You might recognise Anjali Bhimani’s voice from Overwatch. You might have seen her on Broadway, or in shows like Modern Family, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and Silicon Valley. And you can see her in We’re Alive: Frontier, the live-action RPG web series from Geek & Sundry and Legendary Digital Networks.
She’s also been in films, voiceover work, and even an opera. We talked to Bhimani about her wide-ranging acting experience, how she gets into character, and her incredibly busy, fan-centric schedule.
Name: Anjali Bhimani Location: Home is West Hollywood, but I’m all over the world these days. Current gig: Actress—screen, stage, and voiceover. Currently in the live action RPG We’re Alive: Frontier on Project Alpha (new episodes in January) Current computer: MacBook Pro Current mobile device: iPhone 7S (but upgrading to a 10s soon!) One word that best describes how you work: Meticulously
First of all, tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
I grew up in Orange County, CA, and I did a lot of theatre when I was younger. Once I realised I could do it as an actual career, I got a degree in theatre from Northwestern University and began working in regional theatre as soon as I graduated.
A few years after that, a show I did in Chicago (Metamorphoses) moved to Broadway so I moved to New York City, where I began doing television as well as continuing to work onstage on Broadway and off, doing an opera, and more.
After about 7 years of that, I began going back and forth between New York and Los Angeles to do more television and film, and in 2010 made the official move to L.A. Since then I’ve also been voice acting and rekindled my relationship with the gaming world through performance, through my role as Symmetra in Overwatch and also as Stingray on Alpha’s live RPG show We’re Alive: Frontier.
I also spend a good portion of the year travelling both for shoots and for convention appearances worldwide.
Take us through a recent workday.
This was a recent day while I was shooting something out of town in October:
5 AM Wake up in my hotel room, make my morning beverages (some healthy stuff), look at my phone to make sure there aren’t any things I need to deal with immediately
5:30-6 Do a quick HIIT workout or some yoga to wake up my body and get some energy going.
6-6:30 Shower and get dressed to head to set for what I’m shooting that day
6:30-7 Ride to set, use the time to get in some social media posts about the watch-along of We’re Alive: Frontier happening later today
7:00 On set for just a few hours shooting a short scene. During this time, between setups, I’m also fielding messages about auditions and whatever bookings might be coming in.
Get an on-camera audition that needs to be put on tape by evening Los Angeles time. Happily the time difference is working in my favour since I’m on the East Coast. Bad news is I’ll need to shoot it before the natural light in the room is gone, which means getting it done by 5 PM Spend my breaks from shooting working on the lines for the audition. Lucky it’s only one very short scene today.
Also get a voiceover audition to record, but can do that any time of day so not worrying about that one.
2-4 Get back to my hotel and set up the room so I can do a self-tape of this audition before the sun goes down and the lighting isn’t good enough in the room. Since I don’t have anyone to read with, I’ll end up recording the other characters’ lines on audio and then acting with the recording.
(Not my favourite thing to do because it doesn’t always elicit the most spontaneous auditions, but in a pinch it has to do.)
Take two hours setting up lighting and recording video, editing, fixing sound, and send off to my manager to send to casting. Not to mention taking some of the time to work on the actual acting part.
(That usually looks like me daydreaming or talking to myself, so I’m glad to be doing it in a hotel room while I’m solo. Sometimes I have to do that in public, in which case I put in my AirPods and hope people just think I’m on the phone.)
4:30 Get back to a computer to make it for the online watch-along of an episode of the second season of We’re Alive: Frontier with the cast. We’re all signing in from all over the country (occasionally the globe) and connecting with viewers via Discord and Alpha Chat as we watch together.
During the watch-along I’ll have my phone on with the episode running through the live feed on Project Alpha, the computer on to write into the chat on Alpha and Discord, and GIPHY capture to grab any moments I might catch in the moment.
(I’ll also just take notes sometimes of moments I want to grab later for social media).
This watch-along is one of my favourite things to do right now, getting to experience the episode in the same time as our watchers and connect with them about it and their reactions.
5 PM Conference call with a new bookkeeper I’m working with back in LA.
6 PM Another audition comes in. This time I have enough time to find someone to tape with the next day and film at a studio, which I prefer. Then I won’t have to worry at all about the technical aspect and can just focus on acting. Work on the lines for a bit—this one isn’t too rough or emotionally deep, so get it handled and off book within the hour.
7 PM Take a break to call home, Facetime with my better half and the pup.
7:45 PM Record a voiceover audition. I waited until evening, when it’s less noisy, to do this. Set up a makeshift voice booth in the closet of the room by putting pillows around the back of the closet and sitting in between those and my hanging clothes, then closing the door behind me and using my RODE lav mic on my phone to record the lines.
(Every time I do this in a hotel room I wish someone was taking video because it always looks ridiculous.)
After recording, use Audacity to clean up the audio and send off the audition takes to my VO agent.
9 PM Whoops, forgot to eat. Head downstairs to grab a salad to go from the hotel restaurant.
9:30-10:30 Feeling a little extra inspired today, so use the next hour to shoot an episode of I Am Fun Size in my room. This one will be called “Self-Inspiring versus Self-Inspiraling,” which came out of a conversation I had with my husband and a dear friend a few months ago. Send it off to my video editor for title cards and such.
