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Rusty Anderson Talks New Single Firefly, Paul McCartney’s Got Back Tour, & More

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As someone who had a hand-drawn picture of Paul McCartney hanging on my wall when I was in third grade and watched every concert movie/CD I could get my hands on — Back in the U.S. and Good Evening, New York City currently resides in my car’s CD player — I was overjoyed when I got Rusty Anderson, McCartney’s lead guitarist on tour for the last two decades, to agree to an interview. Here’s someone who I grew up watching on my TV, now in my Zoom room. Rusty was so gracious with his time, sitting in the Zoom meeting for 40 minutes as I asked him questions I was “destined to remember” from my own early days.

On his own merit, Rusty is an accomplished guitarist and singer/songwriter. His new single, Firefly, is incredible and is available on all streaming platforms now. As a guitarist, he’s also recorded with the likes of Elton John, Regina Spektor, Willie Nelson, Carlos Santana, Lana Del Rey, The New Radicals, Miley Cyrus, Michael Buble, and Little Richard, as well as his own four-album catalog and of course, Paul McCartney among many more. Additionally, Rusty is working on new music that will be released soon and his entire catalog will soon be available on streaming platforms.

Thank you to Rusty for agreeing to this interview, for generously giving me your time, and for letting me nerd out about an intricacy in your Let it Be solo. Read on if you want to hear about the recording process of Firefly, the techniques he used on that track, reflecting on the Got Back Tour, guitar solos, and so much more.


Coastal House Media: Before I get into your single Firefly, which I love, I wanted to ask for your perspective since you’ve been around for a long time. How has the music industry with the promotion of new music changed? I’ve noticed with singles, for example, it’s not like people buy 45s anymore with B-sides. Can I get your thoughts on that?

Rusty Anderson: Oh, It’s a completely different universe. I’ve been playing music my whole life and involved in the business in some way most of my life and it’s completely changed. Especially seeing the invention of cell phones and the digital age and stuff, the old way fell off a cliff, basically. Now it’s all about promoting through digital means, like playlists and streaming and the way that the record companies [have] kind of finagled along with YouTube and Spotify and all that. It’s very much like they left the leverage of the artist out of the whole thing. And I could go on and on about that, it’s kind of dark. But we make the most of it, don’t we?

CHM: Your new single, Firefly, is a digital release that just came out earlier this summer, about a month ago. It is really great and was curious if there were any songs that inspired this because it reminded me of someone and I couldn’t recall who.

Anderson: Yeah, it’s a good question. I just wrote it on piano, actually, the melody and music, and it stuck with me. I listened back to it again a few weeks later and thought, “Yeah, that’s good,” and then a friend of mine, Ron Sexsmith, who’s a wonderful songwriter, and I said, “Hey man, you want to try writing some lyrics to this tune?” And he said sure. I always wanted to do something with him. So he wrote some lyrics and then I thought, “Oh, that’s not quite the right vibe. Maybe a little more positive,” [and] we sort of worked it over it ended up becoming Firefly.

I thought, “Now that’s cool,” but then I couldn’t stop imagining hearing Stewart Copeland playing the drums, so I asked him if he wanted to play, he goes, “Yeah, sure.” Then he put his drums on [the track] and it just came together in this really interesting way. And just to keep the craziness going, I invited my friend Chris Shaffer along to share the lead vocals with me. We literally each sang half of the song. I co-wrote and produced his record a while ago and always loved his voice, so I kind of had fun with the whole process, because it’s enjoyable working with other people sometimes, especially if it’s a really great cast of talent.

CHM: So then it is you singing on the track? Your voice is amazing.

Anderson: Thanks! Yeah, how I worked [that] was we sort of trade-off, I’m singing, [then] he’s singing, [then] I’m singing, [then] he’s singing the lead vocal. I then produced the track, playing the guitars, bass, keys, and editing drums. It’s a process, you know, putting music together — it doesn’t just happen. You can just play it live as a band, though that usually doesn’t happen as much anymore, especially since COVID and people have their own studios. But it’s all got its different allures, I guess, the different ways of recording.

CHM: So how do you get your friends to play on your track? Do you say something like, “Oh, if you do this for me, I’ll play on your next song,”?

Anderson: [It] just depends on your relationship with the musician. Sometimes people get paid, [and] sometimes it turns into favors and all that. As I said, I’ve been working with Stewart, we were in a band together years ago called Animal Logic, and I’ve been working with him on this new orchestral stuff and he played on my tune. I don’t know, it just all works out.

CHM: Towards the end of the song, the guitar kind of reminds me, of My Sweet Lord, do you know what I’m talking about?

Anderson: The very end?

CHM: Yeah.

