Indian-American actress Anjali Bhimani rose to global fame in 2016 as the voice of the reality-bending hero Symmetra in Blizzard Entertainment’s wildly popular video game ‘Overwatch,’ along with other gaming heroes and villains such as Nisha from ‘Fallout 4: Nuka World,’ and Kala in ‘Indivisible.’
On television and film, Bhimani has been seen as tiger mom Nina Patel on ABC’s hit comedy, ‘Modern Family.’ Other notable appearances include Marvel’s ‘Runaways,’ “S.W.A.T.,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “Grace and Frankie,” “Miss India America,” ‘Silicon Valley,’ ‘Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders,’ ‘NCIS: Los Angeles,’ “The Fosters,” “Necessary Roughness,” ‘Law and Order: SVU,’ “The Sopranos,” and more.
We spoke with Anjali Bhimani about her journey and her latest projects. Check it out!
DissDash: It’s always exciting to meet South Asians who are doing such amazing things.
Anjali Bhimani: There is definitely a lot of talent from South Asians. Many people don’t realize what a broad set of skills we have. In the world, people are used to seeing standard Indian doctors and Indian IT professions, but there are artists, and there are creators. It’s not just Bollywood and doctors; there’s a lot more.
DissDash: Talk to us a little bit about your journey, how did you get started, and what you went through to get to where you are now.
Bhimani: I grew up in Orange County California, my parents are both surgeons, and they met acting in a play in medical school. It was definitely in my blood. I loved performing from when I was a little kid, but mostly in school plays and stuff like that. It was early in high school, that’s when I realized I could do this for a living. I was very focused on theatre at the time. And that’s when I started doing shows in high school and out of school. I then went to Northwestern University and got a degree in theatre, with a music theatre certificate, sort of like a musical theatre minor.
After I graduated, I was very fortunate that my first job was at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago with a director called Mary Zimmerman, who is an incredibly talented lady and a wonderful person. It was the beginning of a lifelong collaboration. I’ve done over 18 productions with her. We started doing productions all over Chicago and all over the country. A show that I did with her and her company, the Lookingglass Theatre Company, called “Metamorphoses,” moved to Second Stage off-Broadway and Circle in the Square on Broadway, that’s when I moved to New York. That was in 2001.
I stayed in New York and did more off-Broadway like “Bombay Dreams” and “Metamorphoses” on Broadway, a little bit of opera, and that’s when I also started doing television. In 2007 I started going between New York and Los Angeles more because I wanted to explore television more. I continued to do that, jumping back and forth across the country. In 2010, I stayed put in LA and I have been here ever since.
As time went on, one more branch opened up, so now we had television and films, theatre and live performances, and I had started doing voice operas as well. That’s when I got involved with a very popular game called ‘Overwatch’ and other wonderful projects and most recently became a new character in a very popular game called ‘Apex Legends.’ I have been South Asian in one game and a South Asia hero in another game. It’s fun. It’s just been a lifelong journey of saying yes to whatever way they let me tell stories. I’ve never really picked one lane, and I’ve never wanted to and I am glad because it has kept me on my toes and kept me busy.
DissDash: When you first decided to go into acting, was that something your parents were on board with?
Bhimani: Absolutely. Like any parent, at first, they were like, “when you were three you wanted to be a fire engine so, whatever.” When they realized I was serious about it, they were not only very supportive, especially due to my father’s love for theatre, we got season tickets to the theater here in LA, we would talk about theatre, they would come down to my shows, and they’d fly wherever they could. They understood that I took it seriously and that when I was in school, I wasn’t going to ignore my grades just because I was doing this on top of it.
When they realized I wanted to pursue it, they basically said, “just be really good at it and make sure you can make a living from it, and if you can’t make a living of it, find ways to make a living, because that is important.” I think parents, particularly South Asian parents, their biggest concern is stability. And I am really grateful that my parents trusted me in that aspect, and they let me know, “we believe in you, you just have to find the right way to do this and make it a living if you are going to choose this as a career.”
DissDash: Right now, with COVID, the arts and entertainment fields have been hit hard along with other career aspects. How are you dealing with everything?
Bhimani: Again I feel very fortunate because I did diversify with the different media I work in. I have been able to keep working because voice-over never stopped. We have a home studio, so we’ve been recording from home. I’ve been doing as much as I can as an artist, whether it’s putting stuff online or doing charity streams. I’ve been doing as much as I can to use my broader voice online to be able to raise funds for a variety of foundations to try and raise funds for people who haven’t been as fortunate. If you are an actor who has chosen to focus on theatre, which is a very noble choice, unfortunately, this is the hardest time ever in the history of mankind. I’ve been trying to focus my energy on doing the best I can for me and for the other people that don’t have the great fortune to keep working.
And also, I’ve been staying creative at home through writing, singing, keeping my instruments honed, and ready to go for when things do begin to start up again. I feel I’ve been busier now because I am choosing to work on stuff 24 hours a day, or whenever I am not sleeping, making that choice rather than saying, okay, I am working on this project right now so I can relax on the other hours of the day – now there is no relaxing, just staying on point like an athlete.
DissDash: What inspires you to keep going?
Bhimani: It took me many years to realize this. I used to think that acting was a particularly self-centered, not selfish, but self-centered profession because you have to focus on yourself. But when I realized how much the service aspect of me is fulfilled by it, when I realized I love to come into every performance thinking that “I got you” to the audience, wherever they are, being excited about taking them on a journey, about helping them experience things they’ve never experienced before; that there are little Indian girls all over the world who now get to see an Indian hero they can look up to. That kind of service aspect has been appealing to me. It’s probably in the last five to ten years that I’ve realized that’s what drives me more than anything I thought drove me before.
