‘Expats’ Interview with Actress Rabbani Kaur

Lulu Wang’s Expats took everyone by storm and delivered a scintillating finale. The six-part series about three strong women took viewers on a journey about how people deal with grief. Nicole Kidman portrays Margaret in the series, while Ji-young Yoo plays Mercy. Sarayu Blue plays the role of Hilary. However, they are not the only ones with hard-hitting stories. Episode 6 of the series introduces us to Sukhi (Rabbani Kaur), a young girl who is related to Hilary in a unique way.

Played by the supremely talented Rabbani Kaur, Sukhi is battling her own battles. She knows her situation, and although Sarayu’s character, Hilary, is rude, she maintains her composure. Kaur, who is steadily moving ahead in the industry, plays the role perfectly and even has a history of being an expat. I recently sat down with Rabbani Kaur over Zoom, and we talked about everything from her role in Expats to how she broke into acting and what it was like working with Lulu Wang and Sarayu Blue.

The Interview with Expats Actress Rabbani Kaur

[Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity. There are also spoilers ahead for Prime Video’s Expats. So if you haven’t caught up with the last few episodes yet, beware.]

Aayush Sharma: Okay. So first of all, massive congratulations on your show Expats, brilliant show, brilliant storyline. But before we discuss this, I would love to know about how it all started for you. Did you always want to be an actor or you realized that you wanted to make a career in this field as time passed?

Rabbani Kaur:  As time passed? No, definitely not time passed, I actually started off modeling and I knew that I wanted to be an actor actually when I was in India. So because I lived in Chandigarh for five years. I did middle school there. So I had one of my best friends, she used to act and model, and so seeing her, I was like, “Oh, this seems pretty interesting.”

Rabbani Kaur: So when I moved back to the US for high school, I did theater all four years, and then I decided that I want to move to California and really pursue this, because my coach was like, “You can actually act.” I thought that I couldn’t act at all, so that’s why I started modeling first, and so yeah, then my mom was like, get a degree at the same time, go to college there, Indian parents. So yeah, I did it all.

On the specific moment Kaur realized she wanted to be an actress

Aayush Sharma: You were born in the USA, then you came to India, just like you said, and you just told us you actually forayed into this field in India, when you were in India. So what was that moment when you realized, okay, this is something that I want to do, and did your learning about your different cultures help you in achieving your goal of being an actor?

Rabbani Kaur:  Yeah, so they had just introduced theater to my school in India back in eighth grade, but I actually do have a very specific moment. So that same friend of mine, her dad was directing a short film, and so she was like, “Why don’t you just come audition, see how it goes?” And I was in eighth grade at that time and I was a very quiet kid, extremely shy. So I did the audition and even the camera couldn’t pick up my voice. I was so quiet. My best friend was looking at me from the side and she’s like, “Rabbani, speak up a little bit more,” and I was like, I am. She’s like, “We can’t even hear you in the camera.” But that was a moment where I was like, this seems like something interesting, something fun, and ended up pursuing it.

On the audition process for Expats

Aayush Sharma:  Now, coming to Expats, before talking about your character, I would love to know about how you got to know about this role and what was the audition procedure like?

Rabbani Kaur: Yeah, so I actually auditioned for this back in November 2021. So because they were filming this show, in and out of COVID and everything, so they were already in the process of that, because my character comes on in episode six, and so they were casting for me and then my co-star Rajiv [Sharma], who plays my brother on the show, which everyone will see soon. But yeah, I auditioned for this back in November 2021. I actually had the callback on my birthday in December, and then I didn’t hear anything for another month, and I was like, oh, I didn’t get it. And then my manager sends me a text asking me a question, and then I didn’t hear back again for another month. And I was like, okay, is it a yes? Is it a no?

Rabbani Kaur:  And then I was sitting in class because I go to college here, I was sitting in class and I get a call from the fittings people at Expats, and they’re like, “Oh, are you free in two days? We need you for fittings.”  I was like, for what? And they’re like, “Oh, for Expats, you booked it.” And I was like, oh. I was like, this is why my manager’s probably calling me, but I was sitting in class so I couldn’t pick up. So it was quick turnaround. But yeah, it took three, four months even for my character. But I just remember I started crying when I got the call because for me, Expats is my first big thing as an actor, and so I just immediately called my mom and started crying.

Aayush Sharma: Amazing of it. So although you have a relatively smaller role in the series, it is one of the most important ones. It gives viewers another perspective about Sarayu Blue’s character. So how did you approach the role and what kind of conversations you had with Lulu Wang about it?