Anderson: Oh, you know, there are different techniques that I try to create that don’t always sound like a guitar. There’s a harp-picking technique that I think I used, maybe you’re referring to that. I kind of enjoy coming up with something maybe a little unexpected guitar-wise, because the guitar, as an instrument, [is] just so beautiful whether it’s electric or acoustic. And on Firefly, I mixed all of it together. There’re some electric bits, acoustic bits, effectual bits, like that harp-picking technique, but I always love that, the ability to sort of put on different layers of guitars and try to maybe create some new combinations of things that listeners wouldn’t expect. That’s what I strive for.

CHM: How long did Firefly take to make?

Anderson: It took a while because [of] everything going back and forth to different people. Stewart [Copeland] lives in LA, but he is over in his studio and then Ron Sexsmith lives up in Canada, so there’s a lot of things done online [and] that always takes a while for someone to do it and then get it together and then send it to you.

“It’s almost better [to] release a song at a time…maybe I’ll release a few; I don’t know.”

– Rusty anderson

CHM: Are you guys like sharing Google Files back and forth?

Anderson: [laughs] Yeah, that seems to be the way these days. But then it’s a trip. When I tour with Paul [McCartney], it’s all on a schedule. Everybody’s on a leash and you’re there, you go to the shows in each city, you all get up together, you soundcheck together, you perform together, hang out together, and chat about the show afterward on the bus or fly together and it’s just such a different reality. And I feel really privileged to be able to have all those experiences and create music in those different ways.

CHM: Before getting into Paul and all of that, do you have a new album coming out in the future or anything like that planned?

Anderson: Well, the way I’m sort of doing it, I released Firefly, and then I’ll release a few more songs. It seems like a good way to do it these days because sometimes if you release a whole album at once, it’s almost too much for the way the cycles of the media and online, Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, playlists, it all takes time to sort of work it through that system. It’s almost better [to] release a song at a time…maybe I’ll release a few; I don’t know. I haven’t really figured out exactly which song I’m releasing next, but especially over the pandemic, I had some time to create and start recording things and get tracks together. [I] tried to make the best use of that time possible. That and hanging out with my family, doing paperwork, yoga, and stuff like that.

CHM: You’ve had a lengthy career, being a studio musician as well, and you’ve worked with a wide range of artists. I was just looking at the list and there are some that I would not have expected. You’ve done music for Tim McGraw and Michael Bublé. I know that some of these albums were from, I don’t know, 10 or more years ago, but how did that process work? Were you sending the stuff that you recorded on your own to a producer? Or were you going to a studio?

Anderson: Well, a lot of the time I just go down to a recording studio and play. Sometimes it’s a big tracking date where everyone plays together. Then sometimes just overdubs. Like I played on Livin’ la Vida Loca for Ricky Martin. I’d already done some stuff with him at that time, along with a friend who I’d worked with named, Robi Draco Rosa, who was one of the writers on that song. He has his own band that I’ve played with and we’ve written songs together, etc. Anyway, He asked me to play guitar on a demo and brought it over to my home studio. There were a few key blank spots for guitar so I came up with the parts right then and there, also engineering. it was done in an hour or two — it was really quick. I didn’t really have a reverb unit at the time that I liked — I think my gear was somewhere else — so I thought, “Well, I won’t put any reverb on this, because obviously, it needs it, but I’m sure they will add it in the mix.” He goes, “Okay.”

So the record company called me and said, “Oh, by the way, they’re going to use that demo as the actual record.” I’m like, “Oh, okay, cool.” And then they call back, “Oh, by the way, it’s the first song on the record,” “Oh, by the way, it’s the single,” “Oh, by the way, it’s huge.” And then I’m in the health club working out on the treadmill or something, and I hear it in the background and I was just shocked because all of a sudden the guitar came on and there was no reverb, just bone-dry. And I thought, “Wow, they didn’t even put any on,” and in a way, I think it became the sound of that song — it became a thing, in a way, having more kind of a unique sound than if I would’ve put reverb on it. But it just kind of shocked me because these things are never as you expect, there’s always some element of surprise, you know?

And sometimes you go to a recording studio [where] there’s a whole band and you track the songs together.  And then I stick around and do some guitar overdubs. Or a lot of times, people will send me music and I’ll play on [top of] it. And I’ll do the same if I’m working on my stuff and send it out to other people and they’ll put some music in and send it back. Or sometimes we’ve cut songs together in a studio. Like on my first record. I have four records out, Firefly makes the fifth release, I believe, and the first one I did, Paul McCartney played on it and he sang background and played bass and even some guitar. We just showed up at the studio together, it was the whole Paul McCartney band: Abe [Laboriel Jr.], “Wix” [Paul Wickens], and Brian [Ray], and I was just so floored! It was such a privileged to work with those talented people and be able to pull everyone together. And David Kahne was producing; it was really magical.

