Rahul Kohli is no stranger to a fandom.
Between a regular role on cult classic series iZombie, lending his voice to Scarecrow in Harley Quinn, and popping up on a few episodes of Supergirl, he’s an old pro at genre media. But with his latest role as Owen in The Haunting of Bly Manor, he’s dipping his toes into the spookier and more serious waters of gothic horror.
While this role is different from the wisecracking comic relief he’s played in the past, Kohli approaches it with heart, commitment, and a luxurious ‘80s mustache. Owen is the cook for the residents of the manor, but his role in the Netflix series is far more than that.
Warning! Major spoilers for The Haunting of Bly Manor ahead!
Owen is the ferryman for everyone around him. He drives Dani to the manor on her first day, talks Hannah through her memory-drifting, and, offscreen, cares for his mother who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. It’s quite the departure from cracking jokes as an animated supervillain in Harley Quinn.
“In iZombie, and maybe I’m being a bit harsh on myself, I was basically a cartoon character,” Kohli told Inverse. “Then I was playing cartoon characters like Scarecrow. I’d have to go back to, oh, I have to do real acting now. This is a drama.”
Fortunately, Owen is far from a hardened leading man. “I was lucky I got Owen, because Owen is sweet and a bit big and energetic, with his puns and everything,” Kohli said. “It was an awesome, refreshing experience for me.”
The Haunting of Bly Manor is also a refreshing experience for the viewers at home. After months of seclusion due to social isolation, a haunted house story may seem like the last thing to find comfort in, but there’s something about the escapism of a foreign world — be it the past, another country, or a spectral plane — combined with the little homey pleasures we’ve become all too familiar with in the past months.
“One thing that Bly Manor captured really well is the importance of the kitchen,” Kholi says. “It’s one of the safe spaces in Bly Manor. Whenever we go back to the kitchen, I think there is a moment where you can release tension. The rest of the house is terrifying, but this place is okay, this is a safe place where the family gets together and talks through their differences.”
Like every Mike Flanagan show, each character is ripe for analysis, including Owen. From the foreshadowing in one of his first lines to Dani — “You’re born here and you die here” — to the restaurant he ends up opening in honor of Hannah called A Better Place, every choice seems to inform both his character and the plot.
Owen also experiences death in a unique manner, at least in the context of a horror story. The two huge losses in his life, his mother and Hannah, were both gradual, but in very different ways.
“In some ways a part of his mother has already died,” Kohli says. “She just exists as a part of their existence, but he had already been mourning her.”
At the same time, the mystical “gravity” surrounding Bly Manor keeps Hannah on the mortal plane despite having fallen in the well. Owen never gets a moment to say goodbye to the two characters he’s closest to, and perhaps that’s for the better.
“He has a pure heart. He sees the good in people and he's not willing to let go.” Kohli said. “He has a heart full of hope and he doesn't allow that to be taken away from him.”
So what’s next? When Bly Manor premiered on Netflix, Rahul was already filming his next project, Midnight Mass. Just like Bly Manor, Midnight Mass is a Mike Flanagan venture, so needless to say it’ll be a must-see for fans. Not much is known about the series so far, but the plot synopsis describes an island community dealing with mysterious occurrences after the arrival of a priest.
“I am happy to spend the next decade only working with Mike.” Kohli said of the new project, “I absolutely love him.”
With his character on Harley Quinn killed off ahead of its third season, it’s unlikely he’ll return to that universe, but with an animated series, there’s always the option of a new character. As for which comic character he’d like to bring to life, Rahul only had one concern: “Whoever is British. Right now I'm really enjoying mucking around with a British accent. So whoever they make a British version of, I’m super down for.”
Other than his acting work, Rahul’s Twitter shows him living life much like most other hardcore fans. He trolls, he posts playlists, and he rewatches episodes of Star Wars: Rebels. If there’s anyone who can understand the fandom mindset, it’s him.
The Haunting of Bly Manor is now streaming on Netflix.