How ‘Expats’ Artisans Weaved Sarayu Blue’s Tightly Wound Hilary: ‘She’s Just Trying To Keep It Together’

In Lulu Wang’s “Expats,” Sarayu Blue’s Hilary is seemingly perfect, put together and polished.

On the surface, the American expat Hilary presents herself as a control freak. From her surroundings to her makeup and neutral wardrobe, it’s all pristine. That facade slowly unravels as her layers are peeled back in the Prime Video six-part limited series. Behind closed doors, her marriage is falling apart, and her husband is cheating on her.

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Costume designer Malgosia Turzanska used “aggressive neutrals” when it came to building Hilary’s wardrobe. Her goal was to use costumes as camouflage and protective armor for the character. “She is an incredibly strong, powerful woman. But she’s also an incredibly hurt woman, and that goes back to her childhood,” she says.

An asymmetrical David Koma jumpsuit, for example, is an outfit Turzanska wove into Hilary’s wardrobe for a dinner party scene that was specifically designed to reflect her inner pain. “It looks like a sling, and it looks like she’s bandaged,” says Turzanska. “She’s pushing through because she doesn’t want to be at that dinner, and she doesn’t want to see those people. She has other things on her mind.”

Sarayu Blue (Hilary Star)
Hilary’s (Sarayu Blue) dress is a metaphoric band-aid.

Later that night, Hilary changes into an orangey-red dress to meet her husband David (Jack Huston) at an Irish pub. At this point, David is living in a hotel, and she’s received a text not meant for her, but for his girlfriend.

Sarayu Blue (Hilary Star)
Hilary’s (Sarayu Blue) dress is a cry for help.

That outfit and moment is a cry for help. It’s also a moment where Hilary starts to lose control. “It’s a metaphor for this open wound,” says Turzanska. “It was this idea of showing that she’s hurting and willing to work on their marriage, hoping that he is going to agree and keep working on their relationship, but it doesn’t go so well.”

Wang and cinematographer Anna Franquesa-Solano spent a great deal of time discussing how Hilary would be photographed. “Anna and I talked a lot about the framing being presentational and you can feel that composure and that control is a facade,” the show’s creator says.

Franquesa-Solano says Hilary’s framing is “composed and balanced.” She notes that Hilary, Margaret (Nicole Kidman) and Mercy (Ji-young Yoo) “are trying to control their surroundings because they feel like they are not in control. It’s an attempt to not let go because, if not, they’ll fall apart.”

Franquesa-Solano continues, “Hilary is constantly doing that by trying to always be perfect and keep things in place. So her color palette is perfect. Her makeup and her wardrobe match the tone of the walls.”

Wang says Hilary is the most relatable female on the show, since so much of who Hilary is stems from how community and society judges a person. “She’s trapped by that,” says Wang. “These are values that have been handed down by her family and women in general, and that’s why we’re so hard on ourselves. She’s just trying to keep it together.”

Hilary’s attention to detail in how she approaches life starts to reveal itself slowly after she learns of David’s infidelity and her mother pays an unexpected visit. Audiences see this well-composed woman almost revert to a child, as she frantically prepares for this arrival.

When she and her mom get stuck in an elevator with a neighbor, Hilary shares a story about how she used makeup on her mom to cover up bruises.

Sarayu Blue (Hilary Star)
Makeup helps Hilary cover up past scars.

“You’re watching a woman who had to grow up really young, and it’s so painful and real,” says Blue. “You watch this character who’s perfectly put together, curated and tailored, and you watch her whole world fall apart. It’s not just the marriage, the friendship; it’s not just the reckoning with her mother — it’s all of it.”

Toward the end, the women at the center of the show are eventually provided with some closure on their journeys as they attempt to live their lives and move on.

Hilary returns home to visit her dying father, a visit that brings ghosts from her past. Also at her father’s bedside are his children from another marriage. When Hilary is finally alone with him, she takes the opportunity to tell him what she thinks about him and his abusive past. It’s one of the few moments where Blue says that Hilary gets to be human.

“She says, ‘Fuck you, I’m done. I’ve got nothing left.’ What does she have left to lose? And it ends up being the best thing for her,” Blue says of the significant turning point. “She really has learned that it’s all about putting on a front, putting on a face, and you really watch a woman go, ‘I don’t want to keep it together anymore. I’m tired.’”

By the time she returns to Hong Kong, despite their separation, David comes to meet her at the airport, and Hilary breaks down. A tender moment happens in the car as the two discuss Mercy’s pregnancy and Hilary talks about never wanting to have children. Blue says it’s a very real moment between the couple, who have a 20-year history: “I love when she’s like, ‘I’m so tired of being angry.’ She doesn’t want to be angry at David because even that is going to drain her.”

The last shot is a single take of Hilary flowing through a crowd of people after buying a rug. “There’s a little bit of letting go when she buys that carpet. It’s a metaphor that she has to keep moving. She’s finding her freedom,” says Franquesa-Solano.

Sarayu Blue (Hilary Star)
By the end, Hilary finds freedom.

Turzanska reflected on dressing Hilary in a shade of orange not too far from mocha and beige for that scene. “She’s out of her regular clothing and is delightfully happy. It is the brightest color she wears, and she embraces it and lets herself feel the color,” says the costume designer.

“That’s the moment you see Hilary embodied,” adds Blue. “It’s Hilary saying, ‘I’m free. I get to live the life I want to live. I don’t have to hold on to all of this anymore.’ And it’s such a simple moment, and it’s so joy-filled. And then she’s in color.”

Her armor has gone, and the facade is dropped once and for all.

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