We got the basic tracks together and then Paul calls me the next day and he says, “I really like that track that we did.” He says that this one section — he called [it] the “rescue bit — which was a section where I didn’t know what I was going to do, he says “It’d be really cool to put some other instrument in there,” maybe a flugelhorn or an oboe, or a flute, or something surprising. So then I called my friend who plays with Brian Wilson, named Proben Gregory, he plays like four different orchestral instruments, to overdub in the rescue bit. And sure enough, it had a unique sound that I never really would’ve thought of.

And that’s another fun thing about working with people, especially someone as incredibly talented as Paul McCartney. They may contribute unexpected ideas. Of the records I’ve released, they seem to get done in different ways, with different musicians, actually.

CHM: When I was looking you up on Apple Music, I only saw two albums. Is it because Rusty Anderson Afternoon is a separate category?

Anderson: Actually, I’m glad you asked that because I’m in the process of getting those back online. There was a section, [but] I took them down because I wasn’t happy with the business arrangement. I think two of them are under Rusty Anderson Afternoon, which really refers to a band vibe with my buddy Todd O’Keefe — he’s a very talented cat, too — the rest of them are simply as Rusty Anderson. But yeah, they’re going back up. And obviously, you can buy all this stuff on my website, if you are into CDs or downloads, but anyway, I took those down a while ago and I’m just putting them back up now. And you can catch the music [and] those videos on YouTube.

CHM: I would love to transition over to Paul if that’s okay. You’ve now toured for 20 years, I’ve been lucky enough to see you twice in 2015, and then this past year, How easy are these songs to play for you guys? It looks so effortless to you in particular.

Anderson: Well, it’s interesting because certain songs require more focus than others; or certain sections in songs. I mean, I’ve been playing guitar since I was a kid, so unless it’s some really intense jazz or classical bit or something, it doesn’t require a whole lot of focus to be able to play it. But there’s a thing called muscle memory, and once you rehearse a song and get it in your fingers and in your DNA and everything, it requires less thought. And it’s better if you don’t think too much.

And, you know, most of these are now classic songs, and so I’ve heard them for years. In fact, it’s so crazy because I remember when I first started playing with Paul, there was a time when we were playing a song and then it came time for the solo. And I was just kind of jamming along and I think I missed a couple [of] notes of the solo realizing that I was actually playing it because it almost feels like the songs play themselves, this music, you know? It’s really hard to explain.

CHM: That actually leads to a question that I had for you. You play a lot of the solos for Paul, some of them are just iconic and you stay close to the original, i.e. Maybe I’m Amazed, Something, My Love, but what did he tell you in regards to playing them? Did you have to stick to the original?  

Anderson: I think I’ve used my intuition on that. I am such a fan of Paul and The Beatles and his career and all that, [and] there are certain songs that you just can’t mess with the melodies, [they] are too strong. You could play something else, but it would just be disappointing and it doesn’t peak the moment, you know? You have this incredible vibe happening with everybody there, the big audience, and everyone’s on the same page. We’re all together, celebrating these incredible songs and I think it would be a big disservice to all of a sudden play some other melody instead of the one that’s there. But that’s not always the case. Let it Be, for example, is more of a modality or a style that’s being played as opposed to melodies that are really specific. So I’ll kind of just improvise that one and let it flow to different places it wants to go.

My personal favorite rendition of Rusty’s solo on Let it Be.

[Then with] something like, well, Something, the song [laughs], [which] has such an incredible solo in it and is one of my favorite [George] Harrison moments whether it’s guitar or vocal. It’s just such a brilliant bit that he came up with and I really didn’t want to do that any disservice. And I’ll put my “English” on it and maybe spin the phrasing a little bit differently, but the basic substance of the notes I think are sometimes really important and sometimes not as much and I think this song [Something] spells it out.

CHM: Shifting gears to some rapid-fire questions, I know you guys alternated between New and Queenie Eye on this past tour [the Got Back Tour], do you prefer one over the other in terms of playing?

Anderson: No, I mean, they’re really different songs. I’d say New is a little easier to play; Queenie Eye has a strange guitar tuning with a slide and takes a little more focus, but I really enjoy the rhythm of that song and it’s got a cool chorus, I dig it.

New is really cool, too. I mean, it’s sort of “pop-y,” but in this sort of way that Paul almost seemed to have invented. It’s hard to explain. But that’s a cool arrangement, too. A lot of the horn parts and the guitar play together, it’s really weird. It sounds like it flows as a band, but if you just isolated the guitar part in New, you’d be surprised.

