Our three-part series with the people behind The CW’s iZombie, based on the DC/Vertigo comic, continues today with our talk with actor Rahul Kohli, who plays Medical Examiner/crime-fighting sidekick Dr. Ravi Chakrabarti on the series. Here’s an intro to his character:
We had a good time geeking out with series co-developer Diane Ruggiero-Wright…but this interview gets even geekier. Find out what it’s like to eat (the show’s) brains, what kind of role Kohli would love to play, and find out how far he was willing to go to see a Star Wars movie being made. Also: A terrifying secret from his past involving mango juice. You have been warned.
Newsarama: Rahul, let’s start off by talking about the show – what’s it been like to see the reaction to Season One and your character?
Rahul Kohli: It’s very surreal, to be honest. This is one of the first things I’ve done, so to have this be my first show, and have it get picked up for a second season, it’s kind of magical.
And it’s nice to see that people are very faithful to the characters. They’re constantly ‘shipping them…and I’ve found out what that means. So it’s great fun to go on Twitter and see what people are saying.
Nrama: Aww, you’re being ‘shipped! What’s it mainly, Ravi and Peyton or even Ravi and Liv, people going there?
Kohli: Well, there’s #RaviOli, which is Ravi and Olivia, and then there is #Pavi, which is Peyton and Ravi…and then there’s #Rajor, which is Ravi and Major. There’s kind of a huge group that wants Ravi and Major to be a couple.
Nrama: …I can actually see that. Y’all are, as they say on Adventure Time, “Turbros,” or turbo-bros. Just be glad you’re not on Supernatural.
Kohli: Exactly, exactly, the bromance. We went into it knowing that where things were going. And obviously, some of that had to do with Robert Buckley, and having things in common, such as games and comic books. So it’s nice that it found its way into the show.
Nrama: So I read that you two are both big comic book fans.
Kohli: Yeah, well, actually, Buckley is kind of the Jedi Master, and I’m just his Padawan. Buckley is forever coming around with a backpack full of new issues every Wednesday and plopping down and educating me. He’s showing me things I’ve never even heard of.
My tastes are a bit more mainstream – I’m a big Batman fan, so most of my knowledge consists of the Batman Universe. And he’s going, “Hey, you need to read Saga! You need to read Sex Criminals! You need to read this and that!” And in the first season, at least, we lived next to a comic book shop, which is where me and him spent the majority of our time, perusing.
Nrama: What were some of your other favorite books, and how long have you been reading comics?
Kohli: I kind of stumbled into comics in a roundabout way. One of the first films my father introduced me to was the 1989 Batman, the Tim Burton one. Being on a DC/Vertigo show, that’s kind of reignited my love of comics. So I went to DC Comics and raided their vaults, and took every issue of Batman from the New 52. So my love of comics is back with a vengeance.
I’m probably more of a gamer, though. Gaming is what I do more than anything. Including, probably, my job.
Nrama: So what are some of your favorite games?
Kohli: Wow. Well, right now it’s Witcher III. I just started and withholding judgment right now, it’s only been a few days. For favorite games, I have sentimental feelings toward the Nintendo 64. I don’t know why, but that period just resonates with me – Goldeneye and Ocarina of Time and Rogue Squadron.
But in the last five years, I’d say the best game I’ve played has been Red Dead Redemption. I love the Western genre. In fact, one of my dreams is to play a cowboy on screen, like Clint Eastwood. I don’t think it’s going to happen, but you can always hope.
Nrama: Well, look at your career right now. Zombies have made quite a comeback! Pirates came back! I think cowboys are overdue for a comeback.
Kohli: They are! We’ve got The Hateful Eight coming out from Tarantino, we’ve had Django Unchained and True Grit, and one of my favorite films, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Oh, and I have to give a shout-out to the best TV show ever made, Deadwood. Yeah, I think it’s time for all that to come back. Cowboys are the new zombies.
Nrama: With you on Deadwood especially. I want David Milch to come back and do that conclusion he’s talked about.
Kohli: Oh God – I am so jealous of David Anders (Blaine), because he’s done two things. First, he’s worked with J.J. Abrams on Alias, so he has kind of a Star Wars hookup, which I keep asking him about every day. And he was also in Deadwood – he was one of the Civil War soldiers who camped in Deadwood.
Nrama: Dammit, I’m jealous too.
Now, I wanted to ask about this bit from the comic – when Ravi got bitten by the zombie-rat a few weeks back, there was some speculation among fans he might turn into a were-terrier like in the comics, but Diane said in our interview that the budget wouldn’t really allow for that to happen in a way that would look cool. So is it a disappointment for you that you won’t get to play a were-terrier?
