Sarayu Blue

On the importance of depth and authenticity


Talent: Sarayu Blue @sarayublue

Photos: Simrah Farrukh @simrahfarrukh

Fashion: AmbiKa "B" Sanjana @stylebyambika

Makeup: Aaron Paul @aaronpaulbeauty for Exclusive Artists using Dior Beauty

Hair: Erika Vanessa @erikavanessa for Exclusive Artists using Intelligent Nutrients and T3 Micro

Fashion Assist: Leksy Lindau @leksylindau, Sarah Gibson @sarahmgibsonn

Video: Ryan Feng @justfeng

Location: Zevarra @zevarralofts

When I first met actress Sarayu Blue, it was on the red carpet in March 2018 for Paleyfest, celebrating her new comedy I Feel Bad. Looking at the press lineup on the carpet, I was the only Asian woman—let alone, woman of color—waiting to speak to the cast and creatives of the first network series centering around a biracial-South Asian family. For most journalists of color, it is a daunting experience being at the end of the press line, hoping to get some sort of coverage from the actors. But Blue made it a point to chat with me.

“I do remember it so distinctly,” Blue tells me over Zoom before her Timid photoshoot the next day. “It was so lovely talking to you.”

Blue and I would meet on red carpets after that, where she would still make sure to stop for me. The conversations would be about her projects and then lead into the progression in Asian representation in the industry that she has been a part of for the last twenty years. Throughout her career, Blue has used her platform to highlight projects centering on Asians and women of color.

When asked about the burden she must feel having to constantly be the representative to a group as an Indian American actress, Blue tells me that she feels honored to be part of the conversation. “Any of us existing in this space is representation,” Blue explains. “That is visibility and that is enormous. I feel really honored that I get to be part of this conversation and be part of the movement. It’s really difficult to get these opportunities and it’s not something I take lightly. I don’t feel pressure because I feel so much love and support. How could I? I’m just grateful.”

Though I Feel Bad was canceled after one season—which Blue calls the “hardest breakup of [her] career”—she has been steadily working in Hollywood, with recurring and guest roles in the To All the Boys films, The Shrink Next Door, and Never Have I Ever. Blue is grateful for the work, but after the heartbreak of losing the leading role on a series, she feared she wouldn’t get another opportunity to star in a series.

That was until Expats came around.

Created by Lulu Wang and based on Janice Y.K. Lee’s 2016 bestselling novel The Expatriates, Expats follows the complicated personal lives of expatriates living in Hong Kong as they navigate through love, loss, and redemption. In the series, Blue plays Hilary Star, an American expatriate living with her husband David in a wealthy expat community. Their lives are seemingly perfect, filled with swanky parties, a personal chauffeur, and even a live-in domestic care worker who tends to their every whim. Of course, not everything is as it seems. Cracks in the marriage and in Hilary’s life appear as she struggles with the idea of motherhood, generational trauma, and coming to terms with her husband's affair. For Blue, this was a once-in-a-lifetime character to play.


“Hilary is a fascinating character study in a lot of ways,” Blue shares. “I [wear] my heart on my sleeve. I don’t really stay contained with a lot of ease and I’m such a soft heart, but Hilary is really the opposite. Hilary is contained. She is so controlled in what she shares and how she shows herself to the world. The image that she presents is so controlled.”

In the series, Hilary deals with the same situation many women face: the choice of being child-free in a world that sees women as “childless.” While her husband really wants to start a family, Hilary questions whether or not this is something she actually wants. It seems like everyone is trying to speak for her—whether it be David who tells her that when it’s their own child, “it’ll be different,” or her neighbor Margaret (Nicole Kidman) telling her that motherhood is a blessing. Even Hilary’s own mother tells her daughter that having a child brings purpose to the marriage telling her, “If you have no baby, you have no glue.”

Blue, who is child-free, can empathize with Hilary and finds what she goes through so interesting to explore. “I love watching Hilary really grapple with this question if she wanted to be a mom, because that moment is something that we often don’t, as a society, give space to give breathing room to this idea of ‘Do I want to be a mom?’ I think the idea of this question versus the assumption [that we should have kids] is a really important storyline that we get to see depicted and that's so beautiful and so rare. I know there are people who have their opinions about that and I know there are people who totally support that, but, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. It’s my life, but it’s an interesting question for sure.”

