From plays to TV shows, Anjali Bhimani has captivated audiences with her personality and charm. While Bhimani may not be one of the most well known names, her face may be one of the most recognizable. With appearances in Modern Family, Silicon Valley, Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, NCIS: los Angeles, and Law and Order: SVU, Bhimani has had no shortage of great character work.
Now, Bhimani can be seen wowing audiences with her performance in Roof On The World, a play by D. Tucker Smith. She even was named to the Chicago Sun-Times’s “30 Show-Stoppers Under 30” list before moving to New York to work on the Tony nominated play, Metamorphoses.
Now, Bhimani has begun showing off her third impressive skill set, voice acting. She has recently broken into the scene with her voice work as Symmetra, from Blizzard’s popular team shooter Overwatch, and Nisha, from Bethesda’s blockbuster Fallout 4.
She answered a few questions with us to talk about voice acting and how it compares to the on screen/stage work she has done throughout her career.
Do you find being an actress or a voice actress more challenging to prepare for? How come?
ANJALI: Each provides a different set of challenges. For me, a lot of the preparation looks like daydreaming for both: imagining, envisioning, dreaming up what I think the character would like in my own head and figuring out how to convey that to the audience with the given lines and circumstances. I do find that there is often a little more preparation time with on-camera or stage performance than voice acting, mostly because games and interactive projects often have stricter confidentiality practices and don’t let the scripts out ahead of time, but that just means that you have to be a little quick on the draw with choosing how you may deliver your performance.
Obviously, there is more physical preparation involved for a stage or screen performance (and I count mocap in that realm) than for voice acting, but the level of prep involved with any performance really depends on the piece, and then the medium you’re working in – for example, an improvised voice role for a will require a lot less active prep for me than an 8 week run of a Shakespearean play, for pretty straightforward reasons: research, memorization, physicalization, emotional work on a script versus coming in and diving in headfirst from the second you put the headphones on to record. And all my training and experience comes in play for either one, that’s part of the joy, how many different ways you can use the tools and skills you have.
Do you feel either has been more or less rewarding than the other?
ANJALI: Well it’s not quite a fair comparison since I’ve spent decades being an actress but I’ve only come to voice acting really in the last few years of my career.
I began in the theatre, and the gratification of having that immediate connection with your audience is incomparable. But now that we have social media and all of these ways to interact with viewers and gamers and fans, there is a lovely opportunity to see how the work I’m a part of has affected people even if I haven’t been there to see it, like with a game or a television appearance. It blows my mind, truly, when…well, for example I went on Facebook and saw that someone who plays Overwatch and knows me as Symmetra also happened to see me in a show I did in Chicago and mentioned there how much she enjoyed that experience and meeting me backstage. That crossover brings me so much joy! In that way, I don’t like to think of one or the other as more or less gratifying, because the most gratification comes in actually knowing whatever contribution I may have made, whether in a play, a game, a TV show, or even just a conversation with a fan made a difference to them and brought them joy. The performing of it is fun for me no matter what…the reward comes from the connection to the people I get to meet and hopefully touch by doing it.
Have you actively played the games you’ve voiced for? If so, how do you feel about their representations in game to how you saw them in your head during voice work?
ANJALI: Ah, well, this is slightly embarrassing, but the truth is I pre-ordered Overwatch and was so crazy excited to play it (we actually got a PS4 in the house JUST for that purpose) and that was when I discovered that I am absolutely TERRIBLE at using the controller. It is comedy gold to watch me play this game…and yet I still love trying! I love the graphics, the characters, the other voices, and the world of it so much, I just really hope no one who is ever on my team ever knows it’s actually ME because I feel like I have to apologize for how bad I am at it. I’m WAY cooler as Symmetra behind the scenes than actually playing her. I’m hoping to get a chance to play on a PC and redeem myself.
As for Symmetra’s representation in the game, I am actually floored and honored to be a part of what Blizzard has created in that character, and in the world of the game. They’ve created depth and nuance and intrigue and beauty and it’s amazing.
Same with Nisha; I had actually not seen what she looked like when I recorded the part, which was unusual for me, so it was really cool when I finally got to see what she looked like and pair the performance with the visual. I love the contrast of this smooth talking, eloquent psychopath who looks like she walked off the Blade runner set. And I love that crazy helmet of hers. Haven’t had a chance to actually play Fallout 4, but it reminds me a lot of the RPGs I used to love when I was a kid, and I was obsessed with those, so I’m going to need to make sure I have a clear schedule for a few days before I dive in there.
Overwatch and Fallout 4 carry huge fan bases behind them, have you found the fans to be accepting of the voice work regardless of their feelings towards the character? Or are you constantly being asked about your character as if you were 100% that character?
