Food Is Sarayu Blue’s Love Language

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Sela Shiloni, Getty Images

Sarayu Blue had the time of her life shooting Expats alongside Nicole Kidman in Hong Kong. In the long-awaited miniseries created by Lulu Wang for Prime Video, Blue plays Hilary Star, an American expatriate. Hilary is a woman of exquisite and expensive taste, dressed and manicured to the nines like a character out of Shondaland; a defensive façade meant to fortify herself while in the midst of an unraveling marriage with her husband David (Jack Huston). Living next door to another American couple, Hilary gets caught in the middle of a conflict between fellow expats Margaret (Kidman) and Mercy (Ji-young Yoo) following the loss of a child. Blue says it was important to Wang and Kidman to bring these three women to life in “strong, intelligent, layered, and nuanced” ways as they navigate being lost in translation between their families and relationships in Hong Kong.

Blue has appeared in numerous supporting and guest roles over the last few years, from playing Trina in the To All the Boys universe to voicing Diya Dinkley on Velma. She was also front and center in I Feel Bad, the short-lived Amy Poehler-produced NBC comedy, but it’s her moving, powerful performance as Hilary that makes Expats feel like Blue is breaking out into a role that could be an awards season contender. Zooming from her home in L.A. with her “assistant,” a little lap dog named Otis, a warm and bubbly Blue reflects fondly on her experience deconstructing Hilary, a case study in midlife introspection, the pressures to have children, and generational trauma. “The show is still embedded into my soul,” she says.

What was it like working with Nicole Kidman?

You sort of have to do this thing where you’re like, Oh my God I just got a job working with Nicole Kidman. But in order to do your job, you have to actually be present and be in this scene with her. I can’t build her up into this other ethereal being. Nicole connects and demystifies herself and is willing to just say, “Let’s act together.” It was really powerful. I’ll never forget the chemistry we had. I think that’s palpable in our show. I can’t even believe this is my life.

Can we talk about Hilary’s wardrobe? So many beige, asymmetrical pieces and heels. How do you interpret the way she’s fashioned in relation to her character and arc through the season?

Our costume designer, Malgosia Turzanska, brought such an elevated brilliance to Hilary and I always feel like the fitting, hair, and makeup is the space that ends up informing the character so much. She’s very put together. And to have her all in neutral colors was a really big part of that. We see her in these very sleek looks with no hair out of place, she’s pristine. I mean, the heels that Hilary wears are no joke. If you’re in those heels, you’re walking a certain way.

Let’s get into the Taste Test — where do you get your best culture recommendations from?

As somebody who feels pretty regularly uncool and out of the loop, I would say social media is a really big source of information for me, but also all my friends. My friends are very cool and hip and have their fingers on every pulse. Especially friends with kids, because their kids know what’s happening.

Which five celebrities would you invite to a dinner party?

Does anyone not say Beyoncé? But then I feel like I would just stare in awe. I really loved working with Madhur Jaffrey on I Feel Bad. She’s iconic and I would definitely want to spend some time with her because I’m obsessed with her stories. I’m also obsessed with Lupin, so I would say Omar Sy. If I could, I would also invite the whole cast of Everything Everywhere All at Once and the Daniels, because I’m so obsessed with that movie. I want to talk to people who have lived, you know what I mean? Give me those stories.

What’s the last meal you cooked for dinner?

Okay, so I actually am not a person who cooks. I’m not capable of such skills. That said, I will say the last thing I made is something that I’m really working on, which are my mom’s dosas. I still have not perfected her masala potatoes, but I’ve got the dosas down pretty well. I have yet to make them the proper size though … mine are mini baby dosas, but many baby dosas are my superpower. Oh, and I do make great scrambled eggs. But my husband does all the cooking, he’s a really talented cook.

It feels impossible to replicate my mom’s cooking.

My mom always says, “Do better!” She gives me measurements using fingers, like “use two to three fingers.” Not helpful! [Laughs.]

What is your pre-filming ritual? 

It really depends on the role. Music plays a big part in everything for me, I love making little playlists. Usually the playlists are just to help me get into the feel of a character. That tends to happen more with a character like Hilary when there’s a lot of intensity. With comedies it’s a little more lighthearted and fun for me, it just feels easier for me to access.

What was on Hilary’s playlist?

I have to think back … we started this project in 2021! “Let Me Let You Go” by Mega, “Ring Off” by Beyoncé, “Lost Souls” by H. E. R., “Let Me Let You Go” by Mega, and “Ex-Factor” by Lauryn Hill.

What is something you’ll never, ever watch no matter what?

Anything scary. I am such a baby chicken, it’s terrible. When my husband and I were dating and something scary would come on, he would get so confused because I would mute it.

I kept thinking Expats would lean more into psychological-thriller territory through the season.

I can understand that. Lulu has a way of finding moments that are really intense, but then she’ll pivot and break the tension. So it never feels so terrible to watch, which is part of what makes Expats so compelling.

What’s the best piece of gossip you’ve ever heard?

So, I don’t think Nicole knows this story. When I got my role on Expats, one of my friends said she was a part of how Nicole and Keith met each other. She was at this gala, in the bathroom with her friend. And she heard this little call for help from a stall. The door was jammed, and when my friend helped to open it, Nicole Kidman came out. So she was like: “Basically, if I hadn’t helped her get out of the bathroom, Nicole might not have gone back to the table, and Nicole and Keith might not have met that night.” I should ask Nicole to confirm.

I have no idea what I would do if I opened a stall door to Nicole Kidman. Sounds like the worst time to ask for a selfie?

I know right! But she probably would have been incredibly gracious about it. Because she’s Nicole.

Favorite game to play?

I love gin rummy, which my parents taught me when I was little. They play it in a very specific way, and then when I went to India, my uncle, an expert in gin rummy, taught me the actual game over whiskey — well, I was 10, so I wasn’t actually drinking the whiskey. I swear, the game is now ingrained in my body the way poker players play. So if anyone ever wants to play, I’m annoying to play with. Because I am good.

Are you a competitive person in general?

Yeah, I wish I wasn’t, but I just get so caught up in it. I’m not a sore loser by any stretch, but I do get into the gaming of it. I’m a Pisces, but everyone’s always surprised because I’m so fiery. It must be the Indian in me.

Name a book you couldn’t put down?

I’m currently reading a book called Happy by Celina Baljeet Basra. It’s about a Sikh cabbage farmer who’s working at a not particularly profitable job at an amusement park and saves up enough money to make it to Italy. A delightful ride.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

The best advice I’ve ever received is to slow down. You know, do one thing at a time. I think that I really liked to believe that I was a great multitasker. But what I realized was I was actually doing a lot of things, but not fully. If I’m watching a show and texting, I’m not really watching the show and I’m not really texting. Slowing down and doing one thing at a time has been really great for me. When I do it, it’s invaluable.

How about the worst advice?

When I came to L.A. to first start working this “agent” — I’m putting that in quotes because I’m not totally sure about this person — they were like,Don’t smile, because then you can maybe play Latina.” I knew it was horrendous advice in the moment, and immediately was like, Well … you’re shady. Any advice that steers you away from being who you are, being honest, and taking care of yourself is bad advice, in my opinion. We all need to be in spaces where we’re allowed to be who we are and do so safely.

What would your last meal be?

My mom’s cooking, hands down. Anything my mom would make. I feel really grateful because she lives really close to me. Her cooking is so unique, you can’t get it in a restaurant. South Indian food is also not as common in restaurants as North Indian food. Food is such a love language.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Food Is Sarayu Blue’s Love Language