I used to think of being successful or the excitement of storytelling, but for me, it’s the excitement of making a difference in individual lives. Someone might get to experience or see an image of themselves they’ve never seen before, and it might help guide them on their path towards success or happiness or feeling less alone in the world, whatever it is. I’ve gotten to tap into that more and more as time goes on.
DissDash: Talk to us about all these amazing things you have been coming up with. You’re playing a character in ‘Apex Legends,’ you have ‘Little Voice’ coming up in the Apple TV series, and your latest movie “Evil Eye.”
Bhimani: ‘Little Voice’ already came out, and I am happy that it’s out there. It’s a beautiful story about trusting your inner voice and trusting the part of you that says you can, rather than all the things that say you can’t. Also, I am super grateful because Sara Bareilles, one of the creators of the show, happens to be someone that I admire tremendously as a human being and also as an artist. I’ve been very grateful for that project.
I became Rampart in ‘Apex Legends’ in August. She is an unmitigated delight. She is crazy and has no filter, very ambitious. The image she portrays is not a commonly depicted image of South Asians, especially in the west. It’s been fun introducing her to the world. She is definitely out there. I am very grateful to the folks that reached out, they’ve done a great job with that game, of caring about representation and inclusivity, and they’ve done a great job writing this character, and am having a blast playing her.
“Evil Eye” released yesterday. It’s an unconventional story for people to see about South Asians here in the west. Most of the stories here are with family drama or romantic drama, but this is straight-up a psychological thriller. It’s an October movie for sure. There are many reasons why it’s special to me; the writer, Madhuri Shekar, is a friend of mine, who I knew from doing some workshops and readings of a play called ‘Queens.’ I am grateful to have been able to audition and be a part of “Evil Eye.”
DissDash: What would you say are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a South Asian in your journey?
Bhimani: Maybe this is me looking back and romanticizing history, but as a South Asian, I don’t feel like the challenges I faced were specific to me being a South Asian. The challenges I faced are the same challenges other actors face. The only thing I can think of is that when I began, there weren’t that many specifically South Asian roles out there. It worked out because, in the theatres I did, it really did not matter. I did so many shows where it didn’t matter; it was part of who I was and the uniqueness I brought to the table. But because the story was not necessarily dependent on a person being of a specific race or background, I was able to be part of the story. A lot of Mary Zimmerman’s shows are like that. She casts the actors that she wants to cast; their ethnicity is just one aspect that makes them unique. If anything, I think I didn’t really notice that there were challenges as specifically as an Indian woman.
As time has gone on, and as representation has become a hot issue, people are starting to become more aware of that; it’s been interesting to me. The pool of talent is incredible. People in front of the camera, on the camera, holding the camera, it’s been interesting for me because now I find myself playing more roles that are dependent on me being an Indian than I ever did.
The challenge for me is, the step past representation is inclusion. Seeing that someone’s ethnicity is not the only thing that makes them, them. That, for me, has been a challenge. Making it clear in my auditions and my reps, making sure that they are clear that me being an Indian is not the story that is at the forefront. It’s just part of it.
DissDash: What are you working on next?
Bhimani: There is a movie I shot last year, am not sure when it’s coming out, called “All My Life,” I am very excited to see that, whenever it makes its way to the screens. It was a very beautiful movie starring Jessica Rothe and Harry Shum Jr. and am really excited to see that when it comes out and am starting to shoot something next week that I cannot talk about. But it’s going to be lots of fun when I can. It’s another comedy role that I am looking forward to sharing. Unfortunately, we are living in the age of non-disclosure agreements.
I have a web series called ‘I Am Fun Size’ that I created a few years ago as a response to the online gaming community and the online community being so generous and kind with their offerings, and I wanted to offer something back. As a person, an actor and I feel that the two most things I to offer are my time and my experience. ‘I Am Fun Size’ is a series about living a bigger, fuller life because I think we are all built for fun. No matter what size we are, gender, background, anything, we are all built for a big life; we just don’t feel like it sometimes.
I did these episodes with other performers and public figures or on my own, where I just talk about ways we might deal with challenges. Things that inspire us, things that inspire me, stories from my life that might help people get through tough times in their life. The series is still on YouTube and I am starting to put together some new episodes for the next round.
I also started writing pieces on Thrive Global. It’s Arianna Huffington’s company and they have a website about wellbeing. I wrote a piece recently, “The One Thing I Stopped Saying In 2020.” Then just keeping up with my home life in the 30 minutes I have left, and lots of training. I am actually really proud because I’ve been training hard, physically. I don’t care how old I get, I am going to be that action figure in real life. I am just getting ready for that role to come along. I’ve been training a bunch for that and it has been a fun way to spend my time during COVID, rather than be just sitting around.
Cate Emmah is a Freelance writer who showcases her amazing skills and hard-earned experience in blogging, copywriting, news article writing, and web-content writing. She began writing back at high school where she took part in writing multiple articles in the local magazine as well as school magazine. Cate lives in Montreal, Canada and she likes to swim and hang out with her dog. She owns a cabin in the woods and that’s where she does most of her writing. It’s a serene environment and it helps her to think and be more creative. When she’s not writing, she is probably riding, swimming or shopping.