10:30 Hop in the tub to unwind and read for about 20 mins, then crash.
What are some of the differences between acting on stage, on camera, and for voiceover?
Really they are much more similar than different. The biggest difference is just how you use your instrument, which is your entire body and being.
In a live performance you are aware of the time slot during which you’ll be going on the journey of the show, so there is a known commodity in terms of the journey you’re going on, but once the train has left the station, there’s no going back so you are on that ride with the audience no matter what until it’s over. If you don’t like what you did or you make a mistake you have to find a way to weave that into the show that night instead of stopping to fix or change.
In an onscreen project, you may be shooting out of order and not know when you’re going to actually get to that emotional scene, and when you do, you have to be ready to hit it on point right away.
Especially in more improvised pieces like We’re Alive: Frontier, where it means you need to stay immersed in the character and story for a longer period of time, or at the very least, be able to access all of the emotions of different scenes at any moment.
Voiceover is different from both of those in that you’re focusing all of the action and work and emotion you need to convey into that one part of your instrument—your voice—and you need to make sure you can tell the story of the piece and create the character solely through sound.
Besides your phone, what apps, gadgets, or tools can’t you live without
My Aerolatte portable hand blender: With all the travelling and being on sets, it’s hard to maintain good nutrition, and having that in my bag I can make a smoothie, a green drink, a latte, whatever the heck I need to make it through a day and not worry about getting the right stuff into my body. Helps keep me from going nuts at the craft services table on set, too.
Portable tripod for my iPhone: I need to be able to record self-tapes from anywhere.
Hi-speed charger for my phone and a spare Mophie battery: I HATE the feeling of my phone being low on battery so I obsessively plug it in whenever I can.
I don’t know if this counts, but the Do Not Disturb button on my phone and MacBook changed my life. Since we do so many different things on our gadgets nowadays, it takes a lot for me to be able to focus on one task instead of paying attention to every message that comes in.
My good ol’ fashioned Conair hot rollers. I’m not ashamed to put those in and walk the dog or drive to wherever I’m going—including most auditions—because they make bad hair days almost impossible.
What’s your workspace setup like?
Because I travel so much, I don’t really have a steady setup. My workplace is basically anywhere with my laptop, my phone, my AirPods or other noise-cancelling headphones (Bose and Sennheisers are my faves), and an internet connection. So I guess my workplace setup is...fluid and portable! At home, it often involves a small dog trying to distract me with his adorableness.
What’s a common misconception about acting and voice acting?
That they are so different! Acting is storytelling, at its core...voice acting is still acting, just using different parts of your instrument (or fewer). But the greatest voice actors are actors just as much as anyone you see on stage or screen.
Look at someone like Robin Williams. He wasn’t considered a “voice actor” but one of his most iconic performances, the Genie in Aladdin, was him focusing the giant nuclear reactor that was his talent into a performance that we only heard through his voice, but felt every part of his being creating.
Voice acting isn’t separate from acting, it’s a branch of that tree. You can’t be a great voice actor without being a great actor, period.
What’s your favourite shortcut or hack?
Never have I spent a wiser $100 than when I signed up for Global Entry through the TSA. It has saved me so many hours of standing in lines at customs and security I can’t even tell you. Plus it saves me time packing.
If I get an audition and I will be running around or driving too much to work on it at home, I’ll stop and record the lines on my Voice Memo app on my iPhone and listen to it on headphones while I’m driving or running around.
Sometimes even if I’m not focusing on it it’ll even just seep into my head a little more just by virtue of being on repeat in the background for so much time. Then the lines are there and ready for me in my head when I want to get to the nitty gritty of the acting part.
I love using EFT — Emotional Freedom Technique — to help me get grounded before an audition or in a stressful situation, and to help me in my acting by showing me that there is no emotion that is in control of me. Therefore I’m free to feel anything or go as deep or dark as I need to for a role because I know I’ll be fine afterward.
I’ve learned it from my friend and mentor Cat Stone, who has also shown me how to use it in a pinch for larger issues, and it’s come in very handy in certain stressful moments (like dealing with the time I dislocated my jaw 12 hours before I had to do a play reading in New York and had to reset it myself).
Reminding myself that the physical sensation of nervousness is pretty much the same as excitement. The difference is what you think the outcome is going to be, so lean into the feeling and expect it to go well and you can use the sensation to your advantage, not let it stop you or freak you out.
Take us through an interesting, unusual, or finicky process you have in place at work.
Despite being a very upbeat person, I find that I tend to need to lean into a certain amount of struggle or even pain when I’m preparing a role or an audition.
For example, for the role of Stingray on We’re Alive: Frontier — which is really a live action improv where the suggestions are from the game master and dice instead of the audience — I found myself almost needing to make things harder than I knew they were, to be able to access the part of me that fights for what she wants.
I had to invest in the struggle and the pain of what was happening more than just playing the “game,” and my fellow cast mates invest so much, it’s a great environment to go deep in.
Who are the people who help you get things done, and how do you rely on them?
