With ‘Expats,’ Sarayu Blue Firmly Plants Her Flag

“Expats” star Sarayu Blue remembers the first time imposter syndrome bowled her over.

She was on set for David E. Kelley’s “Monday Mornings” with the “inimitable” Alfred Molina, who just performed a big speech in a key scene.

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“We got done, and we were walking to our rooms and he turned back and he said, ‘Was that all right?'” Blue recalled in a conversation with IndieWire. “And I looked behind me cause I thought, ‘Well, he can’t be asking me, who the hell am I?'”

After assuring Molina that he was “brilliant,” Blue remembered realizing: “In that moment, I thought ‘Oh, we never quite release that impostor syndrome.’ We always will check. ‘Did I get that? Did we get it?’ It was a beautiful moment, and I love him so much.”

Going into “Expats” with Nicole Kidman, Blue was experienced at working with big stars and at leading her own TV show. She was part of the main cast in both “Monday Mornings” and “No Tomorrow,” then led Aseem Batra’s “I Feel Bad,” which was canceled by NBC after on season in 2019. But Blue has been a working actress for over 20 years, easily recognizable to TV viewers in particular since she’s acted in roughly 40 shows. Still, a project like “Expats” — which earned an A- from IndieWire’s Ben Travers — has her speechless.

“I probably cry multiple times a day because the magnitude of it feels kind of hard to believe,” Blue said. “I also feel incredibly thankful for the Desi community that we are building and continuing to build, and to see the support be so vocal and kind and generous and meaningful.”

Like most South Asian American actors, Blue struggled to find roles either written for or accepting of her early in her career. Even though she caught the acting bug as a teenager, she stoked it during a semester off from college, and then at graduate school at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.

“This was a world where even I could play Maggie the cat from ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,'” she said. “Theater was always for me more open-minded. I think they still had a long way to go and they still have a long way to go, but my first job out of grad school was playing Varya in ‘The Cherry Orchard’ at Yale Rep, and in grad school, I was able to play Belle in ‘A Christmas Carol.’ It felt really exciting, to stretch and grow and have range, just a dream come true.”

Onscreen, Blue said most of the roles she’s played or been cast in were written for Indian actors — including a handful that required doing an accent she doesn’t have and which many South Asian performers have since deemed an offensive stereotype — like “Monday Mornings,” or rewritten once she got the part, like “I Feel Bad’ and “Blockers.” Her character in “Expats,” Hilary Starr, was rewritten to be Punjabi-American.

“I just didn’t even know that was possible, I’d never dreamed that big,” Blue said. “Lulu (Wang) and our wonderful writer Gursimran Sandhu brought that element to Hilary, which is just– This experience is unparalleled, to have such a dimensional, layered, nuanced, petty, flawed, scared, strong woman. It’s just really incredible.”

“I Feel Bad” and “Expats” in particular gave Blue and the shows’ respective creative teams more opportunity to build out those characters’ backstories. Later in “Expats,” Sudha Bhuchar and Kavi Raz guest star as Hilary’s parents, which got Blue thinking about the previous generation of South Asian actors she worked with over the years.

“We look at Madhur (Jaffrey), we look at Sudha, we look at Kavi — and I had these moments like, ‘If I had to pound the pavement, imagine their experience?'” Blue said. “Here are people who are so extraordinary and they deserve opportunity after opportunity, and they just never got to build these careers and develop the names that they so, so, so deserve.”

Sarayu Blue (Hilary Star)
Sarayu Blue in “Expats”Courtesy of Prime Video

Even with that added perspective, Blue’s trajectory feels immense — and hasn’t been easy. She cut her teeth repeatedly as a guest star and maintains immense appreciation for everyone in the same boat, while also absorbing examples like Molina, who she said was always prepared, punctual, and kind.

“I always say if you want to see more diversity award shows, start giving awards out to the people who are doing the under fives, because it’s much harder to do a role that’s not written in such a fleshed out manner than it is to do a lead,” Blue said. “Unfortunately in our industry, if you’re not famous or on a certain level, a lot of times you get treated cruelly, disrespectfully, as though you don’t matter — and that is something I don’t wish on anyone in the world.”

On “I Feel Bad,” she set out to lead by example, and after its cancellation the actor recalls going through “a deep grief, loss, heartache experience,” mainly because after earning a coveted network series lead (only the second South Asian woman to do so, after Mindy Kaling), it seemed impossible that it would happen again.

“I hit a point where I thought ‘I don’t know if I can get the boulder up the hill again. I don’t know if I have that fight left in me,'” Blue said. “Then when [“Expats”] came along, I said to Lulu: ‘You have to understand: I can’t even believe this is real.’ To get a second lead, to have it be of this magnitude, to have it be such an amazing character with such a saga. It can’t get better than this. My literal dreams are true right now. And I have been through enough life to know not to take any of it for granted.”

“Expats” is streaming on Prime Video with new episodes weekly.

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