CHM: I think that the last time you guys were on the road before COVID, in the second or third slot, you guys would play Hi, Hi, Hi, generally speaking, and now you guys play Junior’s Farm. I’m glad to have gotten to hear both live, but do you have a preference between either of those?

Anderson: I like Junior’s Farm, it’s cool. It was a radio hit back in the day and I was very young, so it has a certain amount of awesomeness that stands the test of time quite well. Hi, Hi, Hi was also a hit back in the day, and that’s cool, too. It’s a little bit more kind of a straight-up, sort of “boogie-blues” vibe. Which is cool, but not as special as Junior’s Farm to me.

But, that’s the thing about a setlist. If you had like a thousand people putting setlists together, you’d have a thousand different setlists because everyone’s got their own perspective, that’s the beauty of music. People hear into things, they have their own interpretations, whether it’s a piece of art, a song, a painting, or a book, people interpret it. And that interpretation is what bonds people together. And it’s “loosey-goosey,” it’s an individual experience for everybody. And that’s the beauty of art and that’s the beauty of music; you could have like, the musicians’ Hall of Fame or Rolling Stone’s greatest songs of all time, but they’re all just opinions.

CHM: Do you have a favorite opener that you guys did? I know you guys used to do Eight Days a Week, Save Us, or Hello, Goodbye, and now, Can’t Buy Me Love. What’s your favorite way to kick off a concert?

Anderson: Eight Days a Week was cool or A Hard Day’s Night. I enjoy them all, actually.

CHM: Are there any songs that you guys used to play more that, you kind of miss? I’m mad that you guys started playing Jet right after Syracuse, I just missed it.

Anderson: We played it [Jet] at soundcheck one day and I said, “Paul, we should maybe put Jet in the set.” He goes, “Yeah, I think you’re right.” I don’t always insert my opinion, but every once in a while, I will. And that ended up in a few of the sets and I always enjoy playing that song [Jet] just because it’s such an unusual track and it’s [got] a lot of the elements Paul does so well together in one song and I love the way the band plays it — it’s just got this energy to it. It always feels exciting.”

CHM: Do you have any songs in particular — besides Jet — that you miss playing or wish you could play more?

Anderson: I was glad we started playing She Came in Through the Bathroom Window. On this last tour, we did a section from Abbey Road that Paul, had never played — that was really cool. It had [a portion of] You Never Give Me Your Money, except for [a portion missing from] the very beginning of it. It’s hard to categorize when you take a song out a little bit out of context from Abbey Road, but it was on the second side — [part of] that whole medley thing.

Too Many People was always fun. [There’s] just such an incredible wealth of amazing songs, they’re sort of timeless and awesome to play [and] keep coming back to them.

CHM: Are there any songs you haven’t played with Paul from his catalog or The Beatles’ catalog that you’d like to play? I know you said that you don’t like to insert your opinion on the setlist too much, but if you did…

Well, I have a few times. I sort of pushed Helter Skelter back in the day and he [Paul McCartney] wasn’t sure. And then we finally played it and it went over like gangbusters. So it ended up in the set. I’d love to do The Back Seat of My Car. We sort of rehearsed it, but never ended up doing it. Or Little Lamb Dragonfly, [which] we never rehearsed. I don’t know, there’s been a few that got suggested by people that we never quite ended up putting in the set, or sometimes they get in the set and then we do it for a tour or two and then never play it again.

CHM: You said Paul was a little skeptical about Helter Skelter, was that just because of the controversy or because of the arrangement of the song? Or maybe the way the crowd might receive it?

Anderson: Oh, I think it was the controversial aspect of it back in the day, but that’s all gone. I mean, why should a song be connected to some psycho just because they liked it? There are a million Beatles fans and Paul McCartney fans around the world and everyone has their favorite songs and their connection to the songs, so I don’t know — I thought it was a little silly.

CHM: Do you remember playing Helter Skelter in Boston a few years back with Rob Gronkowski on stage? I recently came across this video, have you seen the YouTube video? Because the way you’re looking at Gronkowski is hilarious; you’re looking at him like he’s something out of this world.

Anderson: I mean, he is! He’s a very tall, giant athlete and obviously incredibly talented and it’s just the energy he was putting out and the sort of scope of it on stage was like something to behold.

CHM: To begin closing out, I wanted to talk about The End, the song you guys always end on whether it’s following the “Abbey Road medley” or the “Sgt. Peppers reprise.” Of course, during The End, you guys always have that little jam and I love that moment where you guys are just having fun — it looks like you’re just in the garage, jamming out together. I don’t hear every single concert, but I know that there are a couple of bits there that you have to play from the original track, but how structured is this jam?

Anderson: We don’t have to do anything. I mean, there are certain licks that are really cool that we sort of want to throw in because they’re so good, and then at a certain point, we [are] just doing whatever.

