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THE UPSIDE

Casting the Film
The filmmaking team were long-time admirers of both Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart, and hoped the film would be a welcome challenge for the actors, albeit in different ways, and looked forward to seeing their respective interpretations of the beloved characters from the original film. For Hart, this role was a departure and offered the actor an opportunity to introduce audiences to his dramatic talents, while still infusing his signature wit and humor into his performance. "People are going to be blown away, because Kevin has incredible dramatic chops that nobody's seen before," says director Neil Burger.

"When people hear Kevin Hart, they immediately think it's going to be broad and funny," Blumenthal says. "We will see funny Kevin for sure, but also a more serious, dramatic Kevin. We wanted to make sure we signaled to the audience that this was not your typical Kevin Hart movie. Though Kevin brings humor to the film, his role goes beyond comedic relief while his character struggles to turn his life around."

"It was a challenge that I welcomed with open arms," says Hart. Adding, "I've yet to do something like this. I've yet to step into this space. I'm about opening up doors. And this is a door that I've been hesitant to open because I wanted to make sure that the project was right when I actually did it. The Upside is the perfect project for me to step in that direction of a drama-esque performance but still stay true to my comedy roots."

Cranston describes his co-star's work on the film saying, "This is a drama with comedic undertones because you find some humor in tragic situations. We needed that to buoy the story and propel it along. But Kevin is a very smart guy and he knew exactly what the tone of this was and what he needed to do. It's perfect for him, in his career, to be able to step into a role that's not necessarily in his wheelhouse. Kevin is profoundly talented. It goes into his bones on some deep meta level and it's just there. He delivers when he needs to."

From the onset of the film, audiences can identify with Dell as he encounters this new situation and discover with him what it is like to be a person with quadriplegia. While Dell initially takes on the role of Phillip's care giver, as the film progresses it becomes clear that both Dell and Phillip rely equally on each other. They have different struggles, but it's their ability to learn from one another that ultimately builds their incredibly unique relationship.

"I realize that's really the crux of the story: facing the challenges," says Cranston. "Whether you're an African American male just getting out of prison, or a 60 something person with quadriplegia who can't move anything below his neck for the rest of his life, neither see much of a future for themselves. There are dilemmas. Life is not easy."

"What neither Phillip nor Dell expected is that they both came into each other's lives at the perfect moment, and changed each other's lives when they most needed it," says Blumenthal.

"Casting Bryan Cranston was just a no brainer," says Burger. "He's really one of the great actors of our generation. He worked so hard on the role to do it right, and to do it respectfully, as somebody who was in a wheelchair. He's an actor that has such incredible empathy, yet also, such a wonderful and light sense of humor. It was the perfect combination for that character."

Though Cranston has played a wide variety of characters, the physical requirements involved in playing a person with quadriplegia presented a new challenge for the actor. "Before the movie, I didn't realize how often actors depend on their entire bodies to sell a performance and a scene," says Blumenthal. "This role required Bryan to approach his character in an entirely new way, and discover how to deliver an emotional, funny and at times heartbreaking performance without using most of the tools he's used to having at his disposal."

One of the most important elements of making this film to Burger was the level of authenticity portrayed in the characters and across all aspects of the production. Before filming began, Cranston and Burger visited former football player Eric LeGrand. LeGrand, who was paralyzed in 2010 while playing football at Rutgers University, spoke with both men at length about his experiences and observed him during physical therapy.

For Cranston, maintaining accuracy and rigorous attention to detail on set required a great deal of both research and discipline. Cranston's dialogue with Phillippe Pozzo Di Borgo, on whom the story is based, was essential to his preparation for the role. These conversations had a major impact on Cranston as he focused on the emotional trials Di Borgo went through. Cranston recounts, "Were there periods of time he wanted to give up? Yes. Were there depths of depression? Yes. Were there thoughts of suicide? Yes. Were there peaks where he thought, oh no, I do have some options. Yes. It's all of the above," Cranston says. "It was up to him to be able to embrace everything about the challenges ahead, both good and bad."

The physical challenges of playing a character who is completely still ended up being solved mentally for Cranston. "At first, I thought I'd really have to focus on being absolutely still," he said. "I started practicing holding my body in a rigid manner, but that can't be sustained. You're too tense. It really had to just be the opposite of that. I had to go into a Zen-like state in order to just breathe and let it go. Just go with the fallow and have the whole-body collapse in the chair to where the only thing I can move is my neck. And that worked." In addition to his conversations with Di Borgo, Cranston spent time with many other people with quadriplegia, learning about not only their daily routines but also how their lives have changed - their relationships, emotions, perceptions of self.

"I think it meant a lot to Bryan, because I did get to see him a couple of times after he came back and you could just tell how it affected him. He wanted to deliver a performance that not only we would be proud of, but those he visited would also be proud of," Blumenthal says.

To further ensure authenticity, Bryan and Kevin worked closely with multiple consultants from both the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in New Jersey and the Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia. The consultants, who consisted of both people with quadriplegia as well as life auxiliaries, were on set every day to make certain everything was executed in a way that felt true and genuine to the characters, offering guidance on everything from the correct terminology, to the proper way to transfer a person with quadriplegia.

Though there is a serious dramatic tone to the film, Hart and Cranston bring balance to it. Upon realizing how powerful the dynamic is between the two lead characters, the challenge for filmmakers was choosing the proper cast to surround them with. "The supporting actors have to be able to keep up with the stamina, the comedy, and the drama of what is going on," Blumenthal says.

The next character to be cast was that of Yvonne, Phillip's loyal personal assistant. The producers wanted to develop the character more in the second iteration, and the romantic element between Yvonne and Phillip (a departure from the original version), meant it would be important to cast an actress who wouldn't overplay the role, allowing for some mystery. Nicole Kidman won them over.

"Once we zeroed in on Nicole Kidman, we knew we had something truly special," Black said. "Her body of work alone has shown that she has chosen roles that challenge her and take her in different directions."

"Nicole Kidman is just a pure delight," Cranston says. "There are a lot of times when you stop shooting and you restart a scene, and actors will go off into their dressing rooms. But Nicole is always on set. She's a brilliant actor."

"I was blown away by the people that Bryan and Nicole were off set," admits Hart. "On set, I knew I was getting a high level of professional. I knew that I was getting the best of the best. But I had no idea what they would be like off set, off camera. The personalities were amazing. Nicole was a sweetheart. We joked, we played in between takes. Bryan was amazing as well. The rapport that I had with both of them throughout the duration of the film was unbelievable. Bryan and I did become close. Bryan is just a great guy."

Another challenging role to cast was that of Maggie, Phillip's physical therapist. "We were having trouble figuring out how to balance Kevin, Bryan, and Nicole with someone that could also enter a room and bring something really special," said Black. "Maggie was a really important character, because she had to have a sensitivity and a lightness. And then we found Goldshifteh Farahani." Though Farahani describes her character as practical, the compassion she displays on screen balances Yvonne's professional approach and Dell's propensity to use comedy during the challenging moments caring for Phillip.

"She was the fourth significant cast member to help us round out, and now we're really able to see this ensemble come to life with the people that surround Phillip's character and tend to his every need."

Filling out the rest of the stellar cast are Aja Naomi King who plays Latrice, Dell's ex-girlfriend and the mother of his child, Suzanne Savoy as Charlotte, Phillip's long-time chef, Julianna Margulies, a pen pal Phillip finally gets the courage to meet for a date, Tate Donovan, the wealthy and somewhat obnoxious budding art collector living in Phillip's building, and Genevieve Angelson, as Phillip's deceased wife, Jenny.

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