ANJALI: Oh that’s an interesting question…I think there is a pretty clear understanding from the fans that I’m not actually Symmetra (my aforementioned lack of skill at the game would prove that too), no one is quite that delusional, but I think they also truly enjoy sharing their love and excitement about her with me as if I were largely responsible for bringing her to life. I’ve said it before, I’m absolutely floored by the level of kindness and artistry I see from the fans. It gives me great pride to know that these creative souls are being inspired to make their own art and to write their own stories, or even just to feel more connected because they see a hero they can identify with (which is another testament to Blizzard’s genius creating all of the heroes in this game). And I’m grateful that even people who may not necessarily love the character or characters I play seem to, for the most part, be appreciative of the work.
Specifically for Symmetra, voicing a character that is quick bits of dialogue instead of full sentences or monologues has to carry its own complications correct? Can you speak about that? How long were the work days to voice every possibility?
ANJALI: It carries challenges, like anything else, but particularly in improv or television work, you’re often asked to jump into a moment – dramatic or high stakes or where crying or screaming is involved – at the drop of a hat. So having that skill helps. It’s just a different toolbox from say, doing a play where you have time to ramp up to a moment because you’ve rehearsed for weeks and every night you know the trajectory. And the voice director is always there giving you help letting you know what you’re supposed to be reacting to or experiencing at any given moment. It’s actually a really fun acting workout, to see how adept you can be given little time or input.
As for the work days, I’ve been lucky to work with very conscientious companies and directors that understand the demands on someone’s voice, particularly in games where there is violence or screaming, are high. An average session has been about 4 hours, with breaks of course. And lots of tea.
In Fallout 4, you voice Nisha, at least from my experience in Nuka World, Nisha was probably the most relaxed and level headed of the gang leaders. What was it like to play someone who has to act calm and collected but speak about the type of things she does? (I.E how she will skin people alive)
ANJALI: Ahahaha (yes, I’m writing that while actually laughing)…I love that that’s how you see her because truly, I think the reason she is so terrifying is precisely because she is so relaxed and glib about the horrible things she does. I got the feeling from the character as presented to me that this would be a woman who talks about skinning someone alive like she talks about doing the laundry. It’s absolutely horrible to think about in real life, but in a sense that’s where her power comes from…this is her game, her world, her rules. I haven’t heard much directly from fans of Nisha…but I will say that one of my favorite comments from someone on Twitter was “I love Nisha and her weird homicidal butt.” Pretty much sums it all up right there.
Do you feel like either Nisha or Symmetra was wronged in any way? Do you wish you could fully flesh out either characters for their own story?
ANJALI: In the backstory shared in “A Better World”, I do think that Symmetra was a victim of a certain amount of misinformation (or disinformation). I think it’s made clear that despite her intentions and desire to do the right thing, and the dreams she has for being a part of a better future for those who grew up in difficult circumstances like her own, she does end up questioning the actions she takes for the Vishkar Corporation when she sees the ramifications of some of her actions.
Nisha’s violent predilections definitely seem more a product of her tragic experience, and in that sense I could say she’s been wronged, although one could also argue that it’s not so much a justification for the path she chose as an explanation. Not to get too philosophical about it, but I think it’s what we do with the tragedies in our lives and the difficulties we face that defines us more than the tragedies themselves. That said, going through what she did at such a young age is a pretty extraordinary level of pain to go through without there being some scars, emotional or otherwise. No one could blame her for her worldview given that, although one would hope that someone like that could find another path to channel their pain that was more. Then again, this path makes for a great gaming character…if not someone I’d ever want to run into in a dark alley.
As to wishing I could flesh them out, it’s almost impossible for me not to fill in some gaps with my own interpretations of how their history affected each of them, but just like it is for the players of the games, it’s my own imagination doing so. I’d love the opportunity to do more with either character and bring even more of their stories to light.
In terms of on screen time as an actress, do you find yourself slipping into either Nisha or Symmetra?
ANJALI: I don’t so much slip into either of those characters, but each of them has certain elements of me in them that probably carry across into other characters I’ve played. I definitely try to make each of the characters I play unique. Although I do enjoy slipping in some of Symmetra’s lines in real life, like when I’m driving in bad traffic…but that’s just for my own entertainment. I should team with Blizzard to make a Symmetra GPS app or something! “Turn left on Sunset…I have opened the path.”
Finally, Nina Patel was a pretty memorable character on Modern Family, filled with memorable characters, do you have any special moments from the set working with the cast of one of the most popular running comedies on TV?
ANJALI: Really just the whole experience of working with them each time has been a great joy, they’re so much fun to be around. No one specific moment stands out so much as the general feeling of joy and good spirits I’ve felt every time I’ve gone to set.