Next Exit Star Rahul Kohli Opens Up About Confronting The Afterlife In New Genre-Changing Movie


Actor Rahul Kohli’s breakout role came on The CW series iZombie, an adaptation of the comic book series of the same name. Naturally, the title alone confirms how well the narrative embraced a horrifying premise, but anyone who’s watched the series knows that the horror was only part of it, as the premise paved the way for a variety of different stories to explore. His last movie, Next exitagain sees Kohli take part in a project that could surely rely heavily on more gruesome elements, only to have the actual film blend drama, comedy, and fantasy in the wake of its unsettling premise. Next exit premieres this weekend at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Next exit is described, “When a research scientist makes national headlines proving she can track people to the afterlife, Rose sees a way out and Teddy sees her chance to finally get there. These two strangers, all two harboring dark secrets, rush to join the doctor’s controversial team to study and leave this life behind.While Rose is haunted by a ghostly presence she can’t outrun, Teddy is forced to confront his past. As these two misfits humorously argue across the country, they encounter people along the way who force them to consider what really drives them.” caught up with Kohli to talk about what got him excited about the project, preparing for the role, and his upcoming reunion with Mike Flanagan on The Fall of House Usher.

(Photo: No Traffic for Ghosts LLC) I’m personally a big horror fan and I know you’re not even an average horror fan, you said you don’t like horror at all. The premise of this movie, the first five minutes is horror, but it’s really just a premise and you get a lot more story that’s a lot more complex and layered with fantasy, drama and comedy. Knowing that first pitch, that there are ghosts involved, that this is a bit of an afterlife, were you hesitant to join another horror-adjacent project?

Rahul Kohli: No, I don’t have a gender preference when it comes to what I work on. What I work on and what I watch are two very different things. And, also, my attitude towards horror has changed over time. Mike, in particular, has been a bit of a mentor to me and I’m recently – what was the last recommendation I’m supposed to make now? Oh I do evil Dead trilogy at Mike’s request. Because I had seen the first evil Deadbut i’ve never seen the other two and yeah, i’m actually enjoying… i’m not scared of horror, it was just, as a genre, i wasn’t particularly versed there -in and especially over the last about a year, I’d say I’m in training, and who’s a better teacher than fucking Mike Flanagan, right?

You worked with Mike and he built that reputation, whereas your director on that movie, Mali Elfman, doesn’t have that built-in heritage. How has working with her really won you over, sold you and excited you to participate in this directorial debut?

Well, that was Mali’s script. The script was presented to me during the shooting Midnight Mass and I found it very difficult to find time while I was on this project to sit down and read it but, when I finally did, I just thought she had written – specifically I knew Mali wanted me for Teddy and I felt like she wrote such a lovely, lovely guy and I really liked the material and we took a Zoom call based on that, and I never challenged Mali’s credentials, so to speak. I think I felt like the script spoke for itself, and I felt confident at that point in my own abilities, but knowing how we were going to shoot this and what we were going to do, that it would be feasible. I’ve never really had reservations, everyone is on their first experience. That’s how you feel afterward and Mali is just as great as everyone else I’ve worked with and I would work with Mali again and again and again.

Like it’s such an intimate movie, an intimate story, Katie and you [Parker] wear all that film and we see your whole journey, that evolution of that initial animosity, but then it gets hotter and then colder. In terms of preparing for this, you’re obviously not totally methodical and not keeping your distance from each other, but what was that process of preparing for building trust with each other as co -stars, but also honoring the fact that you disagree early on, and it’s only later in the picture that you develop this relationship together?

It might be experience, but my relationship to material and characters is changing now and I would say something like Midnight Massthis is what i was shooting three weeks before i started Next exit, I would like to have more preparation. I used a different dialect, I was very measured in my movements, it was a performance about control and it took a ton of preparation. I couldn’t ad-lib because if I wanted ad-lib I had to adjust the accent, so there was some type of… what’s the word I’m looking for? Not rigid, but I was very, very controlled and careful about what I was doing.

When it came to Next exitI used Next exit as an exercise in fluidity, in being natural, in being present in the moment, there was the possibility of ad-lib and I wanted a challenge that was the complete opposite of what I had just done. And so personally it’s probably not great to admit it, but I didn’t do any prep and it was an experience for me. It was just about being present in the moment and understanding the mission and I had a mission, or at least I reduced Teddy to a mission, which was the charm and the charisma. It was the most important thing for Teddy, it was charm and charisma and, even if they disagreed, his charm would end up breaking her to some extent.

So that was my main focus and to do that I just made sure I was there ready to, I don’t know, say something or peek at Kate because there was a little…was almost improvisation in the sense that Katie was playing this very closed character and I, Rahul, had fun trying to fuck with Katie and fart, I was trying to break that and I hoped that somehow it would do something and it did. Because we shot in sequence, pretty much, so the early parts of that shoot were really me hanging around and trying to get something out of Katie and annoy her and that was about it. We haven’t met before, try to massage these beats, we just played these roles here and there.

Since you mentioned Mike Flanagan, Midnight Mass, and Bly Manorand you are working on The Fall of House Usher with him now, for fans who know your work and know Mike’s work with his previous Netflix series, what do you think makes Fall of House Usher different and what do you think will surprise fans of this series compared to previous ones?

This one, to me, is Mike Flanagan’s graphic novel, that’s how I feel. It’s like the most colorful, loudest and most visible. I think Mike compared Bailiff to if Midnight Mass was a symphony, it’s a rock concert with Mike ripping on a fucking electric guitar. It really does look like that. Of all the things I even told her, [I’ve said,] “Hey, we should reach out to a publisher and get a graphic novel adaptation out at the same time,” because the material suits it so well. It’s so graphic and violent. It’s very different from what people are used to.

Honestly I know you said it was like Mike shredding on a guitar but now I’m looking forward to your character’s introduction where, that was a couple of years ago, but all of one shot they cut you in a room and you’re shredding on a guitar so hard that’s why the House of Usher is starting to fall apart.

It’s a good pitch, we’ll have to wait and see.

Next exit premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival this weekend.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can contact Patrick Cavanaugh directly on Twitter.

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