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Mae Whitman and Carlos Valdez Get Vulnerable in Hulu Musical Up Here

The stars and executive producers of the upcoming series talk putting their deepest selves on screen

Lauren Piester

Mae Whitman and Carlos Valdes have got voices in their heads, and those voices are singing. In Hulu's Up Here, they play Lindsay and Miguel, a pair of twenty-somethings just living their lives in 1999. Lindsay has just blown up her life to move to New York to become a writer, and Miguel is an investment banker fearing the Y2K apocalypse. After a chance meeting in a bar, their lives begin to intersect, but their potential love story is made complicated by the nagging voices quite literally following them around. For Lindsay, it's her parents and childhood best friend. For Miguel, it's his mother and the guy his girlfriend cheated on him with, played by a scene-stealing Scott Porter. Turns out that make outs and sex scenes are much harder when your parents and critics won't stop singing. 

Whitman and Valdes took the stage at the TV Critics Association press tour on Saturday, January 14 to promote the new series, and both spoke about how passionate they were about the project, despite how scary it sometimes felt. "It's so funny, because…being a child actor, going on a set, being in front of a camera, it's like no big deal, it's comfortable, never even think about it, but there's something about singing that's so vulnerable and terrifying because it's like a direct window into my soul," Whitman said. "I didn't know how to think of it as a tool…But something I've always been passionate about is doing things I haven't done before."

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For Valdes, the show formed the "perfect little confluence of things and influences in my life," and also just so happened to come at a time when he really wanted a job. "I was trying to pay the bills and this project came along, and it really hit on some fundamental spots for me," he said. "I think meeting this team, and especially doing a chemistry read with Mae, I think at every step along the process, there was a sort of rightness about it. It was very easy to let go of those voices of insecurity and doubt." 

For executive producers and (Emmy-winning) songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, the show has been a long-gestating project that really came together during the pandemic. They wanted to write a musical about the quest to understand another person as well as we understand ourselves. "There's this Elizabeth Gilbert quote that's like, we all want to find our soulmate, and when we finally do, it's the person that holds a mirror up to us and makes us finally see ourselves," Anderson-Lopez said. "And if there are two things that Bobby and I really think about a lot, it's musical storytelling and how to understand each other better, because we can't do one without the other." Alongside prolific theatre and TV director Tommy Kail and executive producers Steven Levenson and Danielle Sanchez-Witzel, the Lopezes were able to create a world that Kail refers to as the "Up Here University." Production and rehearsal took place primarily all in one building, with a recording studio, dance studio, and rehearsal space all next door to one another. 

Up Here, Carlos Valdes, Mae Whitman

Up Here, Carlos Valdes, Mae Whitman


"We have, in my opinion, the best people from every single category working on this one project," Whitman said. "So I just want to say my mind was completely blown. It was like everybody from all these different mediums all coming together." She said that they basically recorded an album and rehearsed all the dance numbers for a full month before filming began, and it created a lot of camaraderie with everyone in the same building. 

Whitman also gushed about working with the Lopezes, describing their songwriting as "deep and complicated and genuine without having to be saccharine or on the nose. Everything is under the surface, but it's all there and you feel it and it comes out so naturally." 

For Valdes, his biggest TV experience prior to this show was many seasons of The Flash, and while both involve a bit of fantasy, he said the experience of filming the two shows was "completely different." "This was very real, very tangible," he said. "And I think honestly, the choreography, the storytelling, that all lives in my body and I feel a fluency with all of that. I think what's really challenging was rendering that emotional life for Miguel and laying that bare in front of the camera. That was a challenge for me, so I had to trust the music and all the other components." 

The show takes place in 1999, which was a time before dating apps and smartphones when you "have to make an effort to meet people," because texting wasn't really a thing yet. Romance was really affected by the time, and that was "really important" to the storytelling, said Sanchez-Witzel. "There's a really beautiful sequence in the opening two episodes of a phone call, and for those of us who remember talking on the phone until two or three o'clock in the morning to someone you were interested in dating…that stuff just doesn't happen anymore." 

All episodes of Up Here premiere March 24 on Hulu.