The voice behind Symmetra
Anjali Bhimani was born in Cleveland and grew up in Orange County before moving on to study theater at Northwestern University in Chicago. She's since returned to California, where she still works in theater, but is growing a career in TV too. You may have spotted her in in shows like Modern Family, Silicon Valley, and Criminal Minds. And Overwatch isn't her only videogame appearance—she played Nisha in Fallout 4's Nuka-World expansion.
Take a deeper dive into Bhimani's career over on her IMDB page.
Symmetra is an outlier among Overwatch's support characters. She can protect teammates with shield buffs and push through chokepoints with the Photon Barrier, but she won't stop to pop a band-aid on every Pharah's skinned knee. With a few tiny turrets and her Photon Projector in hand, she'll mercilessly dissolve anyone foolish enough to press into her corner. It's appropriate for her character too, a hardened engineer with good intentions who will subvert (or dissolve) any obstacle in order to impact the world in a positive way.
Anjali Bhimani, who lends her voice to Symmetra, says she and her character have far more in common than just mouth sounds. She agreed to explain and talk about how she sees Symmetra, what it's like working with Blizzard, and which heroes should just kiss already.
PC Gamer: I understand you're more than a voice actor, is that right?
Anjali Bhimani: I pretty much work wherever they'll pay me that's not, you know, illegal. And who knows, maybe someday I'll switch to that too, but for now we're sticking with legal work.
So, can you give me a general background about who you are, where you're from, and what got you into your career?
I was born in Cleveland and raised in Orange County, and I went to school for theater in Chicago. So that's where I stayed and did a ton of theater out there for a really long time, and then I moved to New York with a show that went to Broadway and stayed there for a chunk of time. I did a couple of shows on Broadway and opera and a bunch of other things, and then that's also where I started doing a little bit of TV and working that world a little more. Then I started going back and forth between New York and LA to do TV, and then I moved to LA, and here we are. I've been here since 2010 officially. Yeah! And the voice acting stuff pretty much started up with Overwatch, so that started in 2014? 2014, yeah.
But like I said, a little bit of everything.
That's interesting to hear that they were contacting you back in 2014, and the game came out last year, so they had you on Overwatch pretty early, huh?
Oh yeah, since it was obviously such an involved game and they had a lot of development they were working on, we did a few sessions before the game came out, but it was spaced out pretty widely as they were developing the characters. I wouldn't say I had no idea what I was getting into, but I had no idea it was this huge.
Did you have knowledge of Blizzard and their reach?
Yeah, I knew about World of Warcraft, I mean, who doesn't? And I knew that was huge. I didn't quite, at the time—my gaming experience was many years ago when I first played D&D as a kid, campaigns and all of that. And then mostly just played role-playing games like Baldur's Gate, so with the advent of all of the games that are so sophisticated and the console systems and all of that, I haven't been as involved in the gaming world since then. So what I knew of them was just from other people talking about the games, I didn't realize the scope and the magnitude of the stuff that they do, and specifically that Blizzard takes their time.
You know, some companies throw games out as frequently as they can, but Blizzard takes so much time and puts so much effort and thought and planning into all of their games. I just assumed that all games took this long, but then when I went back and did more research, I realized 'Oh wow, these guys don't mess around.' These guys really really take their time so that when something comes out it's a solid thing that's going to last for 10 years, at least.
So you played Dungeons and Dragons back in the day?
Do you remember any of your characters?
I can't remember specifics, but I do remember always having a hard time picking one class, so I would always have multiclass characters because I could never—which kind of sounds like my life, jack of all trades, master of none, doing a little bit of everything, because if you can, why not? So I do remember, and I wish I could draw it for you, because I can see her in my mind's eye. I loved drawing my characters back then. I loved fantasy art so much, particularly because of Dungeons and Dragons, and that was part of what drew it to me, was the vividness of all of the characters.
Even in the manual the art was so beautiful. Even if it was just sketch art. I can remember this image of this totally badass cleric-fighter-magic-user that I had, and I just can't remember her name. But, you know, she's hot, I'm not going to lie. That was the main one that I can remember. I wish I could remember her name!
Was she evil? Were you evil all the time or were you nice?
Oh, no no no nonono! I think my favorite alignment, and the alignment that I actually consider myself in real life, is Chaotic Good. Problem is, I'm probably closer to Neutral Good because I do have the tendency to follow rules more specifically than the average bear, but if I think a rule is stupid and there's a way I can get around it and still do good, I'll go with that. All of my characters whenever I played were chaotic good, and to me that's really how I operate. Lawful Good pens you in, you're a little bit stuck obeying all the rules even if the rules don't necessarily save the greater good, which is kind of like Symmetra!
Hey, woah! Bringing it back.
Look at that!
