Casting the Film
The filmmaking team were long-time admirers of both Bryan Cranston and Kevin
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
"People are going to be blown away, because Kevin has incredible dramatic chops
nobody's seen before," says director Neil Burger.
"When people hear Kevin Hart, they immediately think it's going to be broad
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
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
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
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
you're an African American male just getting out of prison, or a 60 something
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
"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
Though Cranston has played a wide variety of characters, the physical
involved in playing a person with quadriplegia presented a new challenge for the
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
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
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,
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.
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
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
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
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
To further ensure authenticity, Bryan and Kevin worked closely with multiple
from both the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in New Jersey and the Magee
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
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
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
The next character to be cast was that of Yvonne, Phillip's loyal personal
producers wanted to develop the character more in the second iteration, and the
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
"Once we zeroed in on Nicole Kidman, we knew we had something truly special,"
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
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
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
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
character, because she had to have a sensitivity and a lightness. And then we
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
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,
and the mother of his child, Suzanne Savoy as Charlotte, Phillip's long-time
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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