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Roman Molino Dunn Talks Paul Schrader, National Geographic and the Lehigh Valley

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One of the questions that I, the interviewer, usually receive is “Where are you from?” It’s very rare that anyone has heard of the Lehigh Valley — unless I mention Billy Joel‘s classic song “Allentown” — let alone have any experiences in it. Here to buck that trend is composer Roman Molino Dunn. I met Roman through social media when he paid a compliment to my interview with the Downton Abbey composer, John Lunn. If you’re in this industry, it means the world when anyone reads your work or compliments it. Overjoyed, I messaged Roman back and asked if he’d like to sit down and chat about his upcoming projects, including one for National Geographic titled Animals of America’s National Parks which premiered on the National Geographic channel and will premiere on Disney+ at some point in the future. In this interview, Roman discussed his experience working with Paul Schrader on The Card Counter, composing the score for a National Geographic project and, of course, the Lehigh Valley.


Coastal House Media: It is a pleasure to actually meet you — it’s always fun to chat with somebody online first and then actually see their face. So you lived in the Poconos, right? I’m from the Lehigh Valley area — not too far away — and would love to hear more about your story.

Roman Molino Dunn: Yeah, I grew up in this very small town called Kunkletown, which most people probably don’t know [about], but if you’re from Pennsylvania, the closest landmark would be the Blue Mountain ski area. So, I’m kind of in the woods, right on the Appalachian Mountain trail. 

And then I went to school in the Lehigh Valley — I feel like we were probably not too far. 

CHM: Did you go to Lehigh University? 

RMD: No, no. I didn’t go to college in [the] Lehigh Valley, I went to grade school and high school at a school called Moravian [Academy]. 

Photo courtesy of Roman Molino Dunn, repped by White Bear PR.

CHM: Well, it’s always fun to talk to somebody from this area because people are from Pittsburgh or they know Harrisburg or Philadelphia, but Lehigh Valley is rarely mentioned. Before I get off of the topic, what’s your favorite when you do come back if you ever do?

RMD: There is a place called Vegan Treats in Bethlehem and my wife and I are both long-time vegans. That’s one of the few spots in the Lehigh Valley that is unparalleled, so I love going there.

CHM: How did you jump from the little Lehigh Valley, all the way to LA?

RMD: Sure. So after high school, which is when I left the Lehigh Valley, I went off to college and studied in New York City. I did an undergraduate [program] in music theory and a graduate in music composition. And while I was studying that I was also doing what’s called transcription — so I was listening to music and writing out sheet music [as] my job, essentially, and then that turned into arranging music for artists that I was transcribing for. 

Then I started taking them to the recording studio and that turned into arranging [and then] turned into producing. And after a while, I had enough clients that it made sense to open a recording studio. So I found a business partner and we opened a recording studio in Manhattan. I did that for about a decade and I still own that recording studio. So I go back to New York a bunch to check in on it; I check on the engineers and record if I have to, but through the recording studio, I started scoring more films because we would do everything you’d think a recording studio would do like recording bands and artists, but we also did commercials and sometimes the commercials would have us write the music for it. And then sometimes those directors of the commercials would go on to direct their own films outside of the agency, and I started getting the phone calls for scoring those. One thing led to another and it’s what I wanted to be doing. So it was kind of this full circle from composing to opening the studio, to getting into composing again and once I started doing like network [television] and studio films, I decided it was time to move to Los Angeles. So that’s how I got here. 

CHM: How hard is it to open a music studio? I feel like that can’t be easy, especially in New York of all places.

RMD: Yeah, it’s hard, especially back then. So that was like 11 years ago and home recording was less of a thing — I mean, after COVID, everybody figured out how to do it at home really well — but back then the equipment that you needed and the space that you need, especially in New York City, is really difficult and to get a commercial lease where you can make noise.

And our whole business plan was it had to be in Manhattan. We didn’t wanna do Brooklyn or Queens or anything because we wanted to attract higher-end clients and clients who might be passing through New York or flying in from Europe or Los Angeles, so that was the business plan to make sure it was in Manhattan. And it posed a lot of challenges, but I think it was rewarding in that sense. 

Photo courtesy of Roman Molino Dunn, repped by White Bear PR.

CHM: Who was the biggest client that you landed?

RMD: Sure. It’s kind of funny, a lot of the music that I did was for reality TV stars, so I produced a lot of songs for, like, The Real Housewives, RuPaul’s Drag Race, Love & Hip Hop, all of these classic reality shows of the last decade. I also did a lot of songs for Howard Stern and I was on the show a few times. Those were some of the bigger clients in the music world.

Of course, [with] all the films that I’ve done, I still own the studio, so it’s still part of that business. I run the financial stuff through the business, instead of just doing it as a freelance composer. 

CHM: I was reading over your credits and I think it was The Card Counter, and it said that you engineered the music, or I think that was the term. 

