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Metamorphoses: Anjali Bhimani

Anjali Bhimani is a multitalented actress who has appeared in over two dozen TV shows and movies as well as numerous theatrical productions, both on Broadway and off. She portrayed Nina Patel on Modern Family, Praveena on Necessary Roughness, as well as roles on Outsourced, All My Children, the Sopranos, and more. In June 2011, Anjali formed Ithaka Theatricals, a production company devoted to the staging of intriguing new works in the theatre. She is currently reprising her role as Myrrha and others in the Lookingglass Theatre Company’s Metamorphoses on the 10th anniversary of the Tony Award winning Broadway production.

Interview by Stephen Thompson, Ph.D.

Welcome to OpenBeast. Tell us about yourself.

I’m an actress and singer currently based out of Los Angeles, although I travel so much I feel at home in so many places. I’ve had the pleasure of performing in so many different types of shows: opera, musicals, plays, television, film, commercials… in all different capacities: acting, directing, producing, singing, dancing… and I’ve been blessed to know some of the most wonderful and talented people in the world along the way. And that’s just the work side of things… I’m really a seeker, always looking for more understanding, more knowledge, more excitement, and more adventure, so my life has really reflected that. I have a beautiful family – both my given family and the people in my world I’ve chosen as my family – that ground me and encourage me to dream. So generally speaking, I have my head in the stars and my feet on the ground, and my heart tends to float somewhere happily between the two.

What I want most is to be able to use whatever resources, notoriety, and talent I have to somehow be of service, whether to people, to animals, to children, to large groups or to individuals. I think it’s our greatest gift to be creative beings… not just artistic, but creative, to live creatively… to use whatever we have inside of us and outside of us to expand our horizons and hearts and those of the people around us.

Oh, and I love to climb things… almost anything. I really think the most valuable life lessons someone can learn can be found hiking up a mountain or scaling the side of a cliff or just grabbing on to a tree branch and climbing… as one dear friend said to me, it’s my moving meditation.

How did you get into acting?

I loved telling and acting out stories from when I was a little girl but I don’t think I realized you could actually do it for a living until junior high or high school. At that point, I was very academically driven as well, so I had to make sure to fit all my performing in around my school schedule. My parents are both doctors, but they actually met in an intercollegiate drama troupe in medical school, so they were very supportive of me becoming an actress, even though they also made sure I was realistic about the difficulties of that path. I went to Northwestern University and got my degree in theatre, and because that program is so comprehensive (and is a liberal arts program, not a conservatory) I came out of school pretty much prepared to do anything I needed to do to have a career in theatre. I was very fortunate to work straight out of college, and have pretty much continued working ever since in all different kinds of capacities. When I moved from Chicago to New York, I branched out into more television work, which I’ve continued to do since moving to Los Angeles, but really, I’m still enjoying the luxury of getting to act onstage AND on television, which is a huge gift that I definitely don’t take for granted.

Between television and stage performance which one do you like the most?

It’s hard to choose between the two – to me it’s like the difference between speaking Spanish and French – I love both, they both have the same roots and many similarities, but are completely different at the same time. There is no substitute for the experience of sharing a live performance with the audience; the communal experience of spending that time together, breathing together, feeling the audience’s reactions, the immediate gratification of knowing you are communicating with everyone in the room and that you all are sharing in something special. On the other hand, there is an intimacy that you can capture on television and film that is next to impossible to capture in live theatre… just you can convey such complexities and subtleties on camera because the camera is right there in the moment with you. But you also hand over the control over what DOES get captured to the director and cinematographer and editor in a way that requires tremendous trust and faith in those people. I truly do love them both and I love the challenge of working in both because it really tests the boundaries of what is possible to achieve with one’s own instrument. Actors like Sir Lan McKellan and Helen Mirren and Dame Judy Dench and Cate Blanchett, ones who move seamlessly between the two, are masters of the craft because they just KNOW how to use each of the two languages to the fullest ability, and that’s what I love about being able to work in both.

What’s your best gig thus far?

Oof, you keep asking me questions that are like choosing your favorite children (smiles)! I can’t really say what was the “best”. I can certainly say the one that has had the greatest effect on my life has been Metamorphoses (which we’ll talk about in a bit). But I have had SO MANY truly special experiences -working with Tony Kushner and Maurice Sendak on Comedy on the Bridge and Brundibar (an opera that was originally performed by children in a concentration camp and is a testament to art as a balm to the soul, a source of healing and hope) was truly magical, and of course, nothing quite compares in terms of size and spectacle and just plain fun to playing Rani in Bombay Dreams. It’s not every day you get to make your entrance being lowered from the rafters on a giant moon, dance in a fountain and then on a turntable in front of 1500 people a night. But for the run of the show, it WAS every day and I just ate it up. But truly, I’ve had so many special experiences, it’s impossible to pick an all-around favorite.

So what is “Metamorphoses” all about?

Metamorphoses is a play adapted and directed by Mary Zimmerman based on a translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, an anthology of Greek myths that was written in 8 A.D. The show itself takes place in a large pool of water, with all ten of us actors playing many different roles. Each of the myths has to do with change, and most of them have to do with the transformative power of love in its various forms – romantic, tempestuous, lustful, greedy, possessive, narcissistic and each of the myths, although some are fantastical in their nature (people turning into birds or melting into tears, for example) they all deal with universal issues that have been a part of the human condition since ancient times and will continue to be for ages to come. We mounted the original production in Chicago in 1998 at the Lookingglass Theatre, and after its success there we toured around the country with it and then took it to New York, where we had a very successful off-Broadway run and then a one year run on Broadway, where we earned a Tony for Best Director and a Tony nomination for Best Play. The production we are doing now features 7 of the 10 original cast members from the Chicago production, and one more of the actor was in the show in Chicago later in the run. It’s a special reunion with Mary, this cast, and the Lookingglass Theatre Company in honor of the Lookingglass’ 25th anniversary season. It’s a show that is so special to my heart, and really does withstand the test of time, both for the actors and the audience.

Talk to us about your production company venture.

Well, I’m not very good at sitting around and waiting for things to happen, so I decided that I wanted to produce a show during a relatively slower period as an actress. I already knew what first play I wanted to produce. It was called Quake and was written by a tremendously talented playwright named D. Tucker Smith, who I collaborated with on her first play, The Great Game, as the lead and who I have become very close to over the years. My goal was really to create doors and walk through them and bring my friends along rather than waiting around for someone else to open a door and invite me in. I called the company Ithaka Theatricals after the island that Odysseus calls home in the Odyssey, and especially in reference to a poem by C.P. Cavafy about Ithaka that celebrates the journey more than the actual reaching of the destination. Right now I’m looking for the next project for the company, something that challenges me as an actress as well as a producer. I know some incredible playwrights and I want to make sure whatever I do next, I can do their vision justice both from the stage and from behind the scenes.

If you could live anywhere where would you build your dream home?

Well, I dream of having SEVERAL dream homes, specifically because there are too many places I want to live! I can never stay in one place for long. In addition to New York and L.A., both cities that I love, I’d want to have a home somewhere near the Mediterranean. Maybe in the south of France or Spain. Those cultures speak to me deeply; their architecture and their way of life appeals to me on a level that rivals any city I’ve been to in the U.S. So, maybe L.A., N.Y., Barcelona, and Marseilles (smiles). And all of them with a huge kitchen for entertaining and definitely somewhere by the water… those are a MUST!

Thank you.

For more details about Anjali Bhimani, visit www.AnjaliBhimani.com and www.imdb.com/name/nm0080401

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