Janina Gavankar in “The Mysteries of Laura.” (Photo courtesy NBC)
Joliet native Janina Gavankar’s newest gig on the NBC series “The Mysteries of Laura” is a change of pace from the actress’ typical television show.
“There are no vampires — I’ve been on three of those,” said Gavankar, whose resume includes roles on HBO’s recently departed “True Blood,” “The Vampire Diaries,” and ABC’s short-lived 2010 supernatural crime drama, “The Gates.”
More crime dramedy than drama, “The Mysteries of Laura” premieres with a sneak peek at 9 p.m. Wednesday on WMAQ-Channel 5 before moving to its regular 7 p.m. Wednesday time slot the following week.
Debra Messing (“Smash,” “Will & Grace”) stars as an NYPD homicide detective whose day job looks easy compared to raising her rambunctious twin boys and wrangling her soon-to-be-ex husband (Josh Lucas, “The Firm”).
While Messing gets her Lucille Ball on, Gavankar, 33, serves as the show’s stick-in-the-mud. She plays a detective named Meredith Bose.
“My character is the precinct’s pain in the ass,” she said. “She’s a little Type A. In her opinion, she works twice as long and hard as Laura, and somehow Laura gets all the accolades.”
The actress — also an accomplished musician — grew up in Joliet where her mother still lives. Her parents were raised in India.
“My Indian father came to this country with $9 and a scholarship and went to the Milwaukee School of Engineering,” Gavankar said. “He ended up buying a company he worked at in Rockdale, Illinois (Rockdale Controls). He ran that until he passed away two years ago. My mother’s running it now. We’re Illinois people.”
Gavankar graduated from Joliet West High School, where she headed the drum line as a proud Marching Tiger. She almost majored in percussion performance in college but opted instead to focus on acting at University of Illinois at Chicago.
“Yasen Peyankov, who is a Steppenwolf [Theatre] Company member, was my favorite professor; he’s now taken over the department,” she said. “He changed my life, made me want to be a professional actor.”
Gavankar kept herself busy in Chicago doing commercials and a lot of “hole-in-the-wall theater” work.
“My mom would come to the shows and think, ‘Is this what her life is going to be like?’” she said.
Gavankar had small roles in the Chicago-set “Barbershop” movies, but her big break came when she landed the part of Papi, a lesbian Latina limo driver in the Showtime series “The L Word.”
In addition to her vampire-show trifecta, Gavankar’s other TV credits include playing a detective on The CW’s “Arrow” and as Shiva, the gorgeous namesake of the fantasy football trophy on FXX’s bawdy sitcom, “The League,” based (but not filmed) in Chicago.
“I was so excited to do ‘The League’ because I was going to drop all these Chicago references,” Gavankar said about the highly improvised comedy.
“I did this whole scene where I was sitting with Andre (Paul Scheer) on his couch and I said, ‘You know what honey? Today we should go the Tempo Café and get a Jamaican omelet, and I’m reading the Red Eye,’” she said. “None of it made it into the episode. I was so sad.” (I like to think they cut it because she said Red Eye instead of Sun-Times.)
Gavankar’s work schedule keeps her away from her hometown more than she’d like, but the avid gamer has found a way to visit — virtually.
“I’m obsessed with Watch Dogs,” she said about Ubisoft’s action-adventure video game set in the Windy City. “I’ve played all the side missions, everything. I’m like, ‘I used to rollerblade down that street!’ It’s kind of lame, but that’s where I get my Chicagoness now — through a video game.”