Director Thomas Kail Interview: Up Here


Based on the 2015 stage musical, the entirety of Up Here season 1 will be available to stream on Hulu beginning Friday, March 24th. Mae Whitman (Good Girls) stars opposite Carlos Valdes (The Flash) in the new romantic comedy and tells the story of Lindsay and Miguel—two people who have spent their lives living for others. Constantly haunted by voices of the past, the couple must work together to let go of their fears and take charge of the future.


Steven Levenson and Danielle Sanchez-Witzel adapted the live play for television with Thomas Kail serving as the director. Kail has won three Primetime Emmys and is most notably known for his work on Hamilton, Fosse/Verdon, and Grease Live! The main cast also features Katie Finneran, Sophia Hammons, Emilia Suárez, Andréa Burns, John Hodgman, and Scott Porter.

Related: Up Here Season 1 Review: Carlos Valdes & Mae Whitman Soar In Delightful Musical Rom-Com

Kail chats exclusively with Screen Rant about what drew him to Hulu’s adaptation of Up Here and shares the reality of Lindsay’s and Miguel’s musical monologues.

Director Thomas Kail Talks Up Here

Screen Rant: If your inner thoughts were expressed through musical numbers, who would you want to be singing them to you?

Thomas Kail: Is this not including people in our cast? Because I would say anybody from our cast is welcome. And I’ve lived in my head for a while. I wouldn’t mind Carlos singing me a song. I’m not gonna lie to you. I think Andréa Burns singing me a song would also make me very happy. So I’ll put those two in my head.

What really spoke to you about Up Here? Did anything stick out to you about the original play or the idea of this adaptation?

Thomas Kail: I never saw the original play, but I knew about it because I had a lot of friends that have worked on it. I was friendly with Kristen and Bobby. We were pals, for sure, but we never worked together. And then