Mali Elfman’s feature Next Exit, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, stars Katie Parker and Rahul Kohli as Rose and Teddy, a pair of travelers in a world where ghosts and the afterlife have been scientifically proven. The scientific proof of ghosts comes with a caveat—many people now seek to kill themselves. Rose and Teddy are new companions and co-travellers intending to complete this same journey to the afterlife as part of the scientific study proving the existence of ghosts.
In an interview, I spoke with Rahul Kohli about ghosts, Teddy, working with Katie Parker and director Mali Elfman, and a little Mike Flanagan project about some house named Usher.
I had the good fortune of interviewing Mali and Katie, so I have to ask you the same first question… do you believe in ghosts?
Rahul Kohli: No, I do not… but I found being an atheist doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t believe in ghosts, Mali corrected me, but so then I’m an extreme atheist. I don’t know what it is I any of the supernatural fantastical, all of its out there [FINISH]
Fair enough! How did you get brought on Next Exit?
RK: I was filming Midnight [Mass], and I received Mali’s script from three separate people Mali managed to get it to me through… Mike, Rose McIver, through Kimberlin Belloni, my manager. I was attacked three ways with a script that ‘I must read,’ which I didn’t actually read. I just didn’t have the time, we were in the thick of Mass and I couldn’t think about what we were… that show was one of the first shows to come back in the pandemic. I’ve been home, we weren’t allowed to travel, so we were very much bubbled. The last thing I wanted to think about was booking another job, but enough of the people I care about, brought my attention to it.
Mike followed up and was like, ‘hey, have you read it yet?’ So I sat down and read it, loved the script. And I really liked the character of Teddy and reached out to Mali and was like, ‘I’m in, but I’m also not in because you shoot [too soon] after I wrap mass, and for that reason I can’t do it to myself. I mean, I need a break. But Mali pushed production three weeks, to give me enough of a break to kind of decompress before I’d be back on the road, and back into getting tested for COVID and all of that jazz, so that’s how it happened.
Teddy is such an interesting character, he’s gone through tragedy to make some drastic choices. Tell me where he’s at in his journey.
RK: Teddy is on this journey for all the wrong reasons. I think he’s convinced himself that this is what he wants. This is his way of leaving a mark, to be part of something special. I think being abandoned by his father and not really succeeding in anything he did… I think Teddy is desperate for validation, and has somehow convinced himself that [this is] being a part of this ‘first manned mission to Mars,’ I guess is what how he sees it.
The truth, when push comes to shove, is what Teddy was really lacking was love, real human interaction. He just wasn’t living, right? That’s why I think it felt for me that his needs to get to the destination starts to wane, really. I think once Rose warms up to him there’s already a sense of like ‘we’re having a good time, I wish it would have been a few weeks later,’ but he’s there for the wrong reasons.
You both give great and moving performances here. What was your favorite scene to shoot?
RK: I enjoy the explosive scenes. From a cathartic point of view, I am a very kind of temperamental person. Those are very fun to me, when someone’s like, ‘okay, go for it.’ But for me, that was a moment that we ad-libbed, I ad-libbed in the moment, which I have a sense of pride over because it really tied the journey together. It was when Rose is checking in, the person checking her in calls her ‘Blossom,’ and the line as scripted is that Katie’s character just corrects them and says ‘Rose,’ and I decided to also say it at the same time.
That being an ad-lib, which wasn’t for laughs, it wasn’t ‘look at me,’ but it serves the story… it completed an arc for me for Teddy in respect of what he feels for her, but after coming from a very organic place that wasn’t scripted or planed. I kind of have a special thing for that day. In that moment. I really felt like I served the character properly.
I did really love that scene. Tell me about working with Mali and Katie on Next Exit.
RK: Oh, yeah. It was pretty much a two-hander. I’ve known Katie years before through Rose McIver. Katie and Rose were roommates while I was making iZombie, so I already had a very comfortable relationship with Katie and our banter. She was cast before I was, so knowing that I was going to basically spend three, four weeks on the road with Parker was a big reason for doing it.
And Mali came with such wonderful praise from people I knew-Rose knew her, Katie knew her, and Mike. Mali’s energy and approach to the work, in support and notes, it was just what you… you know, it’s an indie film. It’s an indie film being made in a pandemic, where most crew members were doing five or six different jobs to limit how many people we had on set. Not just for budget reasons, but for safety reasons, and things can get a little hairy. It can turn into guerrilla filming sometimes.
A lot of it was shot in natural light and you’re fighting the day, every day can be a fight, but Mali was so effortlessly relaxed. prepared, and open. It was the perfect kind of energy for something like that. I think if it was anyone else it could have been a lot more stressful. A lot more combative. Even in the face of her first feature, Mali was like a pro, like she’s been doing it all her life.
She was wonderful to interview, and the film was really successful. I know that you’re also involved with The Fall of the House of Usher, can you give any updates on that?
RK: Yeah! It’s very different, I think, to Mike’s previous shows. I call it Mike Flanagan’s graphic novel, it just feels very larger-than-life-characters, lots of color and gore and extremities. It’s definitely his most intense, loud, unhinged-Mike [project].
Next Exit premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.