In many cases, women who choose to be child-free are typically depicted in the media as “career-oriented,” “strong,” and “cold.” They are rarely afforded the concept of being nurturing and affectionate. Though Blue does nail the stoic persona of Hilary, she also beautifully captures her vulnerability, pain, and tenderness.

“Hilary is very raw,” Blue reveals. “It’s very visceral and vulnerable work. Certainly, in a lot of ways, one of the hardest roles I’ve ever played—and I say that in the best way. It’s what we, as actors, often dream of. A role to really chew on and get to know and get to show all the range and the abilities we really have.”

Co-star Jack Huston, who plays Hilary’s husband David, praises Blue’s performance in the series, calling her “electrifying.” He tells Timid, “When we got down to the work, it was instantly natural [and] free, which is only the case when working with such incredible talent. With her, the work feels exciting. She is always willing to go that extra mile and It’s such a treat working with someone of Sarayu’s caliber. She absolutely shines in this series.”

Hilary wasn’t initially written as a South Asian woman, let alone a woman of color, in the book. After Blue was cast, she worked closely with Wang and writer Gursimran Sandhu to fully flesh out her identity as an Indian American woman to form Hilary, bringing about a cultural specificity and nuances to the character that felt authentic. It also introduces a South Asian family and their dynamics that shape Hilary’s perceptions of marriage and motherhood. Blue says she really had to explore the physicality of Hilary’s restrained nature, alongside her ardent chemistry with the actors who played her parents (Sudha Bhuchar and Kavin Raz), in order to dive deep into the generational trauma and burden that was shown.


“[These things] allowed me to meet and grow to a role instead of bringing the role down to me, which was really important to me for Hillary,” says Blue. “It really required a lot of mindfulness, thoughtfulness, and sincere authenticity. We really did our best to really honor her story.”

The reception for Hilary’s journey has been positive from both critics and the Asian community. As each episode drops weekly, Blue is moved by the supportive messages she receives from friends, family, and her followers on social media. “It’s been incredibly moving to see that I feel so seen and that people are responding to this character in a way that I hoped they would,” Blue shares tearfully. “I hope that continues and the role is resonating. It just feels like I’m an actor for the first time in a long time.”

Throughout our conversation, we both choke up at times when talking about Blue’s struggles and triumphs in the industry. Despite the hardships, she has remained optimistic and driven through it all, joking that “this acting thing has to work out” because “I’m not good at anything else. I have no backup plan.” It’s this drive and resilience that has given her the confidence to fight for her roles, despite what Hollywood’s expectations may be.

“I did early on and always had a very strong fight for the roles that my white counterparts get,” says Blue. “This very strong pull to say ‘why can’t I do it? I want you to say it to me. Tell me why can’t I do it? It’s a conversation I’m really adamant about having regularly because I think there are so many subconscious hang ups that keep the system in place, which means it’s keeping a lot of people from marginalized communities from not getting opportunities. My thought is always ‘Why can’t I read for the role that is right for me?’”

Blue grew up in a family of storytellers with both her parents being established writers in the literary world. Her father, Dr. Velcheru Narayana Rao, is Telgu and South Asian Studies professor and translator. Her mother, Malathi Nidadavolu, is a writer and literary critic whose work has been recognized by Telugu scholars. Like many immigrant parents, Blue’s family made sacrifices in order for their daughter to live her dream. She credits her tenacity and fortitude to her “strong-headed mother.”

“Her story is my story in many ways,” Blue says softly. “My identity [and connection to that] goes back so much to my mom and how she's a part of everything I do.”

Her mother is the reason that Blue tries to avoid auditions with stereotypical accented roles that would disrespect her heritage and everything that her mother went through. It’s why Blue aims for characters who have more depth and humanity to them. She loves finding the messiness and imperfections in them, while also discovering “what makes us us.” It’s why playing Hilary was so monumental to her as well. She got to really explore Hilary’s vulnerability, strengths, and fears—and finally be the star that Blue deserves to be.

“It was going to take a Lulu [for me] to get Expats,” Blue reveals. “I don’t think anyone saw me as a lead after [I Feel Bad]. I think the person I am now is deeply grateful because it’s pretty rare to get to do that now. I get text messages, emails, and DMs constantly saying, ‘You’re doing it.’ I feel just vulnerable. It’s so weird, but it’s like every day I [ask myself], ‘Is this really my life?’ and I just feel grateful to everyone who helped me have this.”

top-FITE FASHION, jacket-SARA WONG, earrings-ALEXIS BITTAR, rings-IVAR