Ahead of Plan B's premiere on Hulu, its star Kuhoo Verma had to have an awkward conversation. “I talked through some of the more rated-R moments with my parents,” she told Refinery29 over the phone. “My mom was like, ‘Okay, Okay, I think I’ll be fine. I think that’d be great.’ And my dad was just, like, silent on the phone the entire time.” Those “rated-R” moments in Plan B include a particularly awkward sex scene, drug use, and the ever elusive man-doing-full-frontal-nudity, to name a few.
That’s not to say that the film, which is Parks and Recreation star Natalie Morales’ solo directorial debut, is the girl version of Superbad, as it has been billed. Plan B is not a string of outrageous, grossouts. The film is about two girls, Sunny (Verma) and Lupe (Victoria Moroles), two high school juniors who decide to throw a party when Sunny’s mom is out of town. Long story short: it doesn’t go well, and the night ends with Sunny drunkenly losing her virginity to Kyle (Mason Cook), a boy she barely even likes, on the bathroom counter. That’s when the adventure really begins, as Sunny enlists Lupe to go on a quest for Plan B. More rated-R moments ensue.
Some eagle-eyed viewers might recognize Verma from a particularly funny scene in The Big Sick (2017), where her character, one of Kumail’s (Kumail Nanjiani) many set-ups, Zubeida goes above and beyond to bond with him over The X-Files. However, she’s spent most of her career in the theater world since graduating from NYU in 2018, and most recently earned buzz for her role in the off-Broadway musical Octet. Plan B marks Verma’s very first leading role on-screen. And it’s a pretty big deal. A high school comedy starring two women of color doesn’t come along very often, let alone one written and directed by people of color — Joshua Levy and Prathiksha Srinivasan wrote the script directed by Morales.
But just because her leading debut is groundbreaking, don’t expect her career to be defined by her race. Verma’s got her eye set on a career that eclipses what Hollywood or casting agents think an Indian American actor should play. Plan B is just the beginning.
Refinery29: This is your first lead role in a movie, but you’ve also done a lot of theater work. How did you get here?
Kuhoo Verma: “I don’t really gravitate towards certain genres or even certain storytelling devices. I’m more of a person that if it’s like one specific story, or one specific character really speaks to me, I just go. Everything kind of interests me as long as the character or the message of whatever’s being made speaks to me. And so I really feel like earlier when I started out, I just kind of allowed myself to be bad at everything and say ‘yes’ to a lot of things. And because of that, now I have the privilege to kind of be able to know exactly from the get-go that I can say ‘no,’ too, and exercise that self care.”
That’s impressive for someone so early in their career, to have the confidence to say “no.”
“I made a decision for myself many years ago that I’m going to say ‘no’ to things that are revolving around specifically Indian culture, unless I’m making an exception for an amazing script. … It could have been a very foolish decision given I didn’t have much clout at that time in my career, but it really opened up for me the kind of things that I could do and how I see myself. And it opened up so many more stories to me, actually.”
“I pledged to myself that after five years of auditioning and doing whatever it is I’m doing in this career, I’m going to say ‘no’ to any part that is specifically Indian — any part that just has ‘Indian’ in the breakdown, I’m going to say ‘no’ to or not even audition for it. It’s not going to be a priority on my list. It just allowed me to really, first and foremost, not define the kind of jobs I’m taking or the kind of auditions that I’m manifesting for myself to be dictated by the color of my skin, or to be dictated by my specific culture or my specific aesthetic, and only be dictated by what I am gravitating toward and what I feel I can really bring alive.”
Was Plan B specifically written for an Indian American lead?
“Yeah. So, that’s what was interesting to me. I made the rule knowing that it’s meant to be broken, but it’s just going to change the way I see parts. And so, when [Plan B] did arrive to me, I immediately noticed that it was mentioned that she was Indian, but as I read through the script, I realized that it could have been truly any culture, any ethnicity, any family.”
What was it about Plan B that made it worth breaking your rule?
“I have been through that feeling of just how difficult it is to have anything go your way without any obstacles as a woman in this country, especially a person of color in this country.”
Plan B doesn’t romanticize the high school experience, especially Sunny’s first time. What did you think when you first read that scene?
“It was really freeing to have a scene where it was so clearly not written through the male gaze, and not sexualizing these high school, underaged students. It wasn’t about that. And it wasn’t circumventing the fact that most first sexual experiences are, like, not hot and some are not perfect and they are really awkward. And that doesn’t mean that they’re bad. It just means that they’re awkward, and that’s fine, and that’s normal, and that’s life.
“It was also super super liberating to be like, ‘Oh, there’s no pressure to be promiscuous or sexy or to be just like a perfect 17-year-old girl.’ Like, that’s not how real bodies are or real sex is a lot of the time. And it’s hard to sell that kind of thing in a porn world. So it was really nice to kind of be cringe for a bit.”
Was avoiding the male gaze and over sexualization something you discussed with the director?
“A little bit. So much of the genre is not only through the eyes of two white dudes, but also usually sexualizing girls, women, and it really makes a huge deal about sex in a way that is a bit more male-gazey. This movie does a good thing in reclaiming that a little bit. It’s two girls who are women of color who are doing pretty much the same exact thing, but also really seeing the reality of how it ends up and the reality of how it usually is. It’s not always super magical.”
"It was also super super liberating to be like, ‘Oh, there’s no pressure to be promiscuous or sexy or to be just like a perfect 17-year-old girl.’"
What was it like to shoot the sex scene? Did you have an intimacy coordinator?
“There was an incredible intimacy coordinator. She actually was great, and also Mason and I were talking a lot about what we were comfortable with and what our specific preferences were. And so that was really helpful too, for us, to have an open communication about that, and kind of the whole time be very, very mindful of each other’s space and each other’s boundaries.”
I would imagine it must’ve been extra stressful filming such an intimate scene during the pandemic when you’re not supposed to get too close to other people.
“It felt a little bit like, ‘Oh God, all right, rip the bandaid and suddenly having to be super, super comfy in that space with people.’ But at the same time, I think that really helped because even though [Sunny is] very brave and courageous, I feel like there is a sense of like, ‘Oh, I don’t know what it’s like to be touched that much.’ So I think it probably helped me.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.