Anjali Bhimani will be playing a recurring role on the second and final season of Netflix’s Special, the Emmy-nominated comedy series created by and starring Ryan O’Connell. This month, we sat with the gentle and kind Bhimani to chat about her role in the series, her success as an actress, and what the past year has meant for her.
Special is a series part-memoir, part-fiction where O’Connell portrays his life as a gay man with cerebral palsy, “a disability in the brain that is manifested through muscular discoordination”, as he explains in the first season. In the series, O’Connell plays Ryan Hayes, a protagonist inspired in himself. Hayes was hit by a car and after that people started to believe his disability had been caused by that accident, and Hayes never corrected them. Briefly put, Special’s first season is about Ryan being on a quest to embrace his genuine self.
On the series’ upcoming second season, Anjali Bhimani will be playing Bina, who is the mother of Kim, Ryan’s best friend from work. Bina’s character can be a bit critical to her daughter and, according to Bhimani, she might need a little bit of therapy. Nonetheless, the actresses will surely deliver an entertaining, playful, and heart-warming family dynamic that will enhance the series’ final season.
Beyond her role in Special, Bhimani’s extensive resume includes jobs in Broadway, voice-acting for animated series and videogames, and a wide arrangement of television shows. Most notably, she recurred as Nina Patel in one of the most loved sitcoms of the century, the Emmy winner of 22 awards, Modern Family. Besides, she has also had roles in Blindspot, Marvel’s Runaways, NCIS, Criminal Minds, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and many other shows.
Watch our full interview with Anjali here, or read an extract below.
Let’s talk about Special the season two, where you will be starring. Considering the series is a pioneer by having a gay man with a disability as a protagonist, how did you feel about it when watching its first season?
I was such a fan of Special well before I worked on it for so many reasons. I first found out about the series because my friend Punam Patel is also on the series, she plays Kim. And so I was very excited to watch it because I knew she was on it but what I didn’t know I was in for was such a celebration of every single person’s God given right to love this life and enjoy this journey. It’s such a celebration of what’s possible, it’s such a celebration of– you know, the words diversity and inclusion and all of that get thrown around a lot in today’s society but it really is such a celebration of the diverse things that make us all unique. And I love so much that that Ryan O’Connell took this opportunity to not make it necessarily about him [being gay]. I mean, it is important, obviously, that he is gay, it is important that he has a disability in the show but it’s more about these universal things that all of us have to deal with. And all of us have some kind of thing that is in our way and sometimes that thing that’s in our way, is our own head. And what we believe is possible for ourselves, and I just love that every single character on the show all of the lead characters are going through a journey of trying to live the biggest life that they possibly can, given the circumstances that they have. So how did I feel about it, I love it. I love how big and beautiful the series is, even though it’s short. I love how celebratory it is. I love how universal each character’s story is, even if you don’t specifically think you would identify with that particular person.
How do you feel about the series now, after your involvement in the second season?
I’m so honoured and excited about it, I still feel the same way about the series, if anything, now I’m just giddy about actually getting to be a part of it. Getting to work with Punam again, is a huge joy, particularly because we get to work so closely together, because I do play her mother. But also, I just feel like season two is this wonderful continuation of what they built in season one, you know, again, it’s so easy for society and for other people looking at each other to think that they know what the whole story about a person is. People are quick to judge people are quick to assess people are quick to decide. “Oh, this person has a disability, they must be this” or “Oh, this person is gay” or “Oh, that person is Indian” or “Oh this person…” whatever it is, people are so quick to judge what their stories are. And this series just completely blows that out of the water. So to say their lives it’s the understatement of the century. Every single one of them has such a great unique story and it only gets better over the course of season two. I’m really excited for audiences to get to enjoy it because I know I had so much fun watching season one, I can’t wait to watch season two.
Can you tell us anything about your character befire the series premieres?
One thing that that we already know, publicly is that my character is Kim’s mom. While she is not necessarily your traditional Indian mother, there are some things about her that people will recognise from our culture and people will recognise that mother daughter friction that sometimes happens. Not just culturally with Indian mothers but with mothers all over. And I think people are going to really enjoy seeing where Kim comes from through the course of the second series because there are several other wonderful actors who are coming on and we are going to show you her family with all of its joys and struggles and warts and all. And yeah, so I’m very excited. Although my character could a little bit of therapy, a bit of insight into herself, but we’re gonna see more of that as you’ll watch season two. I don’t want to spoil anything, so that’s where I’m going to leave it.
The second half of the show’s second season was filmed after the first lockdown in the United States. So, how was the difference between recording the series first before the pandemic and then during the pandemic?