My husband is #1 on that list! And not purely by literally helping me do things, which he does whenever he has the time (he’s pretty crazy busy taking over the world himself), but sometimes by just reminding me I’ve got it all under control even when I think I don’t.
On my team for work, I’ve got my manager, who is an incredible single mother killing it for her clients, and my agents, and there are many of them to handle all different kinds of things: TV and film, stage, voiceover, convention appearances...I rely on them to communicate with me and each other to make sure all of the the balls in the air are being handled when it comes to my bookings, because I have too much career A.D.D to focus on only one kind of acting. I just wanna do it all, all the time.
I’ve recently also hired a bookkeeper and I’m looking for an assistant, because things have gotten a bit more complex this last year and even though I could potentially do all of it myself as I have for so long, I’m realising the amount of time I invest in that kind of work is better used doing things that only I can do.
I don’t wanna be on stage or shooting and trying to create a dramatic scene and in the back of my head I’m worried about filing my estimated taxes. I am finally understanding that your energy and time is as much of a currency as your money, so you need to budget and spend it wisely.
How do you keep track of what you have to do?
Mostly on iCal, although in recent months I’ve started to love Todoist for my basic to-do lists since it helps me categorise and share and delegate tasks. I tried some other “productivity” apps that “do it all” but found them to be more distracting than helpful. I prefer things to be distilled and specialised rather than a catchall.
So, times and dates and schedules on iCal, to-dos on Todoist, and good old-fashioned Post-its around the house because, let’s face it, those are fun. I love colour coding my Post-its by project or subject and turning my office wall into a crazy multicolored planner.
How do you recharge or take a break?
Um ... what is this “break” you speak of?
Lately I’ve found that the best break for me is either 20 min listening to either a yoga nidra meditation (I found a few great ones on YouTube, doesn’t need to be fancy) or even just a 20 minute nap. My brain is so busy all the time, I really need to psych myself out into thinking that the 20 min of sleeping is an activity and is productive.
Otherwise I’ll think myself out of resting. Since yoga nidra gives me a very specific thing to focus on as I do it, and is supposed to be more restorative in some ways than sleep, whether I fall asleep or not, I know I’m getting a little respite from my busy brain.
And I LOVE showers and baths (or if I’m lucky when I’m travelling, a jacuzzi) to reset. Something about hot water just helps me either restart/reset my day or wind it down.
What’s your favourite side project?
That’s a tough one since my life consists of so many different projects it’s hard to know which are “side” projects. At the moment I think I would say my webseries on YouTube, I Am Fun Size.
It came out of a desire to give back to the gaming community and fans I’ve met over the years. It’s given me a chance to take any struggles from my own life and turn them into useful things for other people.
It’s so gratifying when people come up to me who say they first found out about me through my acting, but then fell in love with that series and that it made a difference to them. That’s been a huge joy over the last couple of years, especially since I can do it from anywhere in the world.
What are you currently reading, or what do you recommend?
I keep having to put it down for whatever reason and then needing to start from scratch, but given how much I love fantasy fiction and sarcasm, I know it’s gotta be required reading for me.
I also highly recommend Dune and the entire His Dark Materials series. Whether you like fantasy fiction or not, both of those books create worlds that are incredible to visit for the time you’re reading them.
I think that’s the beauty of fantasy fiction and sci-fi, when they create a world that is flawed and troubled but where there is a tremendous desire to make the world better and to be a part of that journey.
Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Jennifer Hale! Ever since meeting her a few years ago and spending more one-on-one time with her, she is just a giant source of wisdom and inspiration to me, and she’s got some incredible hacks and setups in her life that I’ve already learned from.
I’d also LOVE to see Michelle Obama answer all of this because even before she was the First Lady she was a badass juggling a million things—including being married to some guy who was a little busy—and I’m sure she would have some wisdom behind the scenes that I could learn from.
And my brother because he’s one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met and I feel like he gets more done in a day than I get in a month.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Also from my brother, when I was in junior high. He said to me (maybe not in these exact words, but close): “There are things that you’re great at that I will never be good at, and things that I’m better at that you don’t necessarily love or need to do. So don’t worry about doing what I do, focus on what you love and being amazing at being you.”
That was when I really started to cultivate my love of performing. I don’t know if I would actually be an actress without that talk with the best brother a girl could have.
Second only to that was the dentist who said “You have beautiful teeth. Keep them. Floss.”
What’s a problem you’re still trying to solve?
How not to second guess myself. I guarantee after I send in these answers, I’ll probably wake up in the middle of the night thinking “OH! I forgot so-and-so” and want to call the editor.
Also, more importantly, how to manage being a perfectionist and wanting to fill every minute of the day with productivity and getting things done while still being able to create the head and heart space to be present and enjoy downtime and time with my loved ones.
Moderation isn’t my forte. So I’d like to really cultivate the ability to be obsessively focused on what I’m doing at any moment, including snuggling with the dog or sharing quality time with my husband. We put such a premium on productivity in our culture, sometimes I think we don’t treat our personal lives with as much, for lack of a better term, ambition. Or maybe just focus.
So, basically finding the balance between doing a ton and being more present, in all things.