Rabbani Kaur: Yeah, so I mainly just wanted to know her backstory, and I think it was honestly written so well, props to Gursimran [Sandhu] and even the way Lulu directed it, there wasn’t… Sometimes when something’s not written so well or the director doesn’t have a clear vision, then the actor’s really playing that game of building up this imaginary world. But I think Expats was already built so well, and my character, the biggest thing for me was just like, yes, my character is from India. She does have an accent, but it’s not the stereotypical accent that you see in American shows where they’ll just make an Indian person go have an Indian accent. It was like, she genuinely is from India, so she naturally has that dialect. And so that was what I wanted to properly portray.

Rabbani Kaur:  And so I actually got close with Rajiv [Sharma] who plays my brother on the show, so he was helping me at the same time. And then, yeah, Gursimran wrote it well, Sarayu was great to act with, even Sudha [Bhuchar] and Rasha [Goel], who were also my co-stars, and then Lulu was super respectful of everything. So it all just played together super well. I didn’t have to put in too much effort.

On Sukhi and Hilary’s story

Aayush Sharma: Great. That scene with you and Sarayu talking about your father was very emotional, that night both, when we saw you, I could see two very contrasting emotions, one from you and one from Sarayu. Hilary was visibly angry while your character was calm and composed trying to mend things. Take us through that scene because that is a very pivotal moment in Sukhi and Hilary’s story.

Rabbani Kaur: Yeah, it’s actually funny. I still haven’t seen it myself yet. So I’m waiting. I’m waiting. But it means a lot that you said that because I’m so nervous to see myself. But no, that scene, you’re right. There’s two different emotional trajectories, and it made it easy having such a talented co-star to act with because Sarayu brings Hilary so well in the sense where she brings that power. So for me to bring in Sukhi, naturally, I am pretty quiet and reserved. So when I approached Sukhi, I just tried to find qualities within myself to bring out in her, but also she is a very different woman from me. She is a young mother. The way that she may approach things is very different, but then she also doesn’t have any idea of the background of her father and all of that.

Rabbani Kaur:  So yeah, that’s where you get to see all the emotional aspects of it. But I think it was great. Sarayu and I talked on set, we introduced each other. We were like, we both have a scene together. In fact, she came to me, which was so sweet of her. And when you have a great co-star, magic happens honestly.

Aayush Sharma: I’ve seen the entire series and I could see, even that scene was for around five to six minutes or 10 minutes, but we could see the chemistry between you two. That was phenomenal, and I hope you see it and you’ll love it. You’ll love the scene and you’ll love yourself.

Rabbani Kaur:  I’m so nervous. So thank you.

On connecting with Sarayu Blue during filming

Aayush Sharma: And I recently got a chance to talk to Sarayu Blue and quickly realized that she’s such a beautiful human being and one thing that connects us. We all three are Indians. We have a certain background, and I was so happy when people like you or Sarayu, are doing such a phenomenal work. So it was such lovely talking to her. I just want to know what kind of relationship that you shared with her during the filming?

Rabbani Kaur:  Yeah, so I was only on set for three days, and we shot my scenes here in Los Angeles actually, because the character that’s in the storyline. But even though I was just on set for three days, like you said, she’s such a sweetheart. She is someone who will constantly support you, and even when we were going through, we went through our lines a little bit before the scene and everything, but yeah, she’s someone who’s so focused on her talent and her craft, I should say.

Rabbani Kaur: But no, I met her again after the screening, and she just such a… How do I say that? Just a ball of warmth and energy. She was just like, “Oh, I’m so happy to see you,” and it felt so sweet, and knowing that I got to play her half sister is just like, that’s, I love that. Couldn’t have asked for anything better.

On cultural differences between the US and India

Aayush Sharma: So I hope that you are watching the series as the episodes are airing. So in episode four, the scene where Sarayu’s character and her mother Brinder, in that, the elevator scene in which they talk about several aspects of Indian culture or traditions that are still going on, the stereotypical things of color, if you are too brown or too black, mothers are still asking this, still asking their daughters to apply some cream and all. Because you have seen both the cultures, you have seen in the US, you have seen in the India, what kind of difference that you saw when you were in the US, now that you’re in the US and when you went to India?

Rabbani Kaur:  Between the two cultures when I was living here and there?

Aayush Sharma: Yeah.

Rabbani Kaur:  Yeah, definitely a lot. I lived in India when I was, or I moved there when I was 10 years old. So I lived there during my pivotal years, almost like 10 to 15. But even then, yeah, I saw that there’s a lot that you have to adjust to, a lot that, what you can say, what you can’t say, what you can do, what you can’t do, especially with family.

Rabbani Kaur: And my mom has always been, she’s my best friend. So I had her, there was nothing that I couldn’t say to her or nothing that I had to be careful around. And then going into episode four, when they have that conversation about the makeup and the covering up of the bruises and all of that, that was something that I also saw in India, not in my family, but just among other people that we knew.

