Mali Elfman and Rahul Kohli on Next Exit | “It’s really hard to talk about death”

Next Exit, starring Rahul Kohli and Katie Parker, is out now in the UK. We spoke to Kohli and director Mali Elfman about their film.

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Hope is a word that comes up a lot during my conversations with director Mali Elfman and star Rahul Kohli about their new film Next Exit. 

The film follows two strangers on a road trip to San Francisco in the near future, where the existence of ghosts has been proven. The hook? They are on their way to donating their bodies to the study of the paranormal. Through voluntary suicide, Teddy (Kohli) and Rose (Katie Parker) hope to not only advance science but to escape their own issues. 

Elfman, who wrote and directed Next Exit, describes the film as a very personal project that she had been working on for a very long time. It also proved to be a way of coping for her.

NEXT EXIT (Blue Finch Film Releasing) (05)

Credit: Blue Finch Film Releasing

“It’s really hard to talk about death, right? When I would lose somebody, when there was some type of tragedy, and then again, when COVID first hit, and whenever I couldn’t make sense of the world around me, I went back to the script, and I would work on it. It would always give me hope,” she explains to me. 

“I wanted to be earnest about the darkness that I was experiencing, and earnest about struggle, but still find ways of finding joy and happiness.”

Next Exit is dark, for sure. Parker’s character Rose is haunted, quite literally, by her past trauma. These scenes provide much of the horror element in the film, but we are constantly aware the pair are travelling across the country to give their lives away. 

“It has overtones of a very heavy topic, but at its core, it’s a relationship story that I think leaves people feeling quite warm and fuzzy by the end of it,” Kohli muses on the film’s tone.

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Credit: Blue Finch Film Releasing

Kohli is perhaps best known for playing Ravi in iZombie and for his work with Mike Flanagan. He will star in the horror director’s next Netflix series, The Fall of the House of Usher, which doesn’t have a release date yet, and he made a lasting impression as the sensitive Owen in The Haunting of Bly Manor and as Sheriff Hassan in Midnight Mass. 

In fact, it was Flanagan who we have to thank for Kohli starring in Next Exit. The script was sent to Kohli by several people, but he never got around to reading it until Flanagan nudged him. Kohli ended up loving the character of Teddy, but, having just played an American in Midnight Mass, he wasn’t looking to work quite so soon. 

“The last thing I wanted to do was talk to someone about another character. I would have had like less than a week off before they started filming Next Exit. Mali managed to push the shoot back by three weeks, just to give me time to go home, get back to Los Angeles, get into the headspace of Teddy and let go of Sheriff Hassan.”

Kohli notes the character of Sheriff Hassan from Midnight Mass still hasn’t quite left him; he still sometimes finds himself standing like him (“This weird cop to the side thing that I did almost every minute of the day for like a year.”).

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Credit: Blue Finch Film Releasing

Elfman also allowed Kohli to use his native London accent for Teddy, who was American originally in the script. Elfman was familiar with Kohli’s work from his iZombie days. It was Kohli’s performance in Bly Manor that convinced Elfman that Kohli would be perfect for the role, which was confirmed immediately as the two spoke for the first time over Zoom. 

Kohli has nothing but praise for Elfman, who makes her feature directorial debut with Next Exit. 

“I never felt like I was working with a first time director. I was working with a director, someone who had amazing instincts and great notes.”

I also bring up improvising because I simply must know if Kohli’s toast “To cheeky wanks!” was improvised. It was. 

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Mali Elfman attends the 26th Annual SAGindie Filmmakers Luncheon At Sundance at Cafe Terigo on January 23, 2023 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Fred Hayes/Getty Images for SAGindie)

“[The character] was written as an American. I just put in little changes just to make you feel a little bit more like this guy had a history back home. There was space for it, for sure. And Mali encouraged me to muck around.”

Next Exit deals with depression and all the feelings that sometimes make us overwhelmingly feel like we don’t want to be here anymore. For Elfman, the film is all about making that choice to stay. She says she reads the reviews, some of which expressed a desire for a darker ending than what we’re given. 

“Of course, there’s the darker ending, I wrote it several different ways. If I was going to make a film that talked about suicide and about people who are dealing with depression, I felt an important responsibility to show that there is a way out of that. And the way out of that is deciding that you can do that, it’s a self-motivated choice. That was really imperative to me in the making of this film and the responsibility of the messaging.”

Elfman describes a particularly intense Q&A she did for the film in Santa Fe, where they discussed suicide and assisted suicide in depth. She’s also had a lot of people reach out to her on social media, and she does her best to get back to everyone.

NEXT EXIT katie parker

Credit: Blue Finch Film Releasing

“I’ve definitely realised I am an extroverted introvert. I like to go out and have these conversations and dive into that. But then I come home and I just don’t talk to anybody at all and I just go into a dark hole and recharge with all my animals. My animals are what gives me hope.”

Kohli, on the other hand, has deleted his Twitter account and “cut that conversation off”. 

“I’ve had people reach out for other things and it does really mean something. Like the response we received, myself and Mike Flanagan, for Midnight Mass, from the Islamic community was one that I never expected to see. The way in which the character was received by the community, celebrated and now pointed to as what representation should be like, for that religion. It transcends it from just being a cool show, it just becomes so much more meaningful.”

As an actor, it’s easy to get caught up in all the noise around your latest film, and while Kohli has now learned ways to protect his mental health, it wasn’t always the case. 

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Credit: Blue Finch Film Releasing

“iZombie had the most effect on me. And it was when I was at my most dangerous as an actor. I didn’t know boundaries, and I didn’t know how to protect my mental health. So I was absolutely doing method things that you shouldn’t do. I was young and I had a point to prove. And there were definitely relationships and things like that that took a hit because of that.”

Elfman hopes the audience will go on a journey with Rose and Teddy. 

“There’s so many times in our lives where we don’t focus on what we want, what we need. What is keeping you from doing the thing? What is standing in your way? What are the monsters that are not letting you do what you want? This is a film that I really hope inspires hope in people.”


Blue Finch Film Releasing presents Next Exit on digital platforms on 20 February.


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