Kohli: To be honest, going into this production – after we did the pilot, I read through the comic books. And the were-terrier role, Spot, he’s clearly the zombie’s friend. And I really connected to that, like, “Oh, that’s a role I could potentially fulfill.” But as we progressed into the series, it became increasingly clear that we were diverging from the original comics.
I’d love to do it. As long as we did it right, and it works for the story. But it seems like it will never happen.
But I’ve become rather fond of Dr. Ravi Chakrabarti myself. He’s very different from who I am, that character, but he’s such a big ball of light in a dark world. And I’m kind of a big dark hole in a light world. So I enjoy playing a character who’s so full of energy and so upbeat.
I kind of like who he is! Not that I want him to get stale, but I’m kind of happy for him to get to keep doing what he’s doing, without the were-terrier or the zombie-ism.
Nrama: Well, it’s a nice character because he’s the everyman. He’s the one who gets to be the cheerleader and the voice of the audience and go, “Zombies can be kind of cool!”
Kohli: Yeah, I guess in a way he is kind of the voice of the audience. You know, you have a voice-over with Liv, you’re fully on board with her journey, but there’s always a disconnect with the audience because we’re not zombies.
Kohli: But everything she experiences in that universe,– eating brains, getting these new personalities – she kind of shares these experiences alongside Ravi, just as the audience experiences them alongside her. And if Ravi becomes a were-terrier or a zombie or anything like that, you lose that role.
Nrama: Speaking of the zombie angle – in interviews early on, Rose McIver was complaining that the prop brains they had her eating were…not very good-tasting. You’re on the morgue set a lot with her – have you had a chance to sample any of that gelatinous cerebellum for yourself?
Kohli: I have…much later into production, because I remember with the pilot, they sort of hadn’t perfected their recipe, and I just remember watching Rose eating the brains, while her character is watching Night of the Living Dead, and take after take, just spitting the brains out whenever the cameras stopped rolling.
So even after we came back for Episode 2 and they went, “Hey! We’ve got these new ingredients!” I was still reluctant. So it wasn’t until we were close to production wrapped that I tried it. And it’s not bad!
I think the problem Rose had was this – the gelatin is all right, but it’s the syrup they use to give it that bloody look. That’s what made her slightly sickly. But it’s better in small doses.
Nrama: That reminds me of this book I read when I was a kid, How to Eat Fried Worms, where the kid has to eat worms and put them into all these recipes – only like that with brains. Also, I read Hannibal has a food consultant to make Hannibal Lecter’s meals look delicious. You need to get them to double-dip, be your “brain food” consultant, especially with Blaine making all those gourmet brain-meals for his clients.
Kohli: That’s an excellent idea, actually. I will speak to those who can make it happen.
I remember just before we premiered, someone – I think was The CW – they had people come on and eat real brains. You know, cow’s brains, sheep’s brains. And actually, the people who ate these meals, they found them quite all right. Someone obviously pukes, but most of them liked it. (Newsarama Note: You can watch the video here. At your own risk.)
Nrama: Okay, the question I’m sure you’ve gotten a thousand times – if you could eat anyone’s brains and temporarily assume their personality, who would you take? You’ve had some time to really master your answer for this.
Kohli: I always try to improvise my answer for this, but you know, the first brain that always comes to mind is Daniel Day-Lewis. I guess I’m just focusing on work. He’s one of the actors I grew up idolizing. And there’s a lot of kind of rumor and conjecture about his research and methods, and I’d really like to eat his brain and figure out what he really does to create his characters.
And you know, I’d want some of that talent. When it comes to character work, you have to show some kind of discipline, but I’ve never been able to do anything in the realm of what he’s done. So yeah, if I could eat any brain, it’d be Daniel Day Lewis’.
Nrama: I was looking at your earlier acting credits, as you’d mentioned iZombie is your first series. I see some guest credits on your IMDb page, but there’s not a lot of movie/TV work. Have you mainly been doing theater before this?
Kholi: Sort of. So, prior to iZombie, I was in London. After I got out of drama school, there was like an eight-year gap. Screen was where I always wanted to break into…but the IMDb credits, they’re not totally accurate. People will say, “Oh, you were in that, was that a guest role?” And I have to say, “No, I was literally in it for like three lines.”
It was just a good…yeah, almost eight years of constant auditioning for…you name it. Anything I could be in, I went out for. It was a constant cycle of disappointment. Commercials were kind of the helicopter flying overhead...they really kept me going. I don’t know why, but I was just able to score them really easily.
And then when iZombie came along, it was just another audition in a long line of opportunities I would never get – it’s a series! It’s Rob Thomas! It’s pilot season! – all of those fancy things you try to ignore so you can do your job. But with iZombie, it happened and happened quickly. I auditioned on tape in London, and it went to Rob and Diane, and within about a week I was flown out and shot the pilot.
