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Up Here Star Carlos Valdes Reveals Just How Scary It Was to Go From Sidekick to Leading Man

The former star of The Flash explains why he had to learn to let go as he took on Hulu's new musical

Lauren Piester

[Warning: The following contains spoilers from the Hulu series Up Here! Read at your own risk]

Carlos Valdes is [heavy New York accent] singin' up here! A year and a half after leaving The Flash, the former superhero sidekick is now a leading man in Hulu's Up Here, a musical romcom set during the panic of Y2K. He stars opposite Mae Whitman in a tale about two young people who run into each other at a bar in NYC and begin a roller coaster of will they/won't they/they will/they won't/they did/but should they? There are ups, there are downs, and there are threats of disaster in the new millennium. There are also many, many songs, written by Oscar winning songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. Miguel (Valdes) and Lindsay (Whitman) are followed around by not just songs in their head, but songs that are often sung by influential people from their lives who follow them around like extremely annoying imaginary friends. For Lindsay, it's her parents and childhood bestie. For Miguel, it's his mom, his high school bully, and Orson, the guy his ex-girlfriend cheated with, played by Scott Porter. With Orson's encouragement, Miguel fits right in with the corporate bros at his corporate bank job who would rip him apart if they knew the sorts of musical theater going on in his head. 

Valdes himself is a singer, songwriter, and theater vet who occasionally got to show off his talents as Cisco on The Flash, like in Season 3's big musical episode. But Up Here is a whole different ballgame, especially considering that his biggest previous role was six seasons as a superhero sidekick. "It was actually really scary for me," he tells TV Guide. "Because I never saw myself as a lead of a story, certainly not a romantic lead." The show, he says, appealed to all of his abilities and interests and "just felt like the right thing," but that didn't mean it was easy. "It was really scary to dive in and be a main character on the show, and it's one of those things where once the truth is on the paper and facing you in real life, you don't have any room to hem and haw with your own feelings of self-worth or how you see yourself," he says. "You just have to accept it and move forward, and that's what I did." 

Below, Valdes shares his experiences of going back to his musical theater roots, moving on from The Flash, and what that ending cliffhanger means for Lindsay and Miguel.

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Since you've had so much musical theater experience, did Up Here feel familiar or comfortable even if it was also scary? 
Carlos Valdes
: There were parts of it that felt totally comfortable, like I know what to expect from an onset process, and the musical theater aspects were very familiar and felt like a homecoming of sorts, in that respect. But I think the leadership components and setting the tone and being number two on a call sheet and being a protagonist and bringing exploration to the creative process…those were aspects that I was not as familiar with and I felt so blessed to be working with the people that I worked with. They created the ultimate safe space for all of that. They created an environment where everybody was empowered to give their best and give the most honest work. I couldn't have felt better about the process. 

Were there any glimpses of similarities to filming the musical episode of The Flash from Season 3? 
Valdes: You know, it was similar in that, like, the energy underneath the day was like, "We gotta move! We gotta go!  We just have time to get a couple shots of this setup!" But everything else was entirely different. With that musical episode, everything was steadicam, and trying to shoot it as simply and quickly as possible. But with our numbers [in Up Here], because it's not this one off, they're considered an extension of the storytelling. So the shots have to tell a very specific story. It felt more organic, but I also had to enlist a lot more patience. 

Up Here, Carlos Valdes, Mae Whitman

Up Here, Carlos Valdes, Mae Whitman


It's funny to me that you went from such a high-tech, CGI show to a musical set in the 90s where everything is a lot more scaled back. What was that like for you to jump into something so completely opposite? 
Valdes: Yeah, you know, the thing about all the tech and modernity of telling a story set in [the] present day is that there's a lot to hide behind, whether it's the computers or the CGI. There are a lot of external components that are filling in the gaps. With this show, it's so minimalist and so simple and human and heartfelt, it really was, for the most part, just us. It was us and the material pulling all the weight, and that was very challenging. I had no choice but to just be there and trust, and I had to learn to do that. 

How do you think people are going to respond to seeing you in such a different way? 
Valdes: I have no control over how people see me, and I think part of the trajectory of my life and my career has been about accepting that truth. So I'm perfectly blissful, with the understanding that that's something I can't control and I have to learn not to anticipate or predict. I hope it's good, but I really have no clue, and it's especially scary because for both Mae and myself, to really give these characters dimension, we really brought a lot of vulnerability to the process. And to be so vulnerable with this kind of story and let public perception take root however it wants to, it can be a very humbling and frightening process. 

Has it been helpful for you to step away from The Flash for a couple of years? What has it been like to get back in front of those fans in new roles like this?
Valdes: I love my Flash family. I always have and I always will. When I stepped away from the show, I did so because I felt like I needed to and wanted to, and I'm glad I did, because it allowed me to keep evolving and growing, and to step into this amazing opportunity. I'm curious. It's all a big experiment, and that's what makes it worth living. Everything in this industry and this life is a roll of the die, and this is no exception. I'm excited and optimistic about how the Flash fans will respond to this story. 

Y2K seems to be a popular theme lately, and it sort of feels connected to present-day in that it feels like something big is happening, but we don't know what it is. How do you think that impacts your character? 
Valdes: I think similar to our current time, there's this anticipatory energy of feeling like there's something ominous or big on the horizon, for humanity and for our civilization. I think we can relate to that anxiety, but I also think the show caters to a cultural nostalgia I think we're prone to feeling about the 90s these days. I think there's this aspect about living in the pre-smartphone world where our interactions with people and our ability to move ourselves through those interactions was contingent on what wasn't being said and what's in between the lines, and the mystery and the questions that lie in that darkness, because now we try to fill those gaps with information and with phone time and social media and all that stuff. So that was a real head trip to have to try to immerse myself into my childhood, essentially. 

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So at the end of the season, Miguel and Lindsay have just barely decided to be together when she tells him she's pregnant. What do you think of the impact of that ending, after the love story these two have been through? 
Valdes: I think there's something in the DNA of the show that kind of implies that no matter how this ends, these people are going to be okay. I love that about it. I think audiences are responding to that kind of story very heavily these days because we do live in these incredibly stressful and uncertain times, so I think that the fact that the first season ends the way it does honors what we want to see in storytelling, and what we want from our stories in this day and age. 

Do you know what comes next for Lindsay and Miguel?
Valdes: I honestly have no idea what's going to happen, and I don't think that the writers do either. I think they created a really sophisticated and well-designed ending for this first season of this love story, and I hope that it gets picked up and that fans want to see more of what evolves out of this love story, and I'm certainly excited to see where it goes. 

After doing this show, how do you envision your career from here? You've done the superhero, you've done the musical, so what do you do next?
Valdes: Like I was saying before, I'm learning to let control go, and this is one of those areas where I feel like…I have some agency here and some part to play in how my career evolves, but a good chunk of it is not within my control and I'm making peace with that. I have no idea where it's gonna go from here, and I hope it's only good things. Actually, no. That's dumb. I don't hope it's only good things. I hope it's all things that balance each other out. I'm excited for the future. I see a wide open sky.

Up Here is now streaming on Hulu.