RMD: Yeah, I was a music producer. 

CHM: Can you talk to me about that role?

RMD: That was a pretty atypical role in some ways, but a very typical role in other ways. So, like I said, running a recording studio for a decade, you do everything, you record music for bands, you record podcasts, you do ADR for films, and one of the things that I had the pleasure of doing right in the height of COVID too, they hired me to record the soundtrack. So I was the producer, the recording engineer, mixed some of the tracks, worked with Robert Levon Been, who composed most of the music for that, and I’m sitting behind the board hanging the microphones, doing initial mixes, that kind of stuff.

The way that job came about was they were looking for a recording engineer who also scored films because a lot of times when you just go to a studio, you get an engineer, you get somebody who’s used to doing mostly commercial pop music and there are very different needs. You need to be able to sync the music and work as an interim music editor and work closely with the composers. 

And Paul Schrader’s sitting there the whole time telling us what to do, so it’s a totally different vibe than a recording session. They knew my background from doing some HBO films and they wanted a composer who could also engineer.

CHM: I didn’t realize you worked that closely with Paul Schrader during that process. 

RMD: He was there every day during the height of COVID. And Paul’s slightly older these days and he had some health concerns as he was getting older so we were getting tested every day and [wore] the highest-end masks that we could get — it was quite a scene. I’ll always remember those sessions pretty well because normally when I’m scoring a film, the director just sends me the movie, maybe we’ll have a few initial meetings, and then I go to work. Because they were writing songs — which is why I was producing [and] I didn’t really score that film. 

CHM: What was that process with Paul Schrader like? He’s such an interesting figure right so is there any sort of tidbit that you learned working with him that most people just wouldn’t know? 

Photo courtesy of Roman Molino Dunn, repped by White Bear PR.

RMD: I don’t know. I mean we had a lot of fun, there was a bit of drinking here and there [smiles]. We spent a lot of time watching movies, which was kind of weird in the sense that normally when people book the studio, you know, we charge hourly for the space and it’s not cheap to go in there and record, so just hanging out, watching movies and drinking was really welcomed. I mean, it’s not atypical for a music session, but it’s a little less typical for a scoring/ producing session. 

CHM: Do you remember your first scoring project?

RMD: The very first thing I ever scored was something when I was in college. I went to school for classical music and funnily enough, most of the music I do now for like network projects are not classical they tend to be more hybrid, synth-driven popular music infused with classical. I really, really loved Renaissance and bar music when I was studying and the first thing I ever scored was a period piece called The Summoning of Every Man and it was just period music. So, recorders, violas, harpsichords and all of that stuff. It wasn’t a big project, but it was my first time getting [the] picture and scoring to it. So I think back on that sometimes as like, “Oh, wow, this was the first time.” But most people in my seat tend to remember the first time that they had something [for] like a major studio or a network.

Sometimes I think back to the first project that I had on a major channel as my first as opposed to something little that you did when you were in college. 

CHM: Does scoring-to-picture get easier, and do you prefer that over scoring without picture? 

RMD: Oh, I think it’s better than scoring without picture. I’ve always considered myself a collaborative musician, and it was that way [when] producing music for artists where it’s like, I’m not writing music for myself; I’m writing music for somebody else and with a film [and] that somebody else is speaking to you or making collaborative requests through the edit through their picture. 

So I find it far more inspiring than writing music and then somebody dropping it in. I actually do not favor writing music outside of the picture [laughs]; I really like getting the full cut. I’m sure you’ve heard this from other composers, [but] it’s beautiful when there’s no temp score in there and you get to impart the musical language on the film and not just emulate something. 

CHM: You mentioned that you use synthesizers a lot, which I think is pretty cool. Every time I hear synthesizers, I think of the Joy Divisions of the world, you know, the eighties kind of rock music or whatever, but I’m curious as to whether or not there is a particular reason you enjoy using them and how you infuse them into your music?

RMD: So I just did a film for Netflix, uh, this year called AI Love You, and the music for that film was very eighties synth-wave. The use of synthesizers in that was typical in the sense of what you would assume a popular culture usage of synthesizers is except it was metaphysical in that film because it was a film about AI. So the synthesizers serve the purpose of electronics and differentiate the computer world from the human world, which would be something more like violins or pianos or acoustic instruments. 

But another film that I did called Huracán — which is on HBO Max — the synthesizers in that film are not this like typical pop eighties or early nineties synth. The usage there was to differentiate again between human elements and things that are a bit more cold, and so in that film, in particular, the synths give this deeper, colder feeling that outlines the subtext of the film because it’s a person dealing with mental illness and the synths are very unnerving the way that I was using them. 

