Every year, DragonCon brings in guests from the wide world of pop culture to Atlanta, Georgia. The convention boasts tens of thousands of visitors from around the world every year, and one of this year’s featured guests was Anjali Bhimani, the voice of Symmetra in Overwatch. Ms. Bhimani graciously allowed me to ask her a few questions on how she got into voice acting, what she thinks of the community, and what the character of Symmetra means to her.

Author’s note: This interview was transcribed from an audio recording.

Omnic Post: Thank you for agreeing to be here with us today.

 

Anjali Bhimani: Of course.

OP: Tell us a little bit about how you got into voice acting.

AB: Well, I’ve been acting for most of my adult life, and even [during] my childhood. So, voice acting really ended up being just one more branch of that tree. It wasn’t a specific choice so much as the sets of auditions that I go on have always been very varied, they’ve always been diverse. When I moved to LA to do more television and film–because I had been [more] of a theater actor for most of my career, for the first 10 years–obviously, there’s a lot of voice acting there, there’s a lot of animation there. So that’s when those opportunities started coming up a little bit. My agency happened to be one of the really fantastic agencies in the city, and [they] sent me on these auditions, and one of them happened to be for this cool new game that Blizzard was putting out, that none of us knew about. And that was that!

OP: So you didn’t know very much about [the game] going into it?

AB: Oh no no, I knew nothing about [it]–well, I shouldn’t say that I knew nothing about it. I knew that it was a Blizzard game, and knowing that World of Warcraft and Diablo were [all Blizzard games], I knew that it was going to be something spectacular. But I didn’t know what the size of the role was going to be. I only had a little bit of [Symmetra’s] backstory, a little bit of understanding about who she was. [I] didn’t really know her powers at the time or anything like that, so the audition was definitely a “fill it in” kind of situation. They had essentially given me the same backstory that you guys get when you’re playing the game: you understand that she is an architect who works with hard light technology, and she believes in order, and that that is the way to save the world from chaos. [There’s also information about] her upbringing, about her being plucked from Hyderabad and taken from there to work with the Vishkar Corporation.

OP: When you’re given little information about a character, do you have a method as to how you fill in the blanks?

AB: I read, I mine whatever I can in the breakdown–the breakdown is the description of the character. I mine whatever I can from there and from the lines for any clues that I can find, but ultimately it really is just sitting down and letting your imagination flow. A lot of times, what I’m learning is that–since, [as] compared to a lot of people who have been doing this for a very long time and have tremendous pedigrees specifically in voice acting, I am relatively new to this–my finding is that just making strong choices–much like what happens in acting in general–making strong choices that feel right to you makes a very big difference. There’s no sense in being lukewarm, there’s no sense in doing something just because you think, “Well, that’s, you know, realistic, [so] let me just do that.” It’s animation, it’s gaming, there are fantasy worlds involved, so playing with your voice is a really important thing. Just sitting down and imagining it is usually the biggest part of preparing.

OP: So filling in the character in your head and thinking about how they would react?

AB: Yeah, right. Which is acting in general. It’s just that, more often than not, when you’re doing a play or when you’re doing television, there’s a little more information given to you, a little more structure. You might have a scene as opposed to just a few lines or just a monologue.

OP: A description?

AB: Exactly. We have the description, but we also have some lines, which are asides–lines that the character might say in the game or in the animated script.

OP: That seems hard! I don’t know if I could do that.

AB: Well, I think everything is hard until you’ve been doing it, right? Some things come easy if you’re lucky, but everything requires a certain amount of effort to learn. As you go, you find the more and more you do it–training your imagination to run wild sounds crazy, because it sounds like you’re doing the opposite of “training” something–we’re always taught to train ourselves to calm down, or train yourself to control your emotions, or all that. I feel like the school system spends all these years beating the imagination out of us, and then as actors, we spend our acting careers trying to get that back. So that’s the fun part. That’s the really really really fun part.

OP: Getting to act with your voice?

AB: Yeah, and getting to play with your voice and find out what your voice can do. If you don’t actually, like, make silly voices at home, you’ll never really know what voices you can make. That’s a really fun part. [laughs] 

 

OP: Did you have any previous history with gaming when you auditioned for this?

AB: When I was a kid, I was very much into D&D, tabletop D&D, and then I moved into–as it became difficult to get friends together and time and all of that–I started playing RPGs on the PC that we had at home. I played Baldur’s Gate, [things from] Wizards of the Gold Coast and all that, and then it was simple games for a little while–Avernum and Heroes of Might and Magic and things like that–and then I just stopped because I was like, you need to get off your computer and spend some more time doing other things. Now it’s coming back into my life, but in such a fantastic way because now I see it as a more creative and educational outlet than I think I did then. I don’t think I understood how much you could use it in a really productive and helpful way as you can now. Plus the games now are–I mean, there’s a whole different level of [content.] I was just saying in a previous interview that I just recently downloaded World of Warcraft [and learned], oh, this is essentially like the games I played before World of Warcraft existed, okay, cool! Because I dig this. I can see the appeal of this in my life.

