Mae Whitman: 'Up Here' explores mystery, fun of romance in the '90s

Carlos Valdes (L) and Mae Whitman star in "Up Here" on Hulu. Photo courtesy of Hulu
Carlos Valdes (L) and Mae Whitman star in "Up Here" on Hulu. Photo courtesy of Hulu

NEW YORK, March 24 (UPI) -- Parenthood and Good Girls alum Mae Whitman says she loved exploring what dating was like in 1990s New York for her new musical romantic-comedy series, Up Here.

"It was the best because there was still some mystery left. It wasn't like: 'I got your first name and phone number, I'm going to look you up on Spokeo. I'm going to check your exes out from 700 days ago on Instagram and try not to double click it,'" the 34-year-old star told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.


"Everybody's looking down now because we have our phones and I love our phones and I love being able to plan and reach out, but there is something so exciting about the fact that they keep coming together naturally. It really explores how they are like magnets. They get pulled apart, but then they keep coming back together."


The show's title is to be be taken literally.

It's about the mindset of "looking around and taking everything in and being present in the moment," Whitman said. "It changes everything."

Her co-star Carlos Valdes vaguely remembers pre-smartphone app dating.

"Creating intimacy with a person and getting to know somebody through their voice on the phone, talking for hours," Valdes said. "We got to do a little bit of that on the show."

"Falling asleep on the phone in high school!" Whitman added. "The nostalgia [of the show] was amazing."

With music by Frozen and Coco songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the show follows aspiring writer Lindsay (Whitman) as she meets Miguel (Valdes) by chance in a Manhattan bar.

Sparks fly immediately and the characters sing their hearts out, but both let their insecurities (fueled by the voices in their heads personified by their parents and other loved ones) get in the way.

The scripts are written by tick, tick...BOOM! and Dear Evan Hansen scribe Steven Levenson and helmed by Hamilton director and executive produced by Thomas Kail.

The ensemble includes Katie Finneran, John Hodgman, Andréa Burns, Sophia Hammons, Emilia Suárez and Scott Porter.

The Lopezes, who have been married since 2003, said the show's setting is semi-autobiographical.


"We don't know anything about dating in this world where you are ghosting each other and texting and swiping," Anderson-Lopez, 51, said.

"The only thing that is really us is the '1999 of it all' because we used to be able to have these long evenings of talking on the phone and really getting to know each other in a very intimate landline way that didn't involve editing or pictures or swiping."

Former child star Whitman -- whose credits include When a Man Loves a Woman, One Fine Day, Independence Day and Hope Floats -- said Up Here offered her professional challenges she never experienced before.

"Having done this since I was 3 years old, my tired sad old self was like, 'Is it all going to be the same?' I'm grateful, but I just want to work short hours and have a parking place. You get disillusioned, so I think for me this project really ignited my passion," the actress said.

"Also, it was like the one medium that I haven't explored and I love challenging myself to do the things that I am terrified of and this scared the absolute bejesus out of me," she added.

Valdes, 33, who is best known for his roles in The Flash and Arrow, said he never saw himself as a romantic lead.


"Every single role I've gotten has been to some extent a surprise to me," the actor said. "So, I feel like there is always this question mark element to where I am going in terms of my career. This one was surprising in so many ways. It feels like an evolution."

Lopez, 48, said the chemistry between the stars was evident immediately.

"We realized we made the right choice weeks after getting started," he added.

The cast and creative team said they had fun exploring the concept of how our decisions are often frequently impacted by the voices in our heads.

"Even though it's light and fun and there's music, the themes are actually quite intense and heavy and can be dark. Something I think of a lot is defense mechanisms and the things we developed when we were kids to try and keep us safe," Whitman said.

"At a certain point, you turn and you face the monsters or the voices and you say: 'Thank you for trying to keep me safe. I hear you. I see you, but I'm on my own. Take a seat. Don't worry. Have a coffee.' It's still a part of you. You understand why they are there, but you are the one driving the bus not them," she added.


Valdes joked that actors have voices in theirs heads all the time.

"You have your agent, your manager, your publicist, your lawyer," he said.

Anderson-Lopez thinks this notion makes the story relatable.

"I hope that people see this and recognize their own voices and start to say who are you hearing in your head?" she said.

Her husband chimed in, "And, also, realizing that you might be a voice in someone else's head unbeknownst to you."

"We put so much of our own hearts in it. When Bobby and I think of what we are as artists, we often say 'subversive joy,'" Anderson-Lopez said.

"We love to explore thinking a little differently because I think we both are that way, but, at the same time, where we love to live is in a joyful place in a place of getting people to communicate and laugh at themselves and live in the land of dancing and singing and feelings."

Up Here incorporates all of this.

"This is a whole musical about the link between music and feeling, very often those huge feelings that no one else can see," Lopez said.


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