Other times it’s like this other film I just did last year called Snakehead. The synthesizers are used in a way [that] you might not know that they’re even being used because you are recording acoustic instruments into them. So in that film, for example, I played a whole bunch of violin and cello lines into the synthesizer — so you’re sampling it, essentially, but then feeding it through and coupling it with some actual sounds that are made only on the synthesizer. And in that way you get this kind of unique color that’s very distinct to the film. So it’s not always something you should be aware of — [such as] in some scores like Snakehead — [but] I’m saying you wouldn’t know that their synthesizers necessarily be like, “Wow, that’s very different. That doesn’t sound exactly like a violin yet but I  know it’s organic,” whereas in the AI Love You, it’s all synth on purpose to give you a nostalgic vibe. 

CHM: I know you’ve also done a score for a project on Disney+ or National Geographic, right? 

RMD: Yeah, so it is a National Geographic-Disney film, but it premiered on Friday on linear television, live TV, which is neat these days to actually have something do that first because a lot of times it just goes straight to the streamer. This one, because it was a special, they did it on Friday Primetime TV National Geographic first and then it’ll go to Disney+ eventually; I’m not exactly sure when, but probably soon. 

Photo courtesy of Roman Molino Dunn, repped by White Bear PR.

CHM: Was this your first time scoring a natural documentary? 

RMD: No, no, I had done ’em in the past but never for National Geographic. As we talked about before, I’ve [been] a vegan for a very long time, so to do a nature documentary for National Geographic, it’s kind of the pinnacle of nature docs. It was very humbling and I was grateful to work with them because I remember reading National Geographic as a kid. And I’ve done other nature documentaries, but nothing as big as a National Geographic production. 

CHM: Can you kind of give a little bit of a preview of what’s to come in your score,? I like doing this to put composers on the spot, so could you describe your score for that in three words or less? 

RMD: I might need more than three words, but in general, it’s orchestral, organic and grand introspective — because it’s big, big music. There are sweeping outdoor shots, so you need large orchestral music. But the film is really about the animals of the national parks and how they were bordering on extinction when the national parks were founded and because of the national parks, the numbers were able to get greater and they didn’t go extinct a lot of these animals. So it’s a film about like hope for the animals. So I had to present that, but it’s also about America’s national park; so there are very Americana, orchestral things that you’ll hear in their pastoral big orchestral stuff. So it runs the gamut, but there are no synthesizers in that one.  

CHM: I also noticed that your music is on Apple Music. So for somebody like me, if you just wanted to introduce me to some of your music, do you have certain albums or maybe scores that you would recommend to me? Let’s call it your “Essentials” playlist.

RMD: I really love my score for everything honestly, but I should make an essentials playlist [smiles] — I think you’ve just woken me to something because I’m the kind of person who releases most of the music for a film. A lot of soundtracks don’t do that; they’ll like get rid of the more ambient, or moody pieces. I tend to leave all of that stuff there because there are certain people that like that and I wanna do the film justice and create the vibe.

So that does turn off some people when listening to it on Apple [Music] because you have to be a film score lover or have seen the picture to enjoy it. So there’s an album that I released called Hybrid Heart that’s on Spotify [and] Apple Music which has tidbits of a bunch of different films but no full scores with like the moody [and] ambient pieces in there.

But of course, most composers will tell you their favorite thing to listen to is whatever their most recent project is [smiles]. I won’t do that because Living Wild: Animals of America’s National Parks [because] the soundtrack’s not up there since it just came out and they don’t always release all the music for documentaries, which is what it is and it keeps people watching it, which is cool. 

So I wouldn’t say I have an “essentials” [album], but I think I’ll put together an essentials playlist. People really love the Snakehead score because it’s so very different and I got some really great writeups on wonderful sites for that one. My other soundtracks have been reviewed well., but that one seemed to be somewhat of a standout among the critics if we can use that as a litmus test. 

Photo courtesy of Roman Molino Dunn, repped by White Bear PR.

CHM: That kind of spawned another question for me, do you ever look at reviews? 

RMD: Yes. First of all, the score in general very rarely gets reviewed except by people like yourself who wanna speak to the composer. It’s such an afterthought for most people’s reviews, unfortunately, but it is what it is. We’re working towards the narrative as a whole, so that’s our job and I’m okay with that.

If the film did well, the music did well because it served its function to make the film do well. So it’s not something you expect, but my two biggest moments probably were when Roger Ebert [the website] actually reviewed the music [and] when The Hollywood Reporter or Deadline actually mentioned the music. And that’s why Snakehead kind of stood out to me, because that one got people [to] actually mention the music — so it’s probably a good sign. That was one of the scores that resonated with audiences the most outside of the film.

So I do read them [reviews]. I’m very much looking for [any] mention of it [my score]. Most people just set up Google alerts and then if you get one, you’re definitely gonna check it. 


Living Wild: Animals of America’s National Parks premiered on the National Geographic channel on September 7. 

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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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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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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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