Sarayu Blue 'Accidentally' Came Up With One Of The Standout Lines In 'Expats'

The actor hopes "South Asian audiences who relate to it feel seen, valued and represented."

Sarayu Blue in Expats on Amazon Prime Video

Image Source: Prime Video

Filmmaker Lulu Wang’s work is known for delving deep into the concepts of identity, connection and the human condition. Her latest project, Expats, is no exception. Following the lives of three American women – Margaret, Hilary and Mercy – living as expats in Hong Kong, the Prime Video series explores how they each grapple with privilege, victimhood and grief as they share a unique connection with one another after a sudden family tragedy. 

Sarayu Blue, who portrays Hilary Starr in the six-episode series, says her connection with the compelling script was instant. It’s not every day you come across a story that exceptionally captures the diversity of womanhood, and in this case for Blue, a multidimensional brown woman who’s a career-focused wife, yet also a vulnerable daughter. One who’s connected to her cultural heritage, takes pride in her appearance, and is also an extremely loyal friend. Depicting women of colour beyond menial stereotypes is well overdue in Hollywood, and Hilary simply had to be Blue’s role to play. 

“There was no way I’d say no,” Blue tells Draw Your Box. “I auditioned for it. I got the first audition and it was just a few pages – it wasn’t the full script –  and I immediately knew. Here's this wildly exciting South Asian woman who's flawed and full of depth and complexity… and it was just so thrilling to see,” she reflects. 

As the show progresses, it unapologetically peels back layers of Hilary and her journey in Hong Kong. We learn to understand what she stands for, and how her upbringing has shaped the woman she has become. 

“My real name isn’t Hilary, my real name is Harpreet Singh,” she says in one episode, telling another character that she had changed her Indian name to a more western-sounding moniker in the eighth grade after becoming “tired” of being ridiculed for it. 

“She seems like a different person now  – Harpreet Singh. I think about her often though, where I’d be if I were still her instead of Hilary Starr,” she ponders in that scene. 

Sarayu Blue in Expats on Prime Video

Sarayu Blue in Expats. Image Source: Prime Video

Hilary also elaborates on the experience of being an outsider during her childhood in America, saying: “All the other kids were white and fit. I was brown and fat. They all made fun of me for that and my big Indian nose. It really gave me a complex.” 

Blue says it was crucial that the script included these cultural references that helped depict the unique challenges faced by Hilary as a child of brown immigrants. 

“It was imperative. I think Lulu and I started the conversation really early on, as well as with Gursimran Sandhu, who's one of the writers in the writers room and who had a very big part in the South Asian storyline,” says Blue. “It was so important to us that we really honour and bring every level of authenticity possible.” 

Bringing her own flair to the script, the actor explains that “actually, the moment of the big Indian nose was a moment I just threw in accidentally”.

“We're in the middle of this moment that's so heated and it comes out and Lulu went, ‘That! I love that. Keep that in… because it's so real’. And I really hope that our South Asian audiences who relate to it feel seen and valued and represented.”

From TV shows such as I Feel Bad to Never Have I Ever to Adam Sandler movie, Blockers, some of Blue’s most-known screen work sits in the comedy genre. Expats is a clear departure from this realm. 

“I am so drawn to comedy, always. I think there's such a rhythm to it that excites me,” says Blue. “But the thing is, when I first began acting, people would always say, ‘Do you like drama or do you like comedy?’ And I always say, ‘Well, I just love to act’. And that's it, right? So ultimately for me, it [Expats] didn't feel different because it was a drama.

“It felt exciting and terrifying because it was such an enormous role that required such truth and vulnerability. I think that's where the challenge lay for me – not with the drama aspect, because that's all written for me. That's just beautifully fleshed out and I just get to live in that world.” 

Based on the 2016 novel The Expatriates by Janice Y. K. Lee, Expats also stars Nicole Kidman as Margaret, Ji-young Yoo as Mercy, Brian Tee as Margaret’s husband Clarke, and Jack Huston as Hilary’s husband, David. 

Expats premieres on Friday, January 26 on Prime Video.