Tipping Over Into Voiceover with Anjali Bhimani
Steve: Anjali Bhimani is a true triple threat. She comes to us from the world of theater, film and TV and has taken the gaming world by storm. She’s made a huge splash in the original animation world as well, so when she recently joined us to teach class #73 one of our talking points was how she was able to transition between each media, and what her thoughts are on adapting other acting skill sets to voiceover.
Anjali: I came to the different media through a combination of “Am I allowed to do this?”, “Let me check this out”, “I should try this”, and “I can do this!”. I had to give myself permission to try NEW things. Things I’d never done before. I wasn’t making a concerted effort to spread out, I just wanted to be a Storyteller. That’s what truly motivates me, and what I love most about acting. It’s all about bringing stories to life that include all of us and bring us together in one way or the other, whether it’s a tragedy or a comedy.
“To me the different media are just different branches of that same Storytelling tree.”
I started in theater and it’s my first acting language, so I’m a little partial to the advice “Get good theater training”. I do really believe that once you have some good training in theater, even if you’ve taken ONE great theater class, you’ll have an understanding of the big picture – the Story. You don’t necessarily get that if you just jump into an audition class for film, or even a single voiceover class. That’s because when we’re recording we’re on our own. We don’t necessarily get a sense of the gestalt – the unified concept – of what we’re creating. So I encourage theater training, again even if it’s just ONE great class.
I also performed on stage as a singer, and THAT experience tipped over into voiceover in terms of mic technique. We had mics on stage on Broadway sure, but that was really just so we could hit the back of the house. Singing in a nightclub, or in a cabaret, required mic technique. I had to find ways to have an intimate connection through my voice as well as those big, brassy sounds.
Even as a television actor you need to have intimate mic technique too, whether you realize it or not. I’ve been on countless sets where I almost couldn’t hear the other actors in the same room, yet it’s so compelling when you actually see it on screen.
Letting Your Acting Tip Over
It’s like the Romance languages – they all come from the same Latin root, and yet they’re also completely different languages. If you learn ONE you can kind of tip over into the others. You’ll see and hear the similarities, and they can complement each other. For instance, I studied Spanish for 6 years, then when I took only one year of French it “stuck.” I found it easier because it had the same roots.
Similarly I studied and performed theater for the first 10 years of my career. I then started doing TV – even though that was initially because those were the auditions my agents in New York sent me out on! It was easier to “tip” from theater into television, but I also had to give myself permission to do something new.
No matter what it was, I said “Yes” to it. Even if it involved opera or dance – I would say “Yes”! That’s because I never wanted to be the person who discounted me from doing something. Since I knew someone was going to make a decision whether I’d get to do this cool new thing or not, I also knew I’m not going to be the person that says “No”.
Rejection and Getting Back Up
I’ve struggled with self-esteem throughout my life, and I’ve struggled with depression too. The thing about this career path, and choosing it, is that you’ll constantly have to challenge yourself because it’s the only way a career is going to happen.
The other nice thing about this career, is that we aren’t the ones deciding if we’re “good enough”. Someone else will decide that with each job we get or don’t get. My acting career taught me how to have a good life, because it taught me how to handle so many things that a lot of people don’t get to experience – like constant rejection and getting back up afterwards, again and again.
I just kept saying “Yes” to the opportunities, and “Yes” to myself as well.
Give Yourself Permission to NOT Know!
Do NOT let yourself be daunted by the idea that you have to be “good” at this right away. The more permission you can give yourself to be a beginner, the better for you. Ask someone a question on set or in a session even if you think it’s a “stupid question”. It’s NOT a stupid question, it’s just a question you don’t yet know the answer TO. Asking questions is the only way you’re going to learn.
One of the greatest gifts my dad gave me was “Give yourself permission to not know”. My Dad was a wildly brilliant dude. He was a surgeon, he read voraciously, he knew almost everything about everything, but whenever he DIDN’T know something he’d say “I don’t know, let’s go look it up!”. And we would learn together. When someone you hold in high esteem says, “I don’t know” and it’s okay, it gives you permission to not know too. When YOU say “I don’t know” and you ask a question from that, it gives the people around you permission to do that too. If YOU have that question, guaranteed someone else does as well. It helps others too.
Being Willing To Do New Things
I won’t say that I’m a natural at this, because I’ve been acting for a long time. But it does ALL translate, across the different media. I trained and studied hard, no matter what media I was involved in. I was in singing training and I was also in theater training at Northwestern University. I had hours upon hours of very focused voice training for both. I didn’t appreciate all those hours of training then but boy do I appreciate them now.
More so than any other lane I’ve been in as a Storyteller, Voiceover has been the one that says “Let’s Play, let’s Find Out”. I highly recommend that, and giving yourself permission by saying “Ok, Let’s try it!”.
We are storytellers in this business, it’s what we do. Anjali has taken that a step further, authoring a wonderful book called I Am Fun Size, And So Are You! Thoughts From A Tiny Human On Living A Giant Life. You can find her book here: https://amzn.to/3KRAfjx
When I asked her during class “What does Fun-Size mean to you?” this is what she said:
We are all built to be the fullest, biggest selves that we are. We are all built to have fun lives, to have full lives, to have magnificent lives. The challenge is that sometimes life can make us feel small. People can make us feel small. We can be beaten down by circumstances and the voices in our own head can make us feel small. I maintain that we are all fun size because there’s no package that you can be in that makes your soul smaller. There’s really nothing about this package that makes you less of who you really are. Living a fun-sized life and being fun size just means figuring out who you are and living that person to the hilt. That’s the ultimate character you want to learn about.
All of us in this industry seem to “tip over” from one form of creativity to another. A massive thank you to the incredible Anjali Bhimani for sharing her articulate insight, warmth and brilliance.
Now get out there and tip over into something magnificent!