This week on Critical Role, the amazing Anjali Bhimani made an appearance on Exandria Unlimited as the fire genasi Fy'ra Rai. The appearance is a major deal for the show as it is the first guest appearance on any of their shows (not including any primary cast members) in the studio since the pandemic started. The episode, which aired last night and will be available on YouTube this Monday, brought her character right into the middle of a battle and set the stage for some interesting twists to this new mini-series that's been catching on with CR fans. Today we got a chance to chat with Bhimani about her time on the show and what she's been up to lately.
BC: Hey Anjali! First off, how have you been doing during the pandemic?
AB: Hey back! That's such a huge question. I'm incredibly grateful to say I've been well overall – despite hurting in my heart for so many people during this time. I've been lucky to be able to work from home and to spend time with my family that we haven't gotten to spend together before. And I've been grateful to have the personal resources to do a lot of charity work and outreach during this time so that I can help other people who have been struggling.
What has it been like doing voice work from home and working on multiple projects during this time?
Again, I'm incredibly grateful because I was already set up at home to work this way – my husband is a musician and producer (Rick Barrio Dill of Vintage Trouble) so we already had a studio at home to work out of. The hardest part for me has been managing my time, because I feel like there was less driving to set or flying to other places to keep me from working all day every day. I took on a lot of personal creative and charity projects that have had me unable to turn off at the end of the day. When filming did start back up, it almost felt like a break to fly out and work, even when it was all day and all night shoots, because I was focusing back on one thing at a time (or maybe 3 instead of 15). But, the bonus – which is INVALUABLE – has been being able to do so much at home with my husband and dog. The quality time with them has been phenomenal. We've soaked in as much of it as possible because with my filming and his touring schedule we know this isn't something that we will naturally get to do as much going forward.
How did the discussion first come up for you to join Critical Role for UnDeadwood back in 2019?
My dear friend Ivan Van Norman hit me up to tell me about it – we had done We're Alive: Frontier together a few years back and I loved working with him so much, and THAT relationship had started because Marisha Ray connected us in the first place (and I owe her so much for bringing me back to my love of RPGs). So it was a perfect full-circle moment.
What did you think of your experience doing that show and working with that cast as Miriam?
I've said this before and I'm sure I'll say it again, it was hands down one of the most artistically and personally fulfilling projects and experiences of my last ten years. And I think that's saying a lot given how much cool stuff I've been lucky enough to be a part of. It was just a perfect storm of talent and friendship and unpredictability and storytelling and art and play and… I just get so excited when I talk about it that it feels like I don't possibly have the words. How that show ended was so unbelievably powerful and impossible to have seen coming, I can still feel what it felt like when the cameras went off as if it was happening right now.
When that was finished, did you know you wanted to come back, or did they ask if you wanted to?
I think it was pretty clear that I was in love with the experience and would come back for anything, and both Marisha and Matt [Mercer] said I was part of the family now. But of course, I knew they had so many talented people in their family, I wasn't sure when or how long it might be. So I was pretty delighted when ExU came along.
When did you start discussing coming in to do Exandria Unlimited?
I think it was back in February when Marisha first contacted me to tell me about it… I call her my patron saint of RPGs since she is responsible for getting me back into playing, so pretty much anything she asks, I'm in. I was filming at the time, so the only question was going to be my schedule. But I also made it pretty clear to my team that it would take something pretty damn extraordinary to keep me from ExU. Thankfully we were able to work my schedule around theirs (mostly because I told my team how much it meant to me) and CR was really helpful and flexible too.
What was the process for you in creating your character to fit with Aabria's story?
Aabria [Iyengar] gave me free rein to do whatever I wanted, which at first was a little unsettling, to tell the truth. I kept wanting more information or more rules and she kept insisting I just create a character I love and we would make it fit the story. Ultimately I did want to create a character that was clearly connected to the lore and world as it already existed, and we did talk a lot about her being a different energy than the other players. I really love the monk class – mostly because I think I want to be one in real life.
What kind of quirks and attributes did you give her to help set her apart from other guests who have popped in?
I didn't really compare or make any choices based on other guests. I was mostly going off the set and setting of Aabria's Exandria and the party comp of the existing players. I wanted her to be somewhat different from them so that, much like me coming in as a new player after they'd already started their adventures, she had to find her way into their hearts. Her backstory is much about that… about why this matters to her, about her guiding light and her purpose. She's much more serious than the characters so far – except maybe Orym – and yet she has her moments of unintentional levity. There's so much about her to explore, I hope we get a chance to as the world unfolds.
What was your time like doing this campaign moving into fantasy after doing a western?
Well, I've loved fantasy fiction and films and shows for my whole life, and I played D&D starting at a young age, so it's not a new genre to me. If anything it was so much the genre shift that was different as the gameplay system – in this world, magic isn't unusual, so we didn't have the same hesitancy to use it as characters or players as we did in UnDeadwood. I rather love how expansive that makes the possibilities.
What did you think of this particular story being told?
I love it! It's such a lighthearted intro to Exandria thanks to these delicious characters and beautiful humans playing them. And with Aabria at the helm and her infectious enthusiasm for all of it, it's just a joy to be a part of, both as a spectator for part of it and a player.
What do you hope people will take away from your appearance and do you hope to come back?
For both me and Fy'ra Rai, I hope people will be delighted and excited to see us arrive and eager for us to stay! Every time I finish something with this gang, I just don't want to leave. And truly, she has quite a bit to offer with her story and for a larger story, so I'd love for there to be a chance to put more of that out there.
Aside from the obvious, is there anything else you'd like to promote that's in the works or coming out?
Ahhhh, so many projects, and so many NDAs – sadly most of what I have coming up is under wraps for now. But I'm still sharing my web series, I Am Fun Size, with the world so you can always catch those on YouTube, and there's also a book in the works. There are some very very very exciting onscreen and game announcements coming this year, so please just keep an eye out on my socials and elsewhere. I can't wait until I actually CAN share them with you all!