So yeah, back to Symmetra. Blizzard's characters, at least up front to the players, are never too defined. I'm sure Blizzard has a good idea who they are, but players are filling in the blanks and there's this huge culture of fan art and fanfiction and all this stuff forming around Overwatch. Who do you see Symmetra as? What's your idea of Symmetra?
Well, all of the information that the fans have is the information that I have. Which I think is a really beautiful thing—and also protects me from making a complete ass of myself and putting something out there that I shouldn't have. So I appreciate [Blizzard] doing that, they keep it very close to the chest. But what I love the most about her is that, much like in real life, there's a desire to do good and she’s used her difficult history and her difficult childhood to try to funnel that into a way to do good in the world rather than it turning her against the world, like perhaps Reaper has. But at the same time, her methods, and as you saw if you read the comic , you can see that even she is questioning that the Vishkar Corporation is using and putting her to.
There is this grey area, you know? She doesn't necessarily have questionable morality. Her morality I think is right on line: she wants to do good in the world, she wants to make the world a better place. The question is, how is she doing it? And who is she aligning herself with? And what I love about that vagueness—that many of the characters have—is that it does open the door to interpretation and that it does allow the players to fill in the blanks.
I mean look, if you're just playing the game itself and you're not reading any of the lore, you don't get any of this, right? Essentially, it does come from all of the fans who are voracious in their appetite for new information, because they want to fill in the story and they want to know more, and that's part of the excitement of this game, is that it's not just the game, it's the world that they have created for the game. Which goes all the way back to Dungeons and Dragons and those kind of campaign games where so much of your involvement in the game comes from your imagination.
I know this is not entirely specific to your question, but basically I do see her as a hero. I see her as a conflicted hero, like so many of them. She wants to do good in the world, she believes in what she is doing, she believes her heart is in the right place, but then something happens and something bad happens to someone as a result of her actions and she's like, ‘Huh, I just have to convince myself that this is the right thing’—you know, long game. I really love that about her, I do think her heart and her mind are in the right place.
And as far as the fans go, I just love all the stuff they're coming up with. I absolutely—and I probably sound like I'm sucking up to them, but I swear to god—I am in love with these fans. The art that they produce, the stories that they produce, the kindness that they show, the relationships that they're building with each other that I get to see firsthand because of social media, which is one of the joys of social media—all of that to me, the community that has been built because of this game is extraordinary. And I think that's another reason that the game is so popular, because yeah, it could just be another first person shooter, but it's the community and the lore that's making it so special.
Yeah, and kudos to Blizzard for taking steps in representing all kinds of people from all over.
Absolutely! I honestly think that the greatest asset of the game itself is, or the greatest trait, is that there is a hero for everyone to identify with. Somewhere in this game there is a character that has something in common with someone who is playing. I like to think that that mythology enables us to see something heroic in ourselves when we're playing it. If a little girl sees Tracer and she's like 'Oh my god, she's just like me!' how cool is that for that little girl? Or, Symmetra! Or Pharah! Or Sombra! Or a little boy seeing Lucio, you know, all of these super cool characters with a variety of backgrounds and sexual orientations and abilities and mindsets—there's just something so appealing about people being able to jump into this world and see themselves in it.
And I think particularly, not to get sociopolitical, but we are in a time of extreme change and there are a lot of people in the world. Now is a really important time for people to be able to see their own efficacy, their own power, their own ability to affect change, whether on an individual level or on a global level. And anything that empowers people to see that, whether it's a game or a book or a song or a band or a play—whatever, that's our job as artists right now, is to help bring out the best in people and enable them to speak up when they need to speak up and enable them to make change when they want to make change.
Long answer! In recent years, it's become more and more clear to me why I do what I do, and that's a large part of it.
Well, I'm glad Symmetra can be part of that.
Oh god yeah, she's awesome, and I love that little Indian girls now have a superhero, because I sure didn't. I didn't have one when I was growing up.
On another note, it sounds like you're fairly familiar with the rest of the cast of Overwatch, or at least the characters. Are you aware of shipping?
I am aware of shipping, and I tend to plead the fifth on any ship questions! First of all, I'm just grateful for the fact that I now know what that means, because it took me a long time to figure it out. I was like, 'Shipping? Where are we sending people? I don't understand.' There are a lot of combinations and permutations that would be very exciting for people. There are some that make obvious sense in terms of how the worlds are intertwined, but who knows, genuinely, who knows what Blizzard has lined up? Michael Chu [Senior designer for lore and story on Overwatch] is amazing with the things that he's come up with, and the whole team. So ask your question, but be prepared, I might plead the fifth.
Ha! Who is your dream couple from the Overwatch cast? Who is destined to be together?