CHM: I could be wrong, but Paul usually ends it right with the little riff that ends the solo on the original track, right?

Anderson: That’s the cue that we’re ending it, people recognize it.

CHM: I know that I keep saying “last question,” but this truly is my last question for you. Do you remember the Syracuse concert? During Live and Let Die, the fireworks were going off, but were they especially loud during this show? Because I was further back and it seemed loud and Paul’s reaction definitely gave the impression that it was louder than usual.

Anderson: I don’t remember, man. I mean, I know that one night they’re loud, next night, they’re super loud, next night, they might be quieter. They’re usually about the same volume, but every once in a while there’s some acoustic element or they have different laws in different states and different countries or different venues. I think the Hard Rock [stadium] had its own laws there.

CHM: So do you wear the in-ear monitors on stage? Perhaps that quiets the pyro noise...

Anderson: I’ve been messing with that. I kind of mostly have been using in-ear filters, which, in theory, filter out everything equally, so it’s like a master volume turning it down, but it doesn’t really work that way because you get more bass than you do high-end. Like, if you stick cotton in your ears, it kind of goes [vocalizes muffled sound]. So it’s like halfway between hearing normal and a little bit [like with] cotton. But that’s usually what works best for me on stage because it’s a very different thing to perform than it is to listen in the audience because you’re not hearing a mix like everyone else hears. You’re hearing what you need to hear to be able to perform.

Firefly is available to stream now on all digital platforms.


FILM RATING

Andrew is an entertainment journalist and film "critic" who has written for the likes of Above the Line, Below the Line, Collider, Film Focus Online, /Film and The Hollywood Handle among others. Leader of the Kaitlyn Dever Fanclub.

Featured

Charlie Michael Baker: Journey of Autism, Social Media and Working with Kylie Jenner (EXCLUSIVE)

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Charlie Michael Baker and Kylie Jenner

At just 17, Charlie Michael Baker is giving his all to change the world. Baker is a renowned author, entrepreneur, actor, and journalist and he is on a mission to help millions of people suffering from autism. Charlie Michael Baker previously told Costal House Media he raised over £400,000 to help people with autism. He faced many challenges since childhood but his determination and perseverance were the key to his success.

Baker is a Social Media sensation with over 1.2M followers on Instagram. Charlie Michael Baker is one of the many influencers being bullied on social media every day. He receives 300-500 rape and death threats daily!

Charlie Michael Baker

Charlie Michael Baker

We had the honor to connect with Charlie Michael Baker. You can read our conversation below.

Nikita Pahwa: Congratulations on launching your new book! What can you tell us about it?

Charlie Michael Baker: So my new book is about social media, specifically, the dangers of social media. All young kids now want to grow up and be ‘famous’ but don’t know the bad side of it all. I was one of those kids, I’d always wanted to be famous, it’s something I’d always dreamed of!

NP: How do you deal with death and rape threats?

CMB: The short answer is, I don’t, really. I stopped reading my DMs a few months back because of it all. I don’t deal with negativity and there’s too many trolls to block each and every one, so they all just get ignored.

Charlie Michael Baker Social Media and I

Charlie Michael Baker Social Media and I (Photo: @kaybeephotography2 on Instagram)

NP: What advice would you give to people in similar situations?

CMB: I’d say don’t listen to them, do what I do and just don’t read them. It’s better that way. What you don’t see can’t hurt you!

NP: If you could say one thing to people sending you threats, what would it be?

CMB: Without ruining my career *lol* I’d say just to be a bit kinder. If there’s something going on in your life that you’re not very happy with, ask someone for help. Speak to someone you trust rather than swaying to a life of being a keyboard warrior. It’s not nice!

NP: Is your new book related to Charlie Baker: Autism and Me?

CMB: It is! It will be written in the same – ish way BUT Charlie Michael Baker Social Media And I will be exclusively E – book sold on my website charliembaker.net.

NP: Are you currently working on a new venture with Kylie Jenner?

CMB: I am! We’re working with the same brand – glow beverages. We’re working alongside an NBA star too whose name I cannot remember for the life of me – oops lol.

Kylie Jenner and Charlie Michael Baker

Kylie Jenner and Charlie Michael Baker

NP: Are you planning to collaborate with more celebrities in the future?

CMB: I love working with celebrities. Mostly just to see what they’re like to be honest. Kylie is so nice though honestly I keep messaging her life updates!

NP: Last question, is it true that you’re working on the Charlie Baker: Autism and Me movie? Are we going to see it on the big screen?

CMB: Yes, it is! I’m filming something very very special this year with Creation Media 22 which should appear on Netflix and Prime Video which is so exciting! It will be my first time in front of an actual TV camera so it’s a bit different to daily vlogs!

