for Abbie and that’s not going away [this season]. They will feel her presence. And the fans, well, they loved a damn good character and actress! I get it. I am a fan of similar shows and I am very vocal in the exact same way. When people are outright mean to me on social media I don’t take it personally because I feel the same way about [shows that I love].”
Gavankar loves the role of Diana, a character too interesting to pass up, she said, perhaps influenced in some small measure by the real-life coincidences that quickly became apparent.
“My brother-in-law is a former Marine; on the show Diana is a former Marine. He works in counter-terrorism for the Treasury; she’s a counter-terrorist agent [for Homeland Security]. The most important thing for me working on these fantasy shows is grounding it in something incredibly human and profoundly real. Having this member of my family made a perfect entry point for me on the show,” Gavankar said. “And I love that she’s not a superhero; she’s just a complete human being.”
In addition, “Sleepy Hollow” has moved to Washington, D.C., for its fourth season; Gavankar has family members, including her mom, living in the nation’s capital.
“My mom has put the house up for sale,” Gavankar says of her childhood home in south suburban Joliet. “I had to help pack up everything this year.”
That doesn’t mean Chicago is off her radar.
“I’m developing some projects now and one is based on a true story that takes place in Rockford, where my writing partner is from. So, I was in Rockford earlier this year.”
Gavankar says she’d love to do some more theater work in Chicago. One of her earliest stage gigs while still in college was a production called “Worst of the Masterpieces,” which she says took place at the home of Chicago’s famed Neo-Futurists. “I’m dying to do a musical. And the best shows that are going to Broadway are starting in Chicago. It’s been like that for a while now.”
In her spare time, Gavankar remains “a complete video game geek” (she voiced a key character in “Halo 5”) and spent her recent down time finishing “Watch Dogs 2” and playing a lot of “Battlefield.” She also launched a lifestyle brand, Altfound.com, on Jan. 1. “It’s for the grown-up geek,” she said. “The geeks have inherited the earth!”