Having been renewed for another season, Netflix’s season two of Special was released on May 20th, 2021. The 4x Emmy-nominated comedy is a heart-warming semi-autobiographical show telling the story of Ryan Hayes (created and played by Ryan O’ Connell), a young gay man with cerebral palsy.
Special instantly became a hit amongst fans who connected with the authenticity and creativity of the show.
“So many of the things [Ryan] goes through in the show are universally experienced by all of us,” shared Anjali Bhimani, an award-winning actress and Special cast member. “It shares the story of trying to find your independence, your unique voice, and learning to celebrate your own path. Finding your biggest life.”
For Anjali, her infatuation with the show began as an audience member when she fell in love with the first season of Special upon its initial release in 2019. “I binged the first season,” she laughed, “so when I found out they were casting Kim’s (Punam Patel) mom for season 2, I knew I had to get in for it. And then when I got it I was just so thrilled to be a part of it because it really is so…well…special.”
As an actress of stage and screen, Anjali has developed a multi-faceted career spanning from Broadway to feature films, television, video games, animation, and original online content.
The effervescent and talented life-long entertainer shares the career journey that’s led her to participate in amazing experiences, such as the recent work she’s done with the cast of Special, providing an inside look into what the life of an actor is truly like.
For Anjali Bhimani, it has been the most rewarding, challenging, and character-building experience of her life.
“It’s an ongoing journey,” shared Anjali. “I’ve been in this industry for over 2 decades and one thing I know for sure, at least for me, is that if you want to be in it, you need to throw out other people’s expectations of what success looks like and make your own definition for yourself.”
Anjali’s adoration of the entertainment industry began as a child when she fell in love with storytelling and performing. By first grade, she was writing short plays, one of which she remembers led to a whole day of doing mime exercises after she had her friends perform it with her in front of the class. “I don’t know if you call it directing at that age so much as forcing,” she recalled amusedly.
“Some kids really want to get up in front of the class to perform and entertain. I was always one of those kids,” remembered Anjali. “Closer to the middle of high school, I realized that this was something I could actually do for a living. Once I realized that I knew this was the direction I wanted to go in.”
Armed with her passion for performing and her newfound knowledge that a career in acting was viable, Anjali enrolled in the prestigious theatre program at Northwestern University .“The more I did, the more I loved to do, in school and after. No matter what the genre or medium – musicals, plays, dance, adaptations of literature, improv,” she reminisced. “I just said yes to as many opportunities as possible – I didn’t care what medium I got to tell stories through, I was just excited to tell them.”
Anjali’s open mindset and willingness to embrace new opportunities led to an array of experiences and accomplishments. To date, the actress has appeared in over 30 theatre productions, including longtime Broadway original Metamorphoses and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Bombay Dreams, multiple motion pictures like last year’s Evil Eye and All My Life, countless television series, and has performed as the voice of many characters in various video games and animated series, including the blockbuster video games Overwatch and Apex Legends.
Her diverse skill set has landed her gigs with some of the most recognized names in the industry, including Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in Grace and Frankie and Julie Bowen and Ty Burell in Modern Family.
Combining passion and purpose
Despite the success the actress has experienced in the industry, she admits that it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. “I think many actors have doubts at various points in their career, and wonder ‘should I just go do something else?’ It’s been a pretty constant ride for me, though. There’s always been something that’s kept me going, kept me saying yes.
“For the majority of my career, I never ever even thought of quitting… although there was a very very brief moment in about 2014,” she recalled. “At that time, things really weren’t happening, despite me working and hustling incredibly hard.
“I remember I was having coffee with my manager, Caleigh Vancata, who’s also one of my best friends, and I expressed to her how I was feeling. She looked at me and said, ‘Anjali, usually when people tell me they’re feeling this way, I tell them to take whatever time they need away from the business to figure it out. For most of them, it’s the right thing to do. But you’re too good, you’re not allowed to quit. We’ll find a way.’ Her unfailing faith in me was enough in that moment to adjust my antenna immediately.
“That’s why it’s so important to find people who hold the bar high for you, accept you as you are, and have faith in you even in those moments when you might not. I feel like that doubt lasted maybe about 24 hours tops but I just needed to remember what I already knew… that there’s no need to quit when you are open to your success looking like more than just one thing.”
After that brief moment, Anjali overcame any doubts and set right on back with her acting career.
“What really allowed me to move past that moment was that I changed my mindset about the work I was doing,” she shared. “With a journey in the arts, we often put a lot of pressure on ourselves to define what we’re doing as one specific thing. We need to throw out these expectations and diversify our sources of creative and personal fulfillment. You don’t have to, nor should you, find your fulfillment in your work alone.
“I’ve been so lucky because in recent years. I’ve been combining my passion for storytelling with my purpose to cultivate excitement and enthusiasm for people in their own lives, helping them find their own unique paths and talents, and see how special being THEM is. My passion and purpose have become more and more clearly intertwined.
Thanks to the internet and the connectivity we have in the world these days, it’s so easy to connect with the very people who are watching these shows and plays and films that we’re making. We get to hear from them what is going on in their lives and how they are being affected by stories. It’s a wonderful chance to take people on journeys they may not be able to go on in their own lives – to take them on the ride in a great game or show or film. They get to have the experience even though they don’t have to live it, and it feels like a really beautiful thing to be able to give that to them.
“The moments when I feel the most lost or despondent – not just in work but in life – are the moments when I’m so up here,” Anjali said, gesturing to her head. “I forget it’s about giving and sharing stories and connecting with others. I have no interest in doing this, or anything really, if it’s just for me and about what I get out of it. It’s not nearly as rewarding as sharing it – all of it – with others.”
Since realigning her perspective on her work, Anjali’s career has soared. She believes this mindset switch has landed her more roles than were ever available when she approached her career with solely her own needs as a driving factor.
Anjali Bhimani’s beautiful words of wisdom are applicable to multiple aspects of life, from careers to friendships to families. Let us all remember to:
- Throw away others’ expectations and focus on what we want to achieve
- Surround yourself with people who drive you
- Diversify your sources of fulfillment
- Live a life of service
You can experience Anjali Bhimani’s vigor for life and contagious joy in her role in season 2 of Special. Her grace, wisdom, and energy shine through in every one of her works, and her example is a sensational one to live by.
To discover more about Anjali and her previous work as well as her upcoming appearances, visit her at https://www.anjalibhimani.com/ or @sweeetanj on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.