You can get your Charlie Michael Baker Social Media And I E-copy on March, 1 for £0.01 (yes, a penny!). Get your Charlie Baker: Autism and Me copy on Amazon.

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Interviews

INTERVIEW | ‘The Tiger’s Apprentice’ Stars Brandon Soo Hoo and Leah Lewis Discuss Representation, Positivity, and the Power of Belief

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Tiger's Apprentice
Tiger's Apprentice (Paramount+)

Paramount’s latest animated flick ‘The Tiger’s Apprentice’ has finally been released and garnered positive response from everywhere. Adapted from Laurence Yep’s beloved children’s book series, ‘The Tiger’s Apprentice’ brings to life the thrilling journey of Chinese American teen Tom Lee (portrayed by Brandon Soo Hoo). He is suddenly thrust into a realm he once believed existed only in bedtime tales. After a tragedy strikes his family, the young man discovers his identity as a Guardian. Subsequently, he is mentored by the mystical Tiger Hu (played by Henry Golding) to confront the evil Loo (portrayed by Michelle Yeoh). In between all this chaos, he develops a special friendship with a girl named Rav (played by Leah Lewis) who helps him in defeating the villain and saving the world.

It is one of those films that you can enjoy with your family. It is tender, beautifully crafted, and encourages you to think about how traditions play a crucial role in everyone’s lives. In this exclusive interview, Brandon Soo Hoo and Leah Lewis share their perspectives on the film’s themes, the significance of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) representation in media, and the impact of portraying multi-dimensional characters. The actors delve into the importance of maintaining positivity in the face of adversity, believing in oneself, and breaking stereotypes in the entertainment industry. From challenging outdated narratives to normalizing cultural heritage, Brandon and Leah express their excitement for viewers to experience the film’s adventurous and tender journey of self-discovery.

Tiger's Apprentice

A still from ‘The Tiger’s Apprentice’ (Paramount+)

Aayush Sharma: ‘The Tiger’s Apprentice’ is a mixture of so many great things love, care, culture, and family. But for you guys, what was the one thing that made you relate to this story and made you proud? And why do you think that particular thing is so important for people to see?

Brandon Soo Hoo: One of the favorite things that I related with my character was Tom has uncanny ability to maintain a positive outlook when things get really tough. And so, you know, he’ll drop in a humorous little quip here and there in the face of adversity. I think that’s such a powerful way to confront anything challenging because life isn’t that serious. And, if you really lean into the negative, and if you really lean into the dark side, I feel like it can really corrupt and taint you. I believe maintaining that light and positivity around you is like the ultimate protection that you have, from the dark stuff when life kind of gets you down. Because if you let life get too dark, then you won’t let enough of your inner light kind of radiate outwards and do what it needs to do. So, you know, hold on to your light, hold on to the positivity. I feel like it’s contagious. It’s very, very healing.

Leah Lewis: I think, for me, one of my favorite things about this film that I would take away, is really learning how to believe in yourself. And I know that’s such a simple statement, but it’s a big loaded one for me. I really feel like when it comes down, to believing in yourself, it’s the things that you care about, the people you care about, where you came from, where you’re going. You see this character, Tom, struggle with believing in himself in any aspect. I think that’s really important too. And I think, when you can believe in yourself too and present yourself, honestly, and vulnerably, that’s also when you find other people who are right for you in your life. You see Tom eventually learns how to be himself, and because of it, he fits into this Zodiac and kind of ends up finding a community that he never would have expected. So, I think that aspect is important for me.

AS: So, you know, besides showing so many great things, this is also an Asian story. The characters, the cast, the makers, and most of the people involved in this project, have an Asian background. But you know when we see the entertainment industry, we still see a lot of talented Asian actors stuck in a kind of stereotype. And they are cast in one kind of role. For you guys, how does Asian representation in movies intersect with a broader discussion about diversity and inclusion in the entertainment industry?

BS: I mean, it’s 2024, we’re past the era of having Asian people playing just submissive roles or playing like the tech support. I think that right now is like a renaissance for Asian entertainers and Asian artists to showcase that we are multi-dimensional people, that we can be the hero, we can be the cool guy. It’s all that stuff is like, we’re really seeing Asians being at the forefront of stories like that. And it’s so important because growing up, if you don’t see all of those things represented in media, it’s kind of hard to feel like, you can see that in yourself. So, it’s almost like this conditioning that we received from a really young age. So right now, we’re trying to reverse engineer all of that by showing you can be the hero of your own story, you know, you can save the day. And you could be more than just like whatever aesthetic or face that people want to put on you. You can kind of step out of those boundaries and as a human being, you can do whatever the heck you want. So, I think that it’s so important for us to be able to share with you all.

