Janina Gavankar feels your geek pain. The True Blood and The League actor is stepping into the role of Ichabod Crane's partner in Season 4 of Sleepy Hollow, premiering Jan. 6. It's a position that was recently vacated by Nicole Beharie when she exited the show and her character Abbie Mills was subsequently killed off last year. "It's kind of like birth by fire," Gavankar tells Bustle about joining the series on the heels of Beharie's departure and some associated fan backlash. "I have to say I didn’t really know that people would be super mean," she says. "It’s a vocal minority, but I respect them. I respect anybody who has shows that they love and that they’re vocal about."
What Gavankar would like Abbie's fans to know is that the show will be dealing with the fallout of her death. Though Crane will have a new ally in her character, Homeland Security Agent Diana Thomas, a new Scooby-esque support team, and a new home in Washington, D.C., the show isn't wiping the slate clean of the first three years or that brutal Season 3 finale. "Crane and Jenny are reeling from the grief they feel at losing her," she says. "That’s not going away fast. You can’t just speed up grief. So even though she’s not physically there, Abbie is still very much a part of the show." And fans shouldn't avoid tuning in because they're afraid of seeing Diana as Abbie 2.0. "I have to believe my bosses when they told me they were never trying to replace that character," Gavankar stresses.
Abbie drama aside, Gavankar is "pretty stoked" to be fighting colonial demons on Sleepy Hollow. And she prides herself on being an adaptable addition. "I’ve done this two other times — I’ve joined a show as a regular in its fourth season," she says. "So I’m so respectful of a group of people who have worked together for so long. You get in where you fit in and you figure out where you’re needed." She was firm on only one point: that her co-stars and crew indulge her love of the ultimate team-building activity. "We do a lot of escape rooms," she says. "I should say I do a lot of escape rooms, and I drag them into doing it with me."
Since Gavankar is jumping onto a moving train in some respects, the pressure was on to quickly establish a dynamic between her character and Crane. She describes her working relationship with co-star Tom Mison as being a mirror of sorts to Diana's partnership with the mysterious man she meets on the day her life is changed forever. "[Diana] was completely knew to this world. This is a world that he’s been steeped in for years and years. And I’m the new kid looking in like, 'I need you to explain this again, because I have no idea what the hell is going on,'" she says. "Diana is following Crane’s lead much in the same way I was following Tom’s when we went to work every day."
It's clear that the actor has similarly passionate feelings about what she loves, which allows her to be understanding of the fervent response of Sleepy Hollow fans to the show's sort-of reboot, whether it's positive or not. "I’m a geek and the way I show my love and hate is at geek levels, which is on 11 all the time," Gavankar explains. No really, she is. When Bustle speaks with her, the actor is on her way to build her first Dungeons & Dragons character with Deborah Ann Woll, who was Gavankar's co-star on True Blood and now plays Karen Page on Daredevil. "I’m totally nervous!" Gavankar exclaims. "Which is so ridiculous because I character build every day at work. She’s done this numerous times, so she’ll just talk me through it."
And the D&D newbie probably killed it, because incoming Sleepy Hollow star Janina Gavankar is a proven expert at learning on the fly.