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Miriam Cutler Talks Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down Score | Interview

The veteran documentary composer discusses composing the music for Gabby Gifford’s inspirational story.

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Some of this year’s documentaries have ranged from unique audio-visual experiences (Moonage Daydream), some straightforward (yet informative) standard documentaries (The Princess), but very few are as emotionally-compelling as Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down — which is available to rent on digital platforms now.

With such heavy subject matter, it can be hard to add any levity to a film like that. Enter, composer Miriam Cutler. Cutler is a seasoned documentary veteran and has worked on dozens of projects throughout her lengthy career. Because of the density of this interview, I’ll keep it short but say that this was a wonderfully insightful chat and we discussed her career leading up to Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down, the changes of the music industry and so much more.


Coastal House Media: Can I start by asking how you got started in this crazy world of composing? Every composer I’ve spoken to has a different story from starting in rock bands or they knew somebody in the industry.

Miriam Cutler: I come from a musical family but nobody was supposed to be [doing it] professionally, so it never even occurred to me to be a professional musician. I just played in bands and had a good time. [I] wrote songs, went to college. When I started, I thought, “Well, I’ll major in music because I love music,” but I hated [musical] theory and I changed my major my very first quarter. I changed to anthropology, but I still kept up my music. I played in ethnic bands and stuff, and I kind of got into playing in bands because I played clarinet among other things. But I was a folk dancer in high school [and] I always loved world music and we’re talking about the 1960s, so, it wasn’t well known back then. And so I was a folk dancer, and then they found out I played clarinet so they got me playing in the band. And I continued that in college and took anthropology. I was jamming with my friends and stuff, but then I became an activist, which all ties into how I ended up in documentaries. I was moving towards a career in either journalism or maybe being a civil rights lawyer or something like that and got very inspired by the women’s movement; it was the second wave. And so after college I was in three bands and one of them was the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo. I had my own band and we did a lot of satirical comedy, you know? Political satire and stuff like that.

But Danny Elfman was scouting, he was taking over the band from his brother and he was looking for female musicians and somebody saw me in a club with my band, and so I got an audition and when I walked in, they just handed me a tenor sax and said, “Can you play this?” and I went, “Well, I’ve never played a tenor sax, but I played clarinet.” So I played it and then they sat me down [asked], “Can you do this?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay.”

And then we did some west African music, and I’m also a singer, so it was perfect. Plus, Steve Bartek, the guitar player, [and I] went to college together and we were in ethnic bands together because he loved ethnic music too, so it was really fun. But what happened while I was in that band, my band was more kind of like loose and just fun. And [amongst] these guys, there were some amazing musicians. I mean, Steve [Bartek] is amazing, Sam Phipps, and Danny [Elfman], so I got more serious. All of a sudden I got more interested in music again, and I actually went back and took music courses at Santa Monica College after I had gone to grad school for anthropology. But I got my interest up again and being in such a good band, even though it was very wacky, it was really inspiring to be with such great players. I mean, I practiced all the time. We used to rehearse four times a week. We didn’t even have gigs.

I was in that band for about three years and it got me much more serious about music. But making the switch, after that I had my own band again, and then I was a songwriter.

In the old days you could be a player and you could make a living. You could travel or you could be a studio player. There used to be tons of studios in LA and different orchestras and there were road tours and albums being recorded. So that was considered a working musician and over time that’s really changed.

If you’re wanting to be a working musician nowadays, what that means is you have a little studio and you can make music for media; there’s not that many jobs for players. [It’s] not like it used to be.

One of the fun things about being around so long is I’ve really kind of been with it from the beginning of when it became more [inclusive]. Before that, though, it was more like a small group of elite guys who worked with orchestras and bands and had a gig at the studio. Writing for television [and] writing for film, it was a very different thing in those days. It was kind of elite [and] women weren’t in it very much. So anyway, I put together a little recording studio. At first, I had a four-track cassette, then I had an eight-track [cassette], and then I had a 16-track semi-pro machine and I was writing songs. I used to make a living playing in a band four nights a week, but that went away so musicians are like, “What do we do now? Okay. We’ll write songs. [and] movies,” so that’s what I did. And I had some songs in movies, [but it] really was getting hard to make a living; I was about to give up. [I[, ended up starting a swing band and that was the four nights a week, and what happened was I was playing in my band and somebody came up and said, “Hey, I have a little movie. Would you score it?” and I went. “Me? Score a movie?” So I brought it home and in those days there was no synchronization, so you just looked at the movie and [would] write some music and then the music was edited anyway to make a short story longer. I think I put my hands on the keyboard and looked up and saw the movie, and I went, “Wow, this is really cool.”