Brandon Soo Hoo (@brandonsoohoo/Instagram)

LL: I agree, I think, we’re living in a day and age where we’re moving towards a place where representation isn’t such a flashy, flashy thing. It’s a necessary and needed thing that should already be kind of embedded into our society. So, it’s a huge win for the AAPI community any time there’s an API lead or like, especially something like this film where it’s completely eccentric. But I also think the more and more we start to see those projects, like, it’s important to be able to normalize the difference in all these characters. You know, when I also look at, the list of like, Caucasian actors, I can think of an actor for every kind of character. I’m like, oh, yeah, I know, this actor played that, and this and that. But you know, for Asian, that’s been a long time coming, where it’s like, oh, it’s only Michelle Yeoh, who plays that or like, you know, we have the designated person who plays the geek or the kind of hero or like the dark character. And what’s so cool about this film, too, is like, Tom is just, he’s a cool, regular guy who hails from Chinese American culture. This film shows heritage and culture in a way where it’s so normalized, and just so kind of nuanced. I feel like that sense of representation is so cool for the people at home who are like, hey, casually, I like this guy, or I know those kinds of traditions, and I love the way he builds in this theme because I feel that way. I don’t know, I just, I also wish I had something like this growing up too. But like, now is the best time to see people that look like you, speak like you, or act like you on screen. It really recovers that belief in yourself that things are possible for you. Like we all watch TV. We all care about these characters to feel seen and feel like you know, you have a voice out there somewhere. There’s nothing better than that feeling. So, I hope that this film does that for a lot of people to me.

AS: You guys are working with such huge stars. Michelle Yeoh, Lucy Liu, Henry Golding, and more. What was your reaction when you heard these guys will be in the movie?

BS: Man, I mean, the reaction was and still is just like, almost like a surreal disbelief. I was like, these are people that I watched growing up when I was little, I was like, dang, these are some huge Asian names. They are the biggest names in our community. So yeah, I told my parents immediately about, like, who’s going to be in the project, and we all just like giggled about it together. So, I think just immense pride. It’s such a celebration, and it’s such a win, not just for me and my career, but it’s such a celebration for the Asian community. It’s like, man, look at all of us, like, together just being badass Zodiac warriors.

LL: I felt the same way. I mean, honestly, I tend to do this thing to where if someone tells me like this person is who you’re working with. I’m just like, wait, what? And I’m still like that, you know, like when we were able to even see Sandra Oh, at the premiere of like, let’s go, oh, my God, like, that’s really freakin’ cool. It’s also just like, I think it’s a really proud moment to finally see all different generations of AAPI actors coming together on one screen and to be able to see that there is space for more than just one or two. This whole cast is like a chock filled with it. And everyone is so talented, it’s been an honor. I’m really proud to be a part of it.

Leah Lewis and Sandra Oh

Leah Lewis and Sandra Oh (@leahmlewis/Instagram)

AS: The film has finally been released and it has opened to great reviews. If anyone hasn’t seen the movie, what’s your advice to them? And why should they watch ‘The Tiger’s Apprentice’?

BS: What do you what are you waiting for? Get in there. Watch this movie. It’s special, it’s beautiful. There’s something in there for everybody. And yeah, I think you’re really missing out on something that’s, that’s really beautiful and important. So go check it out. I hope they get to watch it with your family because there are a lot of beautiful lessons in there to share. So, go go check it out. You have to.

LL: It’s like, it’s a cool, like, genuinely cool. It has Steelo to it. Adventurous, tender film about finding yourself and I know we all want to do that. So, you should totally watch it and I hope you find a bit of yourself in this cool tender film.

‘The Tiger’s Apprentice’ is currently streaming on Paramount+.

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Interviews

INTERVIEW | Sarayu Blue Dives Deep into ‘EXPATS’ Journey with Cultural Authenticity and Emotional Depth

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Sarayu Blue stars as Hilary Starr in Lulu Wang's 'EXPATS' (@sarayublue/Instagram)

After taking the world by storm with ‘The Farewell,’ director Lulu Wang is back and this time, she has taken her storytelling prowess to the small screen. Her series, ‘EXPATS,’ is a story mainly about three women trying to overcome guilt and grief in the most authentic way possible. The very first frame of the series encourages viewers to take a remarkable journey into the lives of characters that are connected in one way or the other. Nicole Kidman portrays Margaret in the series while Ji-young Yoo plays Mercy. Both stars have given spectacular performances in the six-part series, but one actor who has managed to nab all the attention is none other than Sarayu Blue, who plays the role of Hilary.