OP: So would you say that World of Warcraft would be your next favorite Blizzard game?

AB: I mean, I haven’t played Diablo, so I can’t say for sure, but at the moment, absolutely. I’m much better at, and I lean towards, RPGs and story games more than first-person shooters. One of the things I love about Overwatch is that I feel it combines the two. Yes, it’s a first-person shooter, but there’s also a lot of story behind it, so there’s a “way in” for everyone, even if you’re not good at the game, which–I am not good at the game!

OP: Neither am I, don’t worry. [laughs]

AB: I want to be good at the game, but my skillset is low. You can still fall in love with this characters because of their story, and their interactions, and finding out little bits as Blizzard lets us know more and more about these characters. So that’s really really cool.

OP: It’s obvious that [Blizzard] has done a really great job designing these characters and bringing them to life–and obviously you’re a part of that, as a voice actor–[based on] the huge community that has blown up around [the game]. What do you enjoy about the community?

AB: Everything! This community is mind-blowing. I’ve never experienced anything like it in my life. In [no] other medium–not in theater, not in dance, not in opera, not in TV–I’ve never experienced [this] kind of embracing energy that has come from this community, both for us as voice actors and for each other. People getting excited over it, [saying] “Oh, you play Overwatch? I play Overwatch! Who do you main?” and then all of a sudden it becomes this thing, and I know that might be something that is prevalent among gaming in general, but since I’ve been out of the world for a while, I hadn’t experienced it. [I hadn’t experienced it], certainly not this degree for me, and watching the artistry in this community–the cosplay, the fanfiction, and the generosity that everyone has with their artistry–it’s so inspiring to me. People are putting themselves out there every day in artistic ways, which makes me look at myself and say “Who am I not to do that?” I should be doing that, I should be connecting with this community every day and saying, A, thank you for being awesome, and B, what do we do to help you be more awesome in the ways that you want to be? This community is wildly generous and I really appreciate that.

OP: I think another one of the things that has caused such a large community to come up is the diversity in character.

AB: Mm-hmm!

OP: We have characters who speak different languages, have different appearances, and come from different backgrounds, and I think that people can all look at a character and say, oh, he or she looks like me, or she sounds like me.

AB: Or, he or she just has a story like me, or a personality like me. [This is] one of my favorite things about the game. None of these characters are defined by any one trait. They’re not defined by their ethnicity, not by their gender, by their size, by their shape, by their skin color, by their species–we’ve got Winston, who’s a space gorilla! Everybody is the sum of their parts, a sum of their experiences, and the sum of the things they have done with their experiences. Have they let their obstacles turn them towards, you know, “the dark side,” or or are they using them to fuel themselves to fight for the powers of what we think of as good. Or, are they like Symmetra, believing that [she] is doing good for the world, but then all of a sudden not sure that [she’s] with the right corporation to be doing that. There’s a complexity to each of the characters in this game that makes it not just diverse, but very inclusive. It makes you feel like, whether there’s someone that looks like you or not, there is someone who is like you in one way or another. And so you can grab onto that, even if it’s Bastion, even if it’s Wrecking Ball. There’s something about at least one hero in this game that you can really connect with.

 

OP: I think that that’s wonderful. I’m so glad that we finally have a game that celebrates such things as [diversity], and I think that that can be seen in the large amount of people who are not the normal straight white male gamer, who [normally] plays these games.

AB: I think this is only a harbinger of things to come. It’s great for us to be like, there’s finally a game that does this, but you know people have been trying to do this for a long time, and that Blizzard has just now flung open the gates for us to be able to do this, so hopefully it will set a trend going forward.

OP: Absolutely! So is there anything you’d like the community, or Omnic Post readers, to know?

AB: I am just so in love with all of you and your creativity, and please keep doing what you’re doing and playing. And actually, yes, [there is] one very important thing:the only thing that makes me sad about gaming and potentially sad about what’s going on in the community is when I hear about bullying or toxicity in gameplay. Jeff Kaplan said it early on: the only people we want to exclude from playing this game are people who exclude other people. This is a game that is built on teamwork and friendship and coming together, and to hear stories of people either being bullied, or bring told things that they really shouldn’t have to hear while they’re playing a game, [just] breaks my heart. There are so many more powerful ways for us to use our words, and I would hope that people can use the game more as a reason to come together and help each other learn and help each other play better than necessarily to discourage people from being there online.

OP: Tearing each other down?

AB: Yeah. The whole basis of the game is a world worth fighting for. You’re not fighting each other for it–you’re fighting with each other for it. I would love for our community to continue to step up and live into that reality. [in Symmetra’s voice] Welcome to my reality! [laughs]

OP: I think that’s all we have time for. Thank you so much for doing this, I appreciate it!

AB: Thanks!