Rabbani Kaur:  And it was very shunned, very hush-hush. So I’m so happy they did that scene because there are so many things that are just very shunned. Even this whole idea where people just throw it away, the idea of wanting a son instead of a daughter, and it doesn’t get said enough but that’s such a big thing in India. In fact, when I found out that they’ll literally, essentially kill a daughter through a medical procedure, I was like, why is this not a bigger thing in India? That’s not right. So I’m so happy they did that scene and both of them, Sarayu and Sudha did it amazing, and then of course, Gursimran with her writing.

On her reaction to hearing Punjabi language on screen

Aayush Sharma: Amazing. In that particular scene as a Punjabi, how amazing it was for you to have Punjabi language at the forefront.

Rabbani Kaur:  So amazing.

Aayush Sharma: I also have roots from Punjab, and as soon as I heard Sarayu’s Hilary saying it, I felt so amazing.

Rabbani Kaur:  She killed it.

Aayush Sharma: So what was your reaction? What was your reaction when you heard that scene?

Rabbani Kaur:  I was sitting with my best friend, because we were at the screening and my best friend is half Persian, half Punjabi, and she says a line in Punjabi, and I look at her and I was like, where’s Sarayu? That was amazing. And even when I told my friends and family, I was like, you guys have to watch episode four. You won’t believe the amount of Punjabi that is in episode four. I love it.

Aayush Sharma: And the best thing about that entire sequence is that Sarayu is not a Punjabi, but the accent that she picked up, the tonal quality that she had, I was like, I told her that I had to pause the episode and go on internet to check if she had any Punjabi roots, because the way she was speaking Punjabi, it was so phenomenal, and I was so grateful that Punjabi is also getting the due respect that it deserves.

Rabbani Kaur:  Yeah, no, that’s one of the biggest things of this show, and her speaking Punjabi so well just speaks to her craft even more. But I’m so happy that they made her character Punjabi, because we need more Punjabi representation. There’s not enough. There’s barely any.

On relating to the show with the Expat experience

Aayush Sharma: Now when we talk about the series, the series just doesn’t talk about grief and loss, it also makes us realize how people leave their countries to work in a land that’s completely new to them, the challenges they face, the sacrifices they made. Has your view changed on the term Expats after working in a series like that?

Rabbani Kaur:  My view, I think because I almost experienced it when I was younger. It’s definitely opened my eyes to a much different perspective, that I will say for sure. And I think also having lived in India, because the way there’s, Essie on the show, similarly, we have help in India who almost become family to us.

Rabbani Kaur: And so that was something that I could really relate to, and I’m like, oh, it’s very interesting to see these three women being in Hong Kong, and even though I was 10 when I went to India, it still, I felt like a fish out of the water, and I just wanted to go home, the entire time. But I think it’s opened up a lot more, like a much different perspective, and I like that they did the three different backgrounds because it adds so much more like, oh, an American woman in Hong Kong’s going to have a much different experience than an Indian woman in Hong Kong.

On books, movies, and more

Aayush Sharma: Now, next set of questions are kind of rapid fire and would tell our readers a lot about you. Okay. Your top three movies of all time.

Rabbani Kaur:  Oh my gosh, okay. The Last Song with Miley Cyrus. I love it. A Star is Born, and then the new Spider-Man movie.

Aayush Sharma: Okay, so top three filmmakers that you want to work with.

Rabbani Kaur:  Everyone wants to work with Christopher Nolan. I love Christopher Nolan. Also, I’m a huge Steven Spielberg fan. And then I would love to work with Nitya Mehra.

Aayush Sharma:  Your three favorite books of all time.

Rabbani Kaur:  Oh, good question. Tuesdays with Morrie is a beautiful book, The Kite Runner, and Before the Coffee Gets Cold.

On what Kaur would be if not an actress

Aayush Sharma: . If you weren’t an actor, what would you have been?

Rabbani Kaur:  An entertainment lawyer.

Aayush Sharma: Amazing. Are you studying in that field as well?

Rabbani Kaur:  I came to college thinking that I would go into law, so I have a minor in law, but no, I’m actually studying production.

On playing Arya in Upside Brown

Aayush Sharma: Oh, nice. Amazing. So, while I was watching… I was reading about you on IMDB, so there is one show that’s still coming, I think you play Arya in that show.

Rabbani Kaur:  Oh, yeah.

Aayush Sharma: I’m forgetting the name of it. [Upside Brown] I actually, yeah, so I actually got to heard about this show through one of my friends that, you should watch it. Although I’m unable to find it anywhere in India, I have tried everything that, where to watch the show? But, okay, tell me more about it, because I’ve read this and it made me really curious to watch the show, but I couldn’t find it, but just tell me what’s the show about.

