Lulu Wang and Sarayu Blue on Shooting That Elevator Scene in ‘Expats’

When “Expats” showrunner and director Lulu Wang was penning the script for episode 4, she featured a scene where Hilary gets trapped in the elevator with her mother. But little did she know, actress Sarayu Blue was claustrophobic. “That’s my biggest fear,” Blue says.

Wang tells Variety‘s Awards Circuit Podcast that she learned about Blue’s unease when the production, which shot during COVID, was in quarantine. “She had to be stuck in a hotel, a glass box for 21 days, so there were a lot of conversations about the panic, and it was really challenging,” says Wang. “I thought, ‘Oh, that’s going to be fun because I’ve written a whole episode where she’s stuck in an elevator.”

On this episode, Wang and Blue discuss their Prime Video series, and the reactions they’ve received from fans and family. Before that, the Roundtable discusses what’s going on with “Shogun,” plus the surprise success of “Baby Reindeer” and much more. Listen below!

Based on Janice Y. K. Lee’s 2016 novel “The Expatriates,” the six-episode Prime Video limited series “The Expats” follows an international community in Hong Kong whose lives are bound together forever following a sudden family tragedy.

Nicole Kidman portrays Margaret, a woman who has moved her whole family to Hong Kong. Sarayu Blue plays career-driven Hilary, whose friendship with Margaret is fractured by fate. And Ji-Young Yoo stars as Mercy, a carefree New Yorker just out of college who becomes entangled in the lives of the Hong Kong expat community.

At one point during the series, Kidman’s Margaret is at the morgue, waiting to learn if the body of a young boy is that of her missing son, Gus. Mercy discovers she is pregnant with David’s (Jack Huston) child. He also happens to be Hilary’s husband –  and Mercy is forced to make decisions about her future. Meanwhile, Hilary receives a visit from her mother, Brinder.

Hilary finds herself trapped in the elevator with her mother and neighbor. It turns into a moment where audiences learn about this contentious relationship, a judgmental mother who finds fault in everything Hilary does, right down to wearing the wrong shoes. Her mother hassles her about her marriage – suddenly it makes sense why she wanted to save her marriage. But it unmasks why Hilary isn’t too keen on having children and does not want history to repeat itself and suffer through the attempts to keep a family together, no matter what.

With Hilary’s past coming to light in the elevator scene, Wang says Blue didn’t ask for the story to be rewritten. Instead, she powered through it. “To be fair, there’s at least one wall down for the camera, and it did bring me some relief,” Blue says.

Blue says playing Hilary and working alongside Wang was the biggest opportunity of her career. She also relished getting to unpack Hilary over six months. “The storyline was so powerful,” Blue says.

Similarly, for Wang, she says the episode was one of her favorites to shoot.  “It was just us and the actors in a space, and that was it,” Wang says. “I wanted them to feel like a play; trapped physically and emotionally.”

The key to the scene was finding balance in tone. Wang says some moments didn’t make the final cut as she worked to find the line between humor and having the right size of comedy and a level of drama, while cutting back to Margaret and what she is going through in the morgue. “How do you do that without undercutting the seriousness of what’s going on?” says Wang.

During the podcast, Blue also discusses how some of her friends reacted to Hilary’s decision to go back to David. “Somebody texted me so mad about me going back like ‘How could you?’ ‘Why would you? I hate him,’” Blue recalls. “And I said, ‘But how many women do you know who do this?’”

Variety’s “Awards Circuit” podcast, produced by Michael Schneider, is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in film and television. Each week “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top film and TV talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post weekly.

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