Cool! That's a tough one—again, huge disclaimer, I know nothing and am not endorsing or saying that Blizzard should do anything. I never want to step on their toes. I recently heard about a Mercy-Genji one and I thought they would be a fantastic couple!
Yeah, that's the rumor.
I mean, first of all, they would be hot as fuck. But, what a beautiful combination that would be. Especially since I sense that Genji is a wee bit troubled and could use a little bit of Mercy's light, so I like that idea.
I'm trying to think of who else. We all know Tracer's already got her boo, so I won't mess with her. I think Ana and Soldier: 76.
Yeah, even though that seems more like a Moonlighting kind of thing. They work together, you know what I mean? So that seems more like a 'we're never actually going to get together, but we're always going to have that thing there.'
I love it.
Moonlighting? I totally dated myself. What else? Those are two that pop into my head that just seem to make sense, you know, based on the world that they're in. But I'm sure there are infinitely more. And I—look, when Tracer's story came out with the Christmas comic, it was a surprise to everyone, so who knows where everyone's at? I love that they just come out with these things that, all of a sudden you're like I can't believe that happened and yet it makes perfect sense, how did I not get it?
They tend to set the internet on fire.
Yeah! And also, one of the other reasons I don't want to specifically endorse or deny any ship, is because the fan art and the fan fiction that has come out of people shipping different characters of their own accord is so magnificent, I don't want anyone to stop creating in new ways because they think something is actually lore. I think that might also be why Blizzard is so careful about what they put out there as 'defined.' Because they want people to create the world with them.
Symmetra @sweeetanj @PlayOverwatch pic.twitter.com/c3ceAgADFKNovember 8, 2016
An excerpt from Lúcio actor Jonny Cruz's goofy montage of the Overwatch cast IRL.
So what's the voice recording process like working with Blizzard? Because they're constantly updating the game. Are you recording all these things way ahead of time, or are you going in every couple months now for their updates?
Not every couple of months, but there's been a few sessions, about once every six months or so. And whenever they do the updates they throw in some extras that they may or may not be using, and they're pretty good at planning ahead. But I want to say I've done four or five sessions—I can't totally remember off hand. So yeah, when you go in, we usually have a four-hour session, and it's just new lines and they'll go line by line explaining what each line refers to, and give you some reference in case you don't play the game or haven't heard it in a while so you can hear your voice again and put your voice right back in that place.
But when they did the Christmas stuff and the Halloween stuff, of course they had us come in and record lines. There were a couple of extra things thrown in when Symmetra's boost came in, when she got the update, so I did those. Yeah, it's a very easy process, the flow is very very easy. I kind of haven't ever had as smoothly run a job in my life, where you just come in and everyone is having a great time and you come in and you do it and you go. That's pretty much it. It's very clear, Andrea Toyias, the voice acting director, she's the director for the sessions as well. She's so spot on, the direction for each line is so clear. So it's really really easy to do. I just have to go in making sure I haven't lost my voice the night before, and that's pretty much it.
And in terms of both how you envision Symmetra and the lines that are out there already, is there some kind of tagline or line you're dying to put in there? Something that you would make up on your own?
Wow, I would have to think about that, really have to think about that to have a good answer for you. Full disclosure, I don't play the game that often. And I'm also quite bad at it, so A for effort, D-minus for execution. but thank god, when she finally got the boost I finally started not dying immediately. So I'm not as familiar with all the lines that actually made it into the game. I don't know which ones actually did and which ones are just stuck in my head.
I do love, "You were not meant for greatness." For some reason, that line to me, it's like the ultimate, elegant diss. It's the most elegant way someone could say that and yet is something so awful I would never say it to someone in real life. There's just something about it. I love that line, but I'll have to think about it. Also, not knowing the specifics about the direction she's going in, it's hard to say if there's something I would want to put in there. But honestly, they really covered the basics. I even love the fact that "The cake is not a lie!" is in there. Simple in-jokes like that are really good.
So beyond Overwatch, where else can we see or hear your work? Is anything in progress?
Yeah, a few things coming up. I have a series on Audience Network and Fullscreen that's going to be coming out on February 17th called Cassandra French's Finishing School, and it is a dark comedy about a girl who is fed up with her dating and life and takes matters into her own hands. I'm really excited about that. Then I'm going to be starting a play here in Southern California called Orange, which is a really special play about a young Indian girl who comes to Orange County actually, and ends up having a wild adventure with a very unlikely bedfellow. So we'll be doing that in February and March. I'm trying to think if there's anything else I'm allowed to talk about. I'm in an episode of the show Doubt coming out, in the first season. And I think that's it. There are a few more things I'm dying to tell you about, but I can't. I'd love to tell you, but I'd have to kill you.
But I won't kill you. I'll let you live another day.