Rabbani Kaur: Yeah. No, I’ll tell the directors because it actually has not been released yet.

Aayush Sharma: Okay.

Rabbani Kaur: Yeah, it’s currently… So we shot the show two years ago, I want to say. And it’s basically a spin on The Office, but it’s like, an Indian-American spin on The Office. So it’s eight episode series and extremely comedic, extremely funny. It’s like this other family comes to stay with one of his best friends, and then they both tried to get their son and daughter married off.

Aayush Sharma: Typical Indian series where people are just, family just wants to marry their children.

Rabbani Kaur: They come to stay for a few days, and then it’s like, oh, might as well get them married off too. So yeah, it basically revolves around that. But I’ll tell them, I’ll be like, you should release it soon.

On convincing her loved ones about her intended acting career

Aayush Sharma: Yes. Amazing. So now actually, I just thought about a question. You are an Indian origin girl. You have lived here in India. It is really tough to make Indian parents understand that you want to go into the field of acting. So how did you do that and what was your parents’ reaction, when you said that, you know, I want to be an actor?

Rabbani Kaur: I think my mom has been extremely supportive. I think the tougher convincing was for my grandparents, my dada and my dadi. Because just my mom and I, so yeah, I think for me, especially because I am a very independent person, so I just showed my mom that, when we moved back to the US, hey, I’m signing up for acting classes. I’m signing up for these competitions, these auditions, this and that, while I’m sitting in Virginia because I’m from the East Coast.

Rabbani Kaur: And so I was doing everything on my own basically. And my mom always jokes, she’s like, “I was just your bank,” funding all these classes and everything. But at that time she thought that, okay, maybe it’s a hobby or something. But then because she saw me stick with it and when it finally came time for college and I was like, okay, yeah, I’ll go to California for college, but I’ll also pursue acting at the same time.

Rabbani Kaur:  And I think the longer, I basically just proved myself. And I think that’s the mentality I apply when it comes to my work as well. I don’t tell people what I’m up to, what I’m doing. When it happens, it happens, and you’ll see. So that was kind of how it was with my mom, when I’m signing up for things or when I got into college out here and I could go to California, I just proved myself that, yeah, I’m really serious about this and I’m going to figure it out.

Rabbani Kaur: But she’s been extremely supportive along the way, hasn’t said no, which I think is just such a blessing. I didn’t have to have that fight with her that, many South Asians do have to have, which is sad. And then she was also super supportive when it came to my grandparents. So my grandparents are actually very excited to watch Expats. Yeah, they’re excited to see, because my mom keeps talking about the fact that there’s a Sukhmani Sahib part in it. So we’re all Sikh, so they’re all very excited.

Aayush Sharma: Amazing. No. The reason that I asked that question, because most of the South Asian parents, Indian parents, they just can’t see their children taking a different path. Either you become an engineer or an IT professional or something. In my entire family, none of my cousins is a journalist or have taken it, everyone is in IT or audit or financial. I’m the only one. And after nine years, I think nine years of doing this, and now my parents are actually convinced that I’m doing something good, and I’m like, okay, that’s okay, that after nine years, you realized that I’m doing something good now. So no, the mentality of Indian parents, it’s still in their own generation, and Sarayu also said that. In her interview she just said that she was talking to her father and he just said that you’re doing nothing-

Rabbani Kaur: He’s like, Oh, nothing interesting.

On what’s next for Rabbani Kaur

Aayush Sharma: Yeah. So, I’m so glad that your mom and your family is now supporting you, and I hope that we see you in a lot of good series or movies in the future. My last question for you Rabbani is, what’s next for Rabbani Kaur? How are you… What are you doing next?

Rabbani Kaur:  Oh, the big, big question. Honestly, I’m just looking forward to graduate right now from college, and I think one of my favorite actors Ke Huy Quan who’s in Everything Everywhere All at Once, he said, whenever people ask him, what’s next for him, and even if, because sometimes you just don’t know what’s next for you. He is like, “We’ll see.” I don’t know what’s next for me right now, but I’m open to whatever’s coming and I’m still going to keep working hard, working on my craft. So I think that’s where I’m at right now. Yeah.

Aayush Sharma: Thank you so much Rabbani for joining me for this interview.

Rabbani Kaur:  Thank you.

Aayush Sharma: You should wait for the last episode, it’s amazing. You are amazing in it, and everyone is going to love it.

Expats is now streaming on Prime Video.

Have you watched the show yet? What did you think of episode 6 of Expats and the reveals? Let us know your thoughts on X @MoviesWeTexted.

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