Nrama: Well, the people I know who watch the show, they go about you, “Wow, he’s good! Why haven’t I seen him in anything before?”
Kholi: (laughs) Well, the casting director spent a good portion of time trying to A) remember what she had seen me in, and B) figure out why we hadn’t met in eight years of my auditioning. That was a good sign!
Nrama: Do you have any classic commercials you were in that might be on YouTube that we can link in this interview and embarrass you?
Kholi: (laughs) There’s a hell of a lot. A hell of a lot. I don’t want to give you all of them…all right, I’ll tell you what.
There’s one I shot in Cuba for mango juice. It’s for a famous company called Rubicon Exotic Drinks. While I was in Cuba for the shoot, they – seconds before we were due to shoot – they decided to give my character dialogue, and requested it be in a Jamaican accent. And it’s terrible.
Nrama: Okay, I went on YouTube and found this one for “Rubicon Mango Juice…”
Kholi: Oh, there you go. That was one of my many commercials. Newsarama Note: Experience this for yourself. And remember: We all have to pay our dues.
Nrama: Now, with Diane, we talked about the season finale a bit, and you have Season Two coming up. What would you like to see happen with Ravi down the line?
Kholi: Actually, not a lot. I have no expectations whatsoever for Season Two for Ravi. I have decided that Major has been training him in the gym, so he’s getting into shape. But other than that…I have no real demands or expectations. That’s kind of sad, but my focus, what I really want to see, has nothing to do with Ravi.
I do want to see more of Det. Babineaux. Malcolm Goodwin, of the five of us, does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to the procedural element. I want to know more of his background – we see he was in Vice, but other than that, I think there’s so much scope to find out more what he’s about. I’d love to see his relationship with Liv develop further.
Like I said, with Ravi – maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m watching it with different eyes – I kind of feel like he’s one of those characters who has relationships already. He’s met Blaine, he rooms with Major, he works with Liv and he has this relationship with Clive Babineaux going back before the series started. So he’s acquainted with everyone’s lives already, and I kind of feel like with him, he is who he is, and he’ll stay doing what he does throughout the season.
I tend to lean toward very dark characters, and I love gritty drama, and I’d love to see Ravi go through some ministrations that would let his dark side come out, because I got so much enjoyment with one of my favorite scenes in the entire season – when Liv pushed Ravi too far, when she had the sex-expert brain, and was too disrespectful and blunt with him. And you see him get short and passive-aggressive with her. That was fun to see – any time Ravi gets to go dark, I’d love to see it.
Nrama: What are some of your favorite zombie tales outside of iZombie – comics, movies, literature, video games, etc.?
Kholi: Well, my first introduction to the zombie world was Resident Evil on the PlayStation. I was in like elementary school and an older friend got it, and I literally crapped my pants. It was the most terrifying thing I’d ever seen.
That was the first time I saw the undead…wait, that’s a bold-faced lie! I think Michael Jackson was the first time I saw them. But Resident Evil was the first time I experienced them in a narrative. And one of my favorite comedies of all time is Shaun of the Dead – I love Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and Edgar Wright. And it shot in Ealing Studios, which is one of my favorite places.
Nrama: The Ealing comedies! I love those! The Ladykillers, Kind Hearts and Coronets --
Kholi: The Alec Guinness ones, yeah!
Nrama: Those are some of the greatest comedy movies not that many people over here have seen.
Kholi: Yeah, they’re better-known over in England, but they’re not as well-known in the U.S., And where I trained in the theater, it was right next door to Ealing Studios, so I remember being in the wardrobe department, and I wound up picking up Alec Guinness’s trousers from one of the comedy movies he’d done.
They didn’t fit, but obviously, I had to try them on so I could go, “I tried on Obi-Wan’s pants!”
And I snuck into Ealing Studios as a kid.
Nrama: I have to hear this.
Kholi: Well, they were doing Attack of the Clones, and were shooting what they call “pick-ups” there for the droid factory sequence. I was 14 or 15, and I was a huge Star Wars fan.
So my uncle drove me down, and I don’t know how we got in, but we got as far as George Lucas’ car-park space before security escorted us out. And then I quickly went home and wrote letters to George Lucas care of Ealing Studios basically begging him for any kind of part in a Star Wars thing.
Nrama: Well, you tried. That’s the thing.
Kholi: And I’m still trying! He still won’t read my letters! I’m not even joking about this, I’m building a career as big as humanly possible so I can be in a Star Wars project. My life goal is to have a character in the Star Wars universe, film or other media. I just want to go to my grave knowing I played some character or some character based on my likeness was part of that world.
iZombie airs its season finale Tuesday at 9 p.m. on The CW…and after this interview, we had to talk to Robert Buckley. And trust us, he did not disappoint. Come back tomorrow and see if he can get you to go #TeamMajor!