Rahul Kohli NEXT EXIT

By Andrew Dex
Based in a world where the afterlife has been scientifically proven by a company called Life Beyond, two broken strangers, Teddy (Rahul Kohli) and Rose (Katie Parker) descend upon a car ride through America to a very important appointment. One that will take them from this life, to what Life Beyond declares to be next. The ironic thing is that life isn’t always about the destination, it’s about the journey, and Next Exit is a perfect example of that. From iZombie, Midnight Mass and now NEXT EXIT, it’s clear that Rahul Kohli can’t escape the afterlife! STARBURST caught up with Rahul to discuss his character Teddy, what it was like to work with Mali Elfman, and much more!

**This interview contains some distressing subjects*

STARBURST: As this is Mali Elfman’s directorial debut, could tell us about what she was like to work with, and just what you think she brought to the process overall?

Rahul Kohli: The quickest way to answer that, and the best compliment I can give is it never felt like I was working with someone on their first feature. Mali was as capable and incredible and supportive as anyone else I have worked with who’ve been doing it for X amount of years. So Mali has an amazing future ahead of her, and yeah, it’s her film, it’s a very personal film, it’s something that not only did she direct but obviously she wrote. It’s a story that’s been kind of, permeating in her head for a long time. She has a deep connection to both Teddy and Rose, Mali is fantastic.

As well as being the director, she’s the writer for Next Exit. What was is like to work with someone who was in charge of so much of the movie. Did she just have this concrete plan of what was going to happen every single day?

Actually, no. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with people who are responsible for the material as well as directing. Mike Flanagan [Midnight Mass] is a good example of that. Obviously I’ve now worked with Flanagan a bunch, and there’s something, maybe it’s something that Mali and Mike both share, and it’s not super common to others, but in my experience, when you’re working with someone who wrote and directed something, they’re less precious. They’re actually more collaborative. You’re speaking to the person who wrote this character, who is directing you in the moment, and can see the scene physically play out and understand where changes need to be made now. To get it on its feet. There’s no red tape, you’re directly speaking to the same person and saying “Hey, is it OK if it goes this way?” Whereas, sometimes you’ll speak to one person who agrees with you and then that person speaks to the writer and they don’t necessarily agree with either of you, and that’s when you get a lot of conflict, and you have to kind of fight for it, whereas with someone like Mali or Mike they’re like “I love that, do it. Elevate the material, bring something new to it. Take it somewhere else.” It speaks to their confidence and their artistry.

Let’s talk about Teddy; when you first meet him, you notice that he kind of hides everything behind humour. Is that fair to say, and also, just for you maybe, how would you describe him on a surface level to someone who hasn’t seen the film?

That’s absolutely Teddy. Teddy will verbal diarrhoea on you and make you laugh. The thing with Teddy and Rose is that they’re both holding bags of shit. They both have demons, they are both in trouble, but they wear it very differently, and they wear different types of armour, they have different buffs. Rose’s is a barb wire do not cross, do not trespass sign on a fence. Teddy’s is “If I keep talking at you, and get you talking about X, Y, Z, and make you laugh, then we are avoiding the situation. We’re talking about everything but” and that in itself is another version of armour. That was him.


We read that you didn’t do as much prep for this role as you normally would on other projects. Can you elaborate on why you approached the movie this way, and what you think that it brought to Next Exit?

I have a habit of taking romance out of things. This is where I get very English, and working class about stuff, because I am, that’s my background. I undersell, I always have. The truth is that I did exactly what was required for Teddy, and I said that to Mali. That comment I made was said in front of Mali, and it was said without, it wasn’t a protest type, arrogant thing to say, it was more so that I wanted to bring something to this that I had not been able to do in other stuff. I wanted to be super free and loose with it. I had just worked on a character that required so much discipline, so much prep work. I had many consultants, dialect coaches and I was riding around with the LAPD, doing all of the things that, you know, the awards lot like to hear, and that’s what needed to happen. It wasn’t showy, I needed to do that much work in order to get Sheriff Hassan in Midnight Mass working for me. I wanted the next job to be the opposite of that. I’m still an artist at the end of day, I never want it to feel like a job, so the next thing I wanted to do, I wanted to try, “What if I didn’t do that? What if I didn’t wear a huge costume, and disappear behind a character, and an accent. And what if I was raw, and I showed up, and we trimmed all of the fat of acting, and we just lived in the moment, and I reacted to what was being said there and then. If I felt like saying something that wasn’t in the script, then I’m going to say it”, and that’s what I meant by I didn’t prep, in that respect. It was by design, I wanted Teddy to feel real, I wanted it to feel grounded, because that’s what I felt I wanted to bring to this project, and Mali knew that I was taking that approach, and if Mali didn’t want me to do it, then we wouldn’t have worked together. That was just my interpretation and it was something I wanted to experiment with.