At first, Hilary seems to be a no-nonsense woman who has moved to Hong Kong to make strides in her professional life. She does brilliantly professionally, but her personal life is in a bit of turmoil. Her marriage is not going well, her best friend seems to have lost almost everything, and she is overburdened with the pressure of becoming a mother. Wang knows how to extract a powerful performance from an actor and Sarayu is no different. Sarayu’s portrayal of the character is truly magnificent, capturing Hilary’s frustration and compassion with authenticity on screen. I sat down (virtually) with Sarayu Blue and discussed several aspects of her character in the Prime Video series. The actress opened up about how she learned Punjabi to make her character more authentic and also, how South Asian parents show love most uniquely.

Sarayu Blue in a still from ‘EXPATS’ (Prime Video)

Aayush Sharma: Congratulations on the series. It’s getting such beautiful reactions. Your character is written so beautifully, but Lulu Wang made some alterations to your character’s journey in the series, particularly regarding her approach to motherhood. So, how, as an actor, approached the shift in your character’s arc? And what kind of discussions have you had with Wong regarding these changes?

Sarayu Blue: Actually, the changes had already happened before I came. Because in the book, Hillary is not written South Asian. And so that was one of the changes. And so, when I auditioned, it was already South Asian, of course. I think when I got on board, I was able to read all the scripts, and I just devoured them. I mean, in one sitting, it was like, you know, I couldn’t get enough. It was such an exciting experience to see this South Asian woman who’s so human, she’s so layered and complicated, and messy, and real, and beautiful, and funny and vulnerable, and raw and hurting. And so, then it just became the biggest gift I could ever imagine.

AS: One of the best things about your character was her backstory, and showing the kind of Sikh family she was born into. But what was that one thing that you wanted viewers to see in your character to understand why Hillary sees the world in the way she does? Also, how challenging was it for you to learn the Punjabi language to make your character sound more authentic?

SB: I’m so thankful to our team and our wonderful consultant, Inder, who was like the most patient and kind human. I kept reciting it repeatedly, because somebody who speaks Telugu, and I’ve tried to teach people Telugu, pronunciation is everything. It’s everything, along with the accent, and every emphasis that matters so much. So, I was so thankful for that support. Also, Sudha (Brinder) speaks Punjabi, so I had Masters constantly working with me, and I was so thankful. Meanwhile, I think as far as the view that Hillary has, or what was important to me, it was important to see the hurt for both Brinder and Hilary. You know, what I love about the dynamic you see in Episode Four is you really see that they’re both hurting, and there’s aggression because that’s how we speak to each other. (laughs) I mean, that part is so universal, because my mother and I have a very contentious love. But, you know, that hurt underneath, and the vulnerability underneath is why it feels so real. And that representation of that specific dynamic was very important to me.

AS: Yeah, I mean, I can understand as an Indian, I know the kind of relationship that we share with our parents. I mean, they would just bash us, and then say that’s how we show our love for you. That’s, that’s our love. (laughs)

SB: I said to my dad, my dad was calling. I was FaceTiming with him, and he said, ‘So what are you doing? Are you doing anything interesting?’ I said, ‘I’m just doing a lot of press for this show. Remember that show? I did EXPATS? And he said, ‘I remember that.’ He added, ‘So nothing. You’re not doing anything.’ (laughs) But I get it.

Sarayu Blue with Sudha Bhuchar and Jennifer Beveridge (@sarayublue/Instagram)

AS: Your Punjabi was so amazing in that scene because I’m a Punjabi and when I was hearing that conversation, I had to pause the episode and go to the internet to see if you had any Punjabi roots because your accent was so authentic.

SB: Let me tell you how much that means to me because it’s the most important thing for me. Because Telugu is not easy to speak. It’s not, and I was raised by a Telugu professor and a Telugu short story writer. Also, I’ve tried to teach Telugu to somebody, and if it doesn’t sound right, it won’t feel good. That’s why it’s all I wanted to show. You must speak the language with the right pronunciation. That’s very important.

AS: Now that EXPATS has premiered three episodes on Prime Video and receiving so much love. But for those who haven’t started the series, what would like to tell them and why they should be watching this show?

SB: I am so honored to be in this show. I really am. I get goosebumps even talking to you right now, seeing you smile, and having this conversation. I want people to watch the show for everyone. There’s so much good talent in this show. You know, Sudha who plays Brinder is extraordinary. Kavi Raz, who plays my dad in Episode Six, is brilliant. You know, all these actors, Ruby Ruiz, Ji-young Yoo, Brian Tee, there’s so much brilliance that I hope people just watch and realize how many actors of color are getting to do amazing work. It feels like a dream. But, of course, there’s so much to see in this show, you know.

Cast of ‘Expats’ with director Lulu Wang at the premiere. (Getty Images)

The first three episode of ‘EXPATS’ are currently streaming exclusively on Prime Video.

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