I also was a huge movie fan when I was a kid. I watched tons of movies; I just never thought of myself [as a composer]. I thought Bernard Herrmann, Nino Rota, Elmer Bernstein, these are film composers, not Miriam Cutler. Over the next period of time, I started working on stuff and I just really fell into it. A friend of mine was making these really low-budget horror movies for this really terrible company and he’d said, “Do you wanna score my movie?” So I scored it and they loved me and I did about 15 movies.

I could patch together a very nice living, so it was really great. And I did that for about 10 years, [but I did] all kinds of different stuff; I even wrote music for a circus for eight. I was there in residence for 18 years. But then I woke up one day and said, “My God, I’m making music all the time and I’m making my living doing this, but I’m miserable. Will I ever get to work on anything good?” And I thought, “You know, I went to college, I’m really educated, I’m very political, what is going to happen? I can’t do this anymore.” And I really was like, “I gotta stop. Maybe I’ll go back to law school. Maybe I’ll do something else.”

And then I met this guy in 1997 at a screening of one of my kind of mediocre movies. I met this filmmaker named Arthur Dong who, I didn’t know it at the time, but he was a very, very highly-regarded documentary filmmaker. And so he was making this film and he told me about it. And he said he was a gay man and he was making a film [about] these gay men who are in prison for murdering gay men and I thought to myself, “My God, I have to work on this movie. This is so important,” We really hit it off and I worked on the movie and then he took me to Sundance. I didn’t even know about Sundance *laughs* and when we were there, the film was a huge success. It won two awards and I looked in this room and all these people were documentary filmmakers and they were all working on amazing projects. And I thought to myself, “I think I [have] died and went to Heaven. I could actually do what I’m good at and love to do. And it has meaning; people are passionate about what they’re doing. They’re very committed.”

So that’s why I focus on documentaries. I mean, I’ve done it all, but I really focus on documentaries because I consider it sort of an application or a mission; it makes me feel like I can contribute in some small [way] to making the world better.

A still from Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down. Photo courtesy of Briarcliff Entertainment.

CHM: You mentioned Danny Elfman, what was you working relationship like with him?

Cutler: I was in his band, but it was his band. He had a real strong vision and whenever he changed his vision, you just went with it. But what happened was, I think what was really going on was I was always a front person; I was always in charge of my own bands and I’m not really a side man and I think it was just getting harder and harder. I kept feeling like he just wanted to squish me down so I didn’t stand out and I felt like I had to move on because I didn’t care for the material that he was starting to do. The kind of “I like little girl” stuff; I’m too political. You know what I mean? I’m a feminist, so I just couldn’t be involved in that. Even if it’s a joke. So nothing bad about him, it wasn’t for me, it wasn’t what I wanted to do.

CHM: You talked about the way the industry has changed. This is coming from my very mainstream viewpoint, but I’ve noticed how the whole music industry has changed in the way albums are released and put out. Can I get your assessment of this?

Cutler: Yeah, it’s really interesting. I always say technology giveth and it taketh away because when I was around, we just had AM radio. When I first was a kid and then it went to FM and we found underground radio where they played albums on the radio. And we would go to the record store all the time. I remember going to a record store and there’d be four walls and that would be all the records. There’s so much music now. And what’s great [is that] it has been very democratized in the sense that I could put out an album and if it just happens to get picked up by someone, you can have a mega hit and that’s what’s happening with Facebook and TikTok and all that stuff. And so in one sense, it’s really great.

But there was a tactile connection when you would buy a record, you would touch it, you would look at the, you would read everything on the label and especially albums, there was album art and then there were liner notes [that] you could just read over and over and over and learn about the person behind the music and the band and all this stuff. I still have a collection of about a thousand LPs; I don’t even have a turntable, but I can’t bear to give them up. I love taking them out and looking at them. I have some originals, from the 1960s and stuff that I bought when I was a kid or that I acquired, so I think it’s really changed in that when an artist made an album, it was like going to a concert. They laid out [and] created the experience of what they wanted to share with you. They would do an A-side, usually there’d be a concept, and then you turn it over and side B another concept or a continuation.

When cassettes happened, everybody started making their own mix-tapes. Now you’ve got Joni Mitchell next to Grace Jones and you can put everything together, which is very democratizing, but it’s sort of taken away some of the vision of the artist in what they wanted to present to you in its [entirety]. That’s why people like to go to a concert because the artist puts together their rendition of what they want to present. Of course, now a lot of audiences only want to hear hits, and that was also what was so great about underground radio. Before that, you were stuck with hits, all you ever got was the A-side and so you’d buy the 45 for the B-side [and] then you’d go, “Wow, what’s this?”