You’ve worked in similar circles as Katie Parker before, but never this much right? What was it like to work directly opposite her, and what do you think that she brings to the character of Rose? 

Yeah Katie and I have a bit of history, I first knew her as Rose McIver’s roommate while we were making iZombie, so that’s how I know Katie, and when we did The Haunting of Bly Manor, we never had a scene together. She was in the episode that none of us were in, but there was enough familiarity that we were comfortable, and we knew each other straight away, and could have a long conversation about our mutual people, and stories. So we already got on, but in terms of actors, we had two very different approaches, and it worked. It makes sense now that it worked, I had just come off of a show, I was in one of the first shows where people were employed during a pandemic. Midnight Mass started right in the thick of the pandemic, it was setting the blueprint for how shows are made in the pandemic, that’s how early we were into that. So, by the time I had wrapped, I didn’t feel like I’d really had an isolated COVID period. I was straight back into work, all be it a new kind of work, whereas Parker wasn’t, and not a lot of the crew were either, it was their first job back. So there was a very different energy between the two of us. I was very much like, hitting my momentum, and I was just off on it, I had that energy of “What shot are we doing? Let’s do it!” I was already in that mode. So, we were coming at it with very different energies. Parker was bearing a huge weight of Rose, which, you know, she had to go to places emotionally that Teddy didn’t have to necessarily, or at least on the surface didn’t have too. Parker approached Rose with a ton of prep a ton of discipline, and professionalism. And I approached it with a ton of stupidity. Not wanting to bury my head in the script. I would rather just mess around, and get us talking and bantering in the car. It was similar to Rose and Teddy, we found a way to connect, I got Parker to start mucking around. When it came to the serious stuff, we were both there for each other. It became a very strong relationship.

We’ve never seen a road trip quite like this, what do you think being isolated in a car for such a long time brings to an intense story like Next Exit?

 It definitely aided with the journey. We were physically going on that road trip anyway, we were doing it for real while we were filming. We started off in Albuquerque, we’re in that car, stopping off at motels, sleeping at the motels we were filming at on locations, and then driving in that car, making our way through America down to California. What it did was, and at the end of the day, Parker and I, we were always in that seating position, it never really changed, we were always in that car with our snacks hidden under our chairs, and we just bonded, and it aided in making those two people connect, and feel real. After a while, especially when you’re on the roads, the crew disappear, because Parker is really driving. Mali is on a walkie talkie travelling in a car behind. Not only are you scene partners, it becomes your entire world. You two are now just in this car together. No one else is around, and you’ve just got the scene, and you’re getting direction through a walkie talkie. Your trust, and support for one another grows exponentially.


The turning point in this movie is when Teddy and Rose start to talk about ways they’ve attempted to take their own life in the past. It felt like they were on the same page from that moment. Do you have a similar moment in the movie, that you think massively changed the dynamic that we saw in the beginning? 

I think it happens a little bit sooner than that, when they run over someone. I think that’s the first time they look at each other, and I think in that moment, they kind of snap out of where they’re going, and are now just two people in this situation together. That allows then for them to have that conversation about the various attempts they have both made. And funnily enough, I’m pretty sure that that was one of the first scenes we shot. The first day. I think we did that first, which was weird. So, I think we started off with the fun connecting scene, and the running over, the priest, all of that was day one, and then we worked some scenes backwards and went back to the hostile stuff.

Next Exit, Midnight Mass, and, of course, Ghostbusters all deal with the afterlife. So, as you are an atheist, how interesting it is for you to be so submerged in stories like that? What do you take from diving head first into the afterlife as an actor?   

It’s weird. It’s chosen me. iZombie, zombies, The Haunting of Bly Manor, ghosts, Midnight Mass, vampires. More ghosts. I don’t know what’s happening, I’m not doing it, it’s not like I pick projects where I’ll only talk to them if it’s got werewolves or vampires in it. It’s just something that’s kind of happened. Even this isn’t my first indie feature, and it just so happens to have ghosts in it. Yeah, it’s weird, but I’ve broken that streak now, I think. Honestly, it doesn’t benefit or hinder me really, my own personal beliefs. The only thing it does, is that it’s a bit of a party pooper when almost all press junkets, for nearly all my work revolves around “Do you believe in ghosts? Do you believe in an afterlife?” which is the go to thing with my Mike Flanagan projects, and with Mali and Ghostbusters, and I kind of have the thud of “No, I don’t believe in anything”. That’s the only time it affects me, as I don’t have an interesting answer for when we do press!

Next Exit is out now on digital.