Shapeshifter Luna Garza (Janina Gavankar) and boyfriend Sam fight for… (HBO )
It's not difficult to understand how Janina Gavankar, as Luna Garza in "True Blood," managed to steal Sam Merlotte's heart. When the Joliet native talks about the romance between the shapeshifters—shifters because they can switch from human to any animal with ease—she gets even more spirited.
"Oh I'd love to see them be together forever," she gushed during a recent phone interview. "I love Sam and Luna together. She has the only guy who understands her. And she's totally down for him."
Alas, that may not happen any time soon. As the HBO hit bites into its fifth season beginning at 8 p.m. June 10, Luna and Sam (Sam Trammell) face an angry pack of werewolves hunting the killer of Luna's ex, scary wolf Marcus (Daniel Buran). That situation leads to their first big fight, Gavankar said, but those aren't the only troubles lurking for the couple.
"It's a tough year to be a shifter," said Gavankar, 28. "They're up against a lot this year. It's tough to stay alive this year, so they have to really fight for their lives."
Gavankar, who attended the University of Illinois-Chicago (and did RedEye's Sudoku puzzle every day) before heading to Hollywood, didn't want to give away too much of Luna's story, but said we'll see more of her shapeshifter support group who met and talked about their emotions last season. This year, it seems, the shifters may do more than just talk out their issues.
"The shifters definitely show a darker side of themselves this year, a stronger side," Gavankar said. "When you're a shifter and you lose control of yourself it's dangerous for you and those around you."
As Luna, Gavankar may switch from human to animal, but the actress herself easily shifts between artistic pursuits—from drama to comedy to music. She's recording her first EP with producer Randy Jackson (yes, of "American Idol" fame) that she hopes to release later this summer.
Music always has been part of Gavankar's life. The classically trained pianist and percussionist may have majored in theater at UIC and paid her way through college by acting in commercials, but she minored in music (and psychology) and her girl group, Endera, was signed to Cash Money-Universal Records back in her Chicago days.
She recently put her own spin on Kanye West's "Love Lockdown," creating what she called an "anti-cover" of the song. (Watch Gavankar's video for "Love Lockdown" here.)
"I took it and I made it basically unrecognizable," she said, adding that she might have a few anti-covers on the EP along with original songs. "I would say that [my music is] like a cross between Imogen Heap, Sade and Sheila E. That's what it's turning out to be."
But before the record release, she has to wrap up production on "True Blood," which won't end for a little more than a month. And, she claims, she's eager to learn if Luna survives.
"I don't know yet! We're only just filming Episode 12," she said. "I was like that last year, too, 'Do I make it?' You never ask though, you know? Even though you're wondering, 'Oh God, what's going to happen?'"