The music business has turned into a hit [and] star maker [industry]. And there always was that, but then you could also get albums by the old blues guys [and] I have a very large range of taste [as a result]. I like almost all music. I just don’t like “fake” faith music when it’s not authentic [and] coming from the heart or something. But there are some young artists that are quite interesting.

I think Billy Eilish is just a blast from the past. That’s the kind of artist we had regularly. We had a Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro at the same time. I also really love old jazz because I started learning to play old jazz with Danny [Elfman] and those guys, we used to have another band that we played in that played like stuff from the 1930s and 1940s. It’s really wonderful as a musician, especially as a composer to have access to thousands of years of global music that we can be inspired by. And that’s what is really great about nowadays. If I wanted to find music and find out what kind of music they played in [a given culture], I’d have to call every record store in the county and then I’d have to run around and try to find an album. It was so hard and now, the whole world is at your fingertips; it’s quite overwhelming in some ways, but it’s also amazing, like research takes one second. I used to spend weeks trying to find some guys that played [certain] music, or even just to hear what it sounded like. It would take a long time. So in that sense, the technology has giveth and it’s made us a more global world. I think in the end, that may be what saves us; is that we’re all connected through this music and art and clothing.

A still from Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down. Photo courtesy of Briarcliff Entertainment.

CHM: I don’t want to put words in mouth, so correct me if I’m wrong, but you find documentaries fulfilling; you find purpose in them. Could you talk to me about that a little bit more?

Cutler: [Documentaries have had] quite a resurgence. I mean, man, they’re being made like crazy. I think [it’s] because they’re inexpensive to make compared to a big tentpole movie. I think that it’s fun to learn new stuff, and the stories are super compelling. I mean, they’re real-life, so they’re very traumatic.

I’m always learning something, [and] I become an in-depth expert about whales, or an elephant, or a war, or [the] ghosts of Abu Ghraib, I’m always in a new reality with [a] whole different film group and it also helps keep my creativity fresh. Because I’m always working with a different crew and with different subjects, there are different styles of filmmaking, because  within documentary there’s so many ways to go. Especially now with the younger filmmakers, they’ve brought all the wonderful craft of filmmaking into documentaries. For me, I find it extremely challenging; I’m never bored. We [the filmmakers and I] share values and it’s a respectful environment to work in; it’s fair, and it’s because the money is not as big as it is in Hollywood, so it doesn’t attract people that just want to make money. I mean, if you’re making documentaries, there’s much more to it for you. And that’s what I like about it. So in my opinion, what I’ve been able to do by working in the documentary community and being part of it is live an artist’s life but make a living, I don’t do bad, but I also get to live my values. I don’t have to work with anyone [that] I don’t want to work with. I want to work with people I respect and [that] respect me. And so it’s created a lifestyle for me that really has worked; I’m very indie.

CHM: Then let’s talk about Gabby Giffords: Won’t Back Down. I always like to ask this to composers, but can you describe your score in three or less words?

Cutler: Every score is different, and it depends on what the film asks for. Films really tell you and then the director helps you understand what you’re being told sometimes. In this film [Won’t Back Down], I tried to do what the film needed and what the directors envisioned and what it was is that she’s Gabby.

These particular filmmakers, like on RBG as well, they really like to key in on the music that their subject is into. They kind of use that as another part of way of expressing who that character is. RBG was into opera and classical music. And so they used a lot of the music that she would listen to and then my job was to score her. It was like I was to score her personal story. So it was a little more romantic and stuff like that. Gabby loved 1980s rock, which wasn’t even close to my favorite time in rock and roll , but I totally respect it. There were some really great songs in that era and it helped her heal and she would be singing. She couldn’t speak, but the part of the brain that relates to music wasn’t injured, so she could sing full songs with the lyrics even though she can’t put together a sentence.

She’s singing a lot in the film, so they licensed a bunch of songs and my job was to sort of integrate [into] that and also keep a very upbeat feeling as much as possible about a very serious subject, because Gabby is this phenomenally-inspiring person. I mean, she’s just unbelievable. You know, you hear [that] there’s a shooting, some people die and some people live, and then that’s the end of it. You don’t hear what it does to their life, you know? And I think that it’s really important that people understand that after 11 years, she’s still really injured from this experience but she has a spirit that just won’t quit and she’s been an effective lobbyist for gun legislation and stuff.

