Another member joined the Critical Role party last night, as voice actress Anjali Bhimani made a surprise appearance on last night's episode of Exandria Unlimited. Bhimani, who has appeared on the previous Critical Role program UnDeadwood and voices characters in the popular video games Apex Legends and Overwatch, joined the Exandria Unlimited table as Fy'ra Rai, a fire genasi monk who meets up with the game's lovable band of misfits. Bhimani's appearance wasn't advertised as part of the show, so many Critical Role fans were surprised to see a sixth player join the eight episode D&D campaign. Bhimani will appear in more than one episode of show, although we'll keep additional details under wraps for those who want to watch as the story unfolds on the show.
To help break down her involvement with Exandria Unlimited and dig into her new character, ComicBook.com interviewed Bhimani by email. Please note that while Bhimani provides some general information about her character, there are no specific spoilers about last night's episode of Exandria Unlimited outside of Bhimani's appearance.
ComicBook.com: How did you get involved with Exandria Unlimited? Was there a reason your character doesn't appear until partway through the season?
Anjali Bhimani: I got the call from Marisha Ray, who is my personal patron saint of roleplaying, letting me know that they were interested in me joining a new show. Critical Role was creating a new story aside from the main campaign and naturally, I immediately said yes. Marisha is the whole reason I got back into roleplaying years ago after a hiatus of a couple of decades so pretty much anything she asks I'm a "hell yes" - in gaming or life. As for why I'm late to the party in the season… who doesn't love the wonderful element of surprise and the excitement that provides to the community when someone new comes in to shake up the dynamic of a group? And Fy'ra Rai is definitely a different vibe than the rest of the characters…
Could you describe your Exandria Unlimited character? Will she stick around for the rest of the season, or was this a one-off appearance?
Fy'ra Rai is a fire genasi monk (don't think that's a spoiler…I mean, she has fire for hair so hard to hide that), and very clearly a woman of action. She has a strong drive to protect and a sense of duty, which comes from a lot of the darker experiences that she's had in the past and the choices she has made, whether she speaks about them or not. Needless to say I don't want to spoil anything, so I'll just leave it at that. As for her future… It's Exandria so anything is possible! As we know from Exandria Unlimited, "time is a weird soup" (if you know, you know).
The rest of the cast had already played three D&D sessions together before you joined the table. What was the dynamic like coming in as a new player for this group?
I was already friends with many of the cast members before we started. Obviously Matt and I go way back to when he and Marisha and I first met at Blizzard, and the rest of the gang I have met through work or play at one place or another. The only castmate who was brand new to me was Aimee and I fell in love with her immediately, just like everyone does. I didn't get to see the first two episodes until they actually aired like everyone else, so when Fy'ra Rai came into the group I was as blind as she was, which was both scary and thrilling – both because of flying somewhat blind and not really knowing how she would arrive, and because it's EXANDRIA, not a brand new world that we were creating together but one that is already well known and beloved by so many, including our players. But I tend to choose characters that are aspirationally confident so that I don't have a chance to be afraid of anything when I'm playing… and Fy'ra Rai fits that bill for me. As nervous as I was is as confident as I made her. It's a nice way to get me out of my own way.
How did your experience filming Exandria Unlimited differ from filming past shows like UnDeadwood? Obviously, the COVID protocols made things a bit different, but I feel that Exandria Unlimited is a very different tone from UnDeadwood or We're Alive…
It was slightly intimidating but also incredibly exciting to step into this existing world… especially with Matt as a player. The Covid protocols didn't make much of anything different other than the distance between us physically, but it didn't keep us at all from being very very connected as players. I mean, these are some of the most wonderful storytellers in the world - even the two cast members who haven't played before this show, Robbie and Aimee, are so clearly master storytellers in their careers and lives. I think the biggest difference coming in mid-way is mainly that I know I wanted to do justice to the existing lore while still being a part of creating lush and intriguing new canon for people to play with. And of course, to make sure to share enough about her to intrigue, but not to give it all away… she has a lot of story behind her and there's no telling where her story will end.
How did you enjoy playing with Aabria Iyengar as a GM? Is there anything that stood out to you about her GM style?
Playing with Aabria is sheer, unmitigated, life affirming joy. I can't describe it any better than that. Not only is she a beautiful human, but her enthusiasm for storytelling and her ability to weave exotic and intricate magic into the most mundane of circumstances is absolutely incredible. Really what stood out was her wild and wonderful enthusiasm for all of it - telling the story, helping us tell the story, seeing what we can create together, and truly the way she draws you into the story as a player is breathtaking. Sometimes I would get so deep into listening to her describe something so vividly that I would forget that I needed to be thinking about what my character would be doing with that information. When I got to talk with her before we shot the show and she filled me in on what we were doing, she combined me with such a feeling of comfort knowing that there were no wrong answers and excitement knowing that she was going to create something I have never experienced before just got me so excited to play.
I also love how encouraging she is of just making strong choices and letting her decide what that means for the story. It's incredibly freeing, and definitely something that I explored my own comfort with throughout the show. I tend to be a person who asks permission before doing most everything, and she very quickly broke me of that habit with her ability to pivot and create magic out of thin air. Even as I connected with her while creating Fy'ra Rai, she was so excited about the complexities we came up with together that she just made me even more excited to be a part of the show, which I didn't think was possible. The only problem now is I think she's stuck with me for life whether she likes it or not. I'm probably going to be knocking on her proverbial door every Thursday at this point just for my Aabria fix.
What was it like to step foot in Exandria for the first time?
Wondrous, intimidating, thrilling, terrifying… How many adjectives are there? Whenever you step into a world that is this lush and this beloved both by the creators and the community surrounding it, it feels like a giant blessing and a huge responsibility at the same time. You want to just play, of course, and at the end of the day that's what you do, but it's next to impossible not to recognize what a beautiful chance this is to be a part of a larger story that has affected so many people in their lives. Getting to step into it with dear friends, new and old, just made it even more special.
Do you feel that Exandria Unlimited is a good jumping point for the Critical Role universe?
Absolutely – these characters are so delightful, and so complex even at this early stage of their adventuring, and I think that they are wonderful tour guides to wander through Exandria with, especially if you've never experienced Critical Role or adventures in Exandria or Tal'Dorei before, since they are new to so much of it themselves. Much like the rest of us they're just doing their best with what they've got, and while they may occasionally only stumble into success or sometimes make giant "mistakes" - they are walking proof that life isn't about what happens to you, it's about what you do when those things happen. Just like roleplaying games in general, the dice may say whatever they say, but you have a choice how to tell the story with what you get. Some of my favorite things that happen in the whole series so far have been because of what others might have seen as terrible choices or rolls, but turned out to be absolute magic for the story. And because the possibilities are truly endless in Exandria, there really is no telling what might happen. I'm wildly excited for people to fall in love with this show as much as we have.
You can watch new episodes of Critical Role every Thursday at 7 PM PT on their Twitch channel. VOD and Podcast versions of episodes are also available every Monday after their initial airing.0comments