Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Fun Is The Most Important Thing: Anjali Bhimani Talks Mangos, Mercer, and ‘The Ravening War’

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A new adventure begins this week on Dropout.tv as they present The Ravening War, a new Dimension 20 campaign featuring an all-star cast of players as well as Critical Role DM Matt Mercer behind the screen for the very first time on D20. As we prepare for the premiere, I got a chance to speak with singer, actress, and expert on positivity Anjali Bhimani, who is starring on the show as the regal Lady Amangeaux Epicée du Peche. We talk about what it’s like performing in TTRPGS compared to the stage, the trials and tribulations of life, and the value of a nice, spicy mango.

The Ravening War Logo

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

FM: So what’s it like, going into this space, which is a relatively young entertainment space, and what’s kept you stuck with it? Because some people dip in and out, but you’ve been in different roles for the past several years.

AB: What has kept me in it is that I love it and I’ve loved it all my life. I started playing D&D when I was eight (oh, wow.) I had a love for it from childhood, and then I stopped sometime during my first Broadway show. For stupid reasons in retrospect. I said to myself “You should be doing more important things, joy and fun are not important”. But I have learned my lesson since then. Now fun is the most important thing in my life. I finally got to come back to it, thanks to Marisha and Matt, who gave me call and told me, “Hey, we got this show. Maybe you could go try it out, see if it’s a thing you dig, I think you’d be good at it.”

What has kept me here is that it is an embarrassment of riches as a performer and a person.

And I’m like, I think I’d be good at it. Let me go play. And it felt like I’d had amnesia! All of a sudden all these memories came back and I remembered that feeling. It was elevated even more by the caliber of storytellers and their commitment to storytelling.

Also, I was playing with my friends! That alone is living the dream. But getting to create a character and play that character and be responsible for that character’s choices, to be responsible for their own words and to actually get to embody a character… the way you do that in TTRPGs does not happen in any other medium that I have worked in.

Anjali Bhima
Anajli as Miriam Landisman in Undeadwood
Anjali as Miriam Landisman in Undeadwood

FM: Is there a kind of character that you like to embody, that you like to play, or that you like to work with?

AB: It changes. And I try to give it a little bit of variety. When I was putting together this character I realized that all of the characters that I had played up until that point, not counting the DOOM one shot, because that was pure ridiculousness, all of the characters that I had created up until that point were very capable people.

Don’t get me wrong, I have every intention of my life being a musical comedy. Period.

Even if they rolled poorly, they were very capable people and they knew how to navigate the world that they were in. I wanted to see what would happen if someone who believed that they were very capable and had been very capable, was taken out of their comfort zone. That is a conflict that all of us, at some point or another are dealing with. And so for this character, I said I’m gonna build out the skills for where she’s been in her life, but I have no idea if these are gonna be useful. And thanks to Matt and his brilliance a lot of them were not, as I suspected, which is so fun though! It’s so much more fun because it lets me make more conflict for my character!

Or you can actually just be dealing with your own internal conflict as the character. And that was very much what I was doing. I was like, okay how am I gonna survive this situation knowing that I have no practical skills that might be useful here? And what do you do when you present as very capable and need to present as very capable, but you don’t have what it takes in the moment? That’s some scary real-life shit right there.

Aabria, Zac, and Anajli see the candy kingdom
Pictured: possible scary stuff

Since we also had the joy of building our characters based on food, I wanted to build her based on a food that I loved. So she’s a spicy mango. It makes you think, okay, what would be the personification of that spicy mango? And what I love about it is that mango’s my favorite fruit.

It’s delicious, it’s super sweet, but when you put some chili pepper on it, it is extraordinary. And then you dry it out and you have a delicious snack. It’s a whole different level of layers. And so I wanted this complex character who was very sweet and had been very sweet. But gradually her spice is starting to come out because of the situations that she’s in. Whether it’s because she’s getting older, whatever it is, I wanted us to see her little prickly side as well.

FM: How do you approach the more complicated in-the-moment creation that you know you like? You have this idea of who this character is. Then you have a story from Matt or whoever’s in charge of it. What’s your mindset there as a performer?

AB: They’re all parts of the same thing because all of it is storytelling. Our job is to know our character well enough, know what the given circumstances of our situation are and our environment, and then whatever happens, during the course of the show, is the stuff that character in their set of given circumstances has to deal with, which is life.

If I am put into a certain set of circumstances and something changes out of nowhere, I have to navigate as myself. What does that look like? That’s the story of my life. That’s the same thing that we’re telling in TTRPGs. Committing to creating something with other people who are so committed to creating this story is enough that the story begins to weave together and almost tell itself.

This has happened with every TTRPG show that I’ve done. Those dice determine so much. Ultimately you gotta go with what that die says.

I have spent a good portion of my career just becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable because then the more you survive that, the more you trust yourself to continue to survive.

FM: I’m fascinated by that, especially in the different ways that things manifest.

AB: I’ve loved and I’ve preached to so many people even before this how special TTRPGs are. I started playing so young and I love how it teaches collaboration. And you have to read so much… you learn how to tell a story, you break outta yourself and study the human condition.

I feel like TTRPGs are good for us. When we get together with people, we get together and we say, we’re gonna tell a fun story, we’re gonna tell a good story. We have no idea how we’re gonna do it. We’re just gonna commit to it and we’re gonna do it. That right there, I think is just good for people, whether you’re streaming it or not.

The streaming part just adds one more dimension too, yeah.

FM: Thinking about lady…. [Garbled french sounds]…Sorry my French is a little rusty.

AB: Lady Amangeaux, which is a fancy way of saying “a mango”. It’s just how you say it with a French accent.

Anajli's character in The Ravening War Lady Amangeaux

FM: Very good. Love it. So I don’t know how much you can tell me but where are we finding her at the start of The Ravening War?

AB: At the start of the show she has been the queen, but she is mourning the death of her husband, the king. We find her both in deep grief and probably a tremendous amount of fear because she really has no idea what is next. However she is a smart person and a capable one too, so her façade is very strong.

I think I let it down a lot more in our Session Zero than she lets it down at the beginning of the show. And I’m glad that we explored that ahead of time because I realized what would happen in the new circumstances that we were dealing with in Episode One. We’re asking what happens when you can’t use the skills you have, and when you feel you can no longer make a difference because you are somewhere completely different. Not just physically completely different, but a place in life that is completely different.

FM: Well I’m very excited to get to know her, as I’m sure so many people are. I have one more question, though. What is one thing you think fans are really gonna love about The Ravening War?

AB: I hope that in addition to the entertainment factor, which is very high, the wild ride… I hope that people are able to get a certain amount of solace from this game. Solace from the fact that we see a story where people’s lives go in a direction that they never in a million years would’ve expected or even wanted it to go, and that life goes on. That somehow they are able to continue on with purpose. Somehow they are able to create something out of this new life that they are living. All too often in storytelling, things wrap up with a nice bow and it’s very satisfying, but it’s not very realistic.

Don’t get me wrong, I have every intention of my life being a musical comedy. Period. But I feel like there is a level of gravity that is in this story thanks to the incredible players at this table. I hope that gives people solace to let them know that even if you’re struggling, even if you are not where you thought you would be or not yet where you want to be, there is a forward movement to be had.

That to me is, especially for Lady Amangeaux, is a very powerful thing.

The cast of The Ravening War with GM Matt Mercer
The cast of The Ravening War with GM Matt Mercer

The first episode of The Ravening War debuts on Dropout.tv on May 10, with the episode hitting Youtube on the 17th.

Images via Dimension 20

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