CHM: Well, that’s a balance that every composer kind of talks about, especially with a documentary where you’re trying not to overstep boundaries, you know? A lot of your music comes in and like personal scenes where she might be like in the hospital or in recovery, so could you talk to me a little bit about how difficult it is as a composer because you’re watching this stuff over and over again and this is kind of a heavy and as I said, it’s hard to watch, right?

Cutler: So my job is to help people. It’s kind of like with the filmmaker, we have to make decisions about how much can the viewer take before they switch it off. You know, you don’t want them to lose [interest in] the film because they can’t watch this because you’re just pushing it too hard. So you find a balance within the pacing within the film where we pick where we’re gonna go “heavy duty” and sometimes no music is better. Because if you do too much, then it’s just too much and you don’t want to lead the audience, you want them to really have the experience unfold for them.

Part of great storytelling is [figuring out] how you unfold the story and keep it interesting and fresh but never pound people with it. I worked on Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, I mean, that was tough, and I’ve done films about global child slavery. So you look for the areas where you can keep it energized, if not positive — I call it neutral — and travel [within the] music.

So did you find it hard to watch?

CHM: I did, yeah. It’s not pleasant to see somebody going through recovery, but it was also inspiring. I thought the score was inspiring.

Cutler: Oh, thank you.

A still from Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down. Photo courtesy of Briarcliff Entertainment.

CHM: Was there anything unique within the composition of the music? Perhaps the way you wrote a number or an instrument used.

Cutler: Because I come from a band background, I came to strings rather late. I love combining all kinds of things. I think for this one, there’s a thing that — I don’t know if you recognize minimalist kind of approach to scoring, which is kind of like Philip Glass, but it actually is really effective in documentaries. You can create a lot of turbulence without doing a lot.

And there’s really interesting things you can do with strings rhythmically, creating patterns. You know, we all have our own style of how we do it and so I’ve been kind of leaning towards that cinematic thing more lately, and they wanted a lot of the score to reflect her joy. I wanted it to sound kind of like rural a little bit, but not too rural, you know what I mean?

I happen to love acoustic guitar and I have a wonderful player and he has a guitar, we call it “Spike,” it’s the same kind of guitar Elvis Presley had. A friend of mine saw it for sale at a garage sale — it was all cracked and everything — and it had “Spike” engraved in it.

CHM: What are you most looking forward to audiences seeing in this film?

Cutler: I want them to see hope, because I think if Gabby can have hope and keep trying to make things better with all that’s going on with guns right now, this couldn’t be better timed. I mean, what’s it gonna take? I think if people understand [that] it’s not a movie — you don’t just get shot and then we cut back four months later and you’re better. Here’s a woman, 11 years [later] and the damage is permanent. She can’t come back completely from it. She’s paralyzed [and] she can’t speak. And this is a person with a brilliant mind who was a beautiful communicator. She probably would’ve been a Senator by now. I mean, the country has lost an important voice, you know?

So I think that if people can be inspired by her ability to have hope and also to get this momentum going for real change. I think we’re — Americans — all are so exhausted right now. [This] may be the closest thing was when they had the Dust Bowl and everything in the thirties that happened. But if we want to make it better, we have to try harder.

CHM: Finally, I’ll close out by asking you, can you recommend me and anybody else one of your past films? It can be any of your filmography.

Cutler: Gosh, I mean, I pretty much fall in love with almost every film. I mean, Lost in La Mancha about Terry Gillum is one of my comedy scores. People forget I actually was in a comedy band. I do all the serious work, but I do love it [comedy scores]. It was kind of like a Spanish-tinged, circus-y kind of film score. So I always enjoyed that one.

And, of course, Ghosts of Abu Ghraib is a classic for the history. It really was the first film about Abu Ghraib and Rory Kennedy had tremendous access. I mean, there’s so many wonderful films [such as] Love, Gilda.

I’m working on a film right now about about Shari Lewis and it’s actually another really inspiring story about a woman who was in children’s entertainment, but she was so sophisticated and really the pioneer before Lucille Ball [with] a woman owned and operated entertainment studio — and that’ll be coming out next year.

I did this film called ‘Til Kingdom Come and it was so amazing. Like it was so harrowing. It was about [former President Donald] Trump and the evangelicals and if you’ve ever asked yourself, What is it with Trump and the evangelicals? Why do these religious people care about him? it really told that story and it told how very deep and far it went in terms of the money that was raised and the way he let the ultra-right[winged], Conservative religious into the White House and into Congress. A lot of people in his government were evangelicals, including Mike Pence.


Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down is available to rent on digital platforms now.

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.

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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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