Midnight Mass's Rahul Kohli is making his own superheroes

rahul kohli
Rahul Kohli reflects on vital Midnight Mass roleGetty Images

Some actors are the unwitting subjects of Internet thirst. Though their talent is undeniable, this thirst seeps into every role they do regardless of that character's actual, well, character (we're looking at you, Daemon). In Rahul Kohli's case his characters have also been unyieldingly charming, even in their most dour and depressed (or brain-eating) moments.

The fan fervour for him is exacerbated by his off-screen persona, which is something like an earnest himbo: goofy but passionate, nerdy but erudite (and expletive-laced), crafted through his Extremely Online Twitter presence. "It's so funny. It's interpreted so weirdly," Kohli told Digital Spy.

His detractors attack him with the same line: "'Oh he's always updating, get a f**king job.' No, I'm using Twitter because I'm on the job."

His job, as many an actor's does, involves a lot of waiting around. "When you see me on Twitter, it's usually because I'm working. I'm sat in this room waiting for the knock to be like, 'We're breaking for lunch' [or] 'We might be ready for you in the next four hours.'"

Still, in conversation he is similar to his online persona, only dialled down a little — after all, the internet tends to exaggerate all of our qualities. It is this dichotomy between laissez-faire and deeply thoughtful that makes Kohli such an incredible actor.

And yes, he is incredible. For those worried that his foray into a true leading man role in Next Exit might reveal cracks in his skill, there's nothing to fear. As the devil-may-care but traumatised Teddy, Kohli brings a depth that belies his own dexterity. It's a film whose themes are wrought with cerebral and emotional resonance, ripe for the picking over by journalists.

Giving us pause, however, Kohli tweeted before his press day for Next Exit that he "will mostly be avoiding thoughtful questions about my character/process and hijacking them to talk about Warhammer, Star Wars, and miniature painting."

A journalist reading that might bristle — we have to ask those thoughtful questions — but he didn't actually avoid them, instead answering them with an unpretentious honesty. Of the dynamic between actor and journalist, he says: "I think you're in the right and I'm in the wrong.

"You can't trust actors because another person you speak to will be like, 'This has meaning to me as a writer or as an actor. I don't want to answer what my favourite colour is or whether I believe in ghosts.'

"I'm also probably in the wrong because if you make something, you're the face of it. You have a responsibility to talk about these things. You can't just have fun in the sandbox and then cash in the check and f**k off."

rahul kohli as sheriff hassan in midnight mass

That responsibility is something Kohli takes seriously, and speaks to with self-awareness. Of playing the "political hot potato" of Sheriff Hassan in the lauded Midnight Mass, he knew what his character represented: "Islam, Islamophobia, September 11th, the police at a time when we were talking about Black Lives Matter and defunding police.

"Everyone else [in the cast] got questions like, 'What's your favourite vampire film?' and then with me, it was like, 'During BLM, how do you feel about playing a police officer?' and I was like, 'Oh my god'.

"But I played that character, I benefited from playing that character. It was my duty to answer those questions, and not be like, 'I want to talk about Star Wars'. It would have been a disservice."

rahul kohli and katie parker in next exit

Next Exit shares Midnight Mass' intensity of themes, but Kohli took the role of Teddy because the characters "couldn't be more different. Hassan was a stoic, not very talkative man who had demons but didn't really wear his emotions on his sleeve.

"Teddy was kind of completely the opposite. I wanted to do that for no other reason than: as an artist, I just wanted to try something different." It isn't just novelty, however, that solely drives Kohli when he chooses his roles. "I just wait to care. I do it when I feel like I can bring something different or interesting to it."

Interesting can mean a lot of things, but one factor for Kohli is that the role is truly neutral, which both Teddy and his upcoming role starring alongside Criminal Minds’ and Homeland’s Mandy Patinkin in Career Opportunities in Murder & Mayhem (his role in the The Fall of the House of Usher has yet to be revealed). "They are neutral. That's my MO. I'm okay with other actors wanting to make it more culturally significant, having more nods to our culture, but I take them out when I can. I think that's more cutting edge, for me," Kohli emphasises.

"I don't want to have to justify my presence: 'because, oh it's in the script, it says Indian.'"

rahul kohli as owen in the haunting of bly manor

His goal? A true proliferation of diverse storytelling and rejection of typecasting. "There are stories that need to be shared from those communities. There are also roles out there that should be inclusive," ie, not assumed that they are for white Christian men.

"I tend to lean towards neutral when it comes to representation. That's my thing. People think that's weird, but that's where I need to be because I saw a gap. And that's where I belong."

Of Kohli's recent roles, only one has been specifically written with ethnicity and religion in mind. The thing that truly unites his characters is a kind of internal tragedy. Yet, Kohli says, "All of those roles, despite the content, have been fun.

"Bly Manor, as traumatising and sad as the story is, I remember mucking around with Ben and Amelie, playing Mario Kart. And Midnight Mass was the same to me. Once we were getting into the real meat of those scenes, we were running around with the guns and everyone had blood on them and stuff like that. It's just, it's fun. It's fun."

With Next Exit, with its intimate main cast of two (he is joined by Bly Manor co star Katie Parker), he recalls "sitting in a car, which was the only place where we had heating, talking and messing around and trying to make [Parker] laugh."

rahul kohli and katie parker in next exit

This isn't to say Kohli is oblivious to the importance of either of those shows, or the themes dealt with so poignantly in Next Exit. On the contrary, it's when he does press that the heaviness comes back into it. "When the world interprets it," he says, is when the full weight of the roles he's playing come into sharper relief.

"You're like, 'Okay cool, people are connecting with it!'," Kohli adds, proud of the fact that the roles he's taken have done so, but still aware of the "disconnect" as he calls it between his experience on set and the impact of his performance.

It's no different in Next Exit. "It sounds reductive but to me, I made it a fun road-trip movie, where we were mucking around in the car. Now when I do press, people want to talk about suicide and the afterlife and trauma and I'm like, 'Oh, yeah'."

While it seems that, so far, the things that make Kohli care are connected to a deep sense of yearning — whether for love, acceptance, or answers to the unanswerable — it's hard not to wonder whether stepping into the franchises that he loves so much would also be on that list.

By now unsurprisingly, Kohli is relaxed about the possibility. "Being able to be in those worlds and represent characters in those worlds – it would be a dream, but again, I'm also not that f**king bothered if it doesn't happen, because I've got it pretty good with the stuff I've done.

"I have some wonderful relationships with some wonderful writers and directors who are making original stuff, doing their own thing. For me, working with a character that was an original, where we chose what he was like, that to me... Creating your own superhero — to me, it's the ultimate, and I've been fortunate enough to do that a few times."

Next Exit is available in the US to watch on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, and more. The Fall of the House of Usher will be out on Netflix in 2023.

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