Through the beginning of lockdown so many of us lived in a tremendous amount of fear and concern and we didn’t really know what was going to be safe. So coming back to set for the first time, after experiencing all of that I was admittedly nervous, and I have to say, hands down, I’m blown away by how incredibly careful and considerate, and there was no detail left unfinished in terms of taking care of each other, in terms of keeping people safe. It was great to be around other people for the first time in so long and we all had tested regularly and we all when you’re not acting you’re always wearing your mask, we kept 6 feet away from each other whenever we could, all of that, and I’m just amazed– I actually felt safer on set and I felt in many out-in-the-world situations during that time. So, as much as it was a little bit weird to be you know running around putting on a mask and taking off a mask and putting on a mask and taking off a mask, I think it was such a joy to be back on set with other people and to be interacting with each other, and to know that, like I said, time was not an issue as long as everybody was safe, that meant a lot. And it means a lot, I think, to people anywhere as employees of any company when they feel like the company cares about their well being, everyone can do a better job. And, and I definitely felt that about this production. I was especially touched by in the training– because we had to do an online training about how to be on set during COVID– I was especially touched and grateful for a moment when the person training us said, Listen, you don’t know what everybody else’s lockdown has been like, you don’t know if people have lost people, you don’t know if they’ve had to be on the front lines, you don’t know what everybody’s been through so just be patient with each other. Be gentle and patient with each other. The fact that they took that extra time to talk about that aspect of coming back to set, that to me was really really special and I think it’s important for everyone to remember in life in general but especially now that we have no idea what battles everybody is fighting in their own personal lives and so we all need to be a little bit gentler with each other and more careful with each other and considerate. And I think it’s a good, it’s a good rule for all ways but especially now.
I was going through your Instagram TV, where you posted a lot of the lives where you made their donations and your ‘singing days’. Besides being an actress you clearly have a lot of passions and motivations, and I wanted to ask where do you get all the inspiration from for these activities?
I get it from other people because I really do feel like I became an actress, more as my particular weapon of choice to achieve a purpose than necessarily because I had to be an actress. That was what I love and that is what I love and it is a passion of mine, but not necessarily my purpose. And once I realized that because I have a particular set of skills and maybe I’m a particularly emotional person or whatever, once I realized that I could do good for people through that medium it charged me even more to do more. And with the advent of social media and now that we have the internet and you can access anyone in the world on any given day and make a difference. That has been really my driving passion to be able to either with a performance or with a conversation or with an Instagram Live or with an interview on my show ‘I Am Fun Size’ which I do with other actors and other people. If there is a way to help other people find their inspiration, or if there is a way to help them through their tough times or a way to take them on an adventure that they maybe can’t go on because of where they are or their own circumstances. All of those things really, really excite me because as an actress, you’re very very lucky you get to play so many different people, you get to experience so many different things I want to share that with other people. I want other people to get to experience those things. While I love solitude, and I love my time with myself, I feel like life’s not meant to be lived alone. You may have to be in quarantine but you don’t have to be alone. There’s always a way to share things with people and so I get jazzed when I meet people and I get to be like well let’s find out what you love, and how to get it for you. Let’s find out what you’re passionate about and see what we can do. When I can have that experience with other people and do things for other people that way it lights me up, and it makes life a whole lot more fun.
Going back to what you said about being an actress, what does being an actress mean to you?
I feel like, thanks to this medium, or thanks to being an actress through any different media, whether it’s theatre or television or film or opera or dance or any of the things that I’ve been lucky enough to do one way or the other, you get to have this connection with your audience and you get to say to whoever’s watching, “I’ve got you for this period of time, you’re going to go on this journey with me, and I’m going to do all the heavy lifting. I’m going to do all the hard stuff for you. I’m going to– if it’s an action hero, I’m going to run around and do all the action. If it’s a drama or a tragedy, I’m going to feel all of that, I’m going to do that for you. And you can from the safety of your seat or the safety of your home, you can sit and experience this through me, and walk out is here with the benefit of having experienced it, but still having your whole life be exactly, as safe and contained and everything as it was before you started. The only difference is you will have gone through this journey and had this experience, and you’ll be able to put that in your heart, put that in your soul, you’ll be able to take that out into the world.” And I think is a really powerful, powerful thing because storytelling through the ages, ever since the ancient Greeks it’s it’s or even before, it’s the way we as people and as societies learn about ourselves. It’s the way we are able to go inward and really connect with our souls and connect with our heart, and I think it’s really important that people see themselves in stories and feel connected to the person telling that story, and feel connected to the story itself. I think it’s important to hear them time and time again so that people don’t feel like their life is necessarily limited to what they can see right in front of them or what they might be experiencing in the now. I think it broadens everyone’s horizons when we use storytelling for the greater good. And that to me, means a lot. So it also helps me to take me out of people ask a lot, ‘oh, being an actress is, is there’s such a struggle and I hear it’s such a hard field to get into’ it all of this stuff. Yeah, there are aspects of it that are that are struggles but the joy of getting to take people on the journey with you, I think that far exceeds any of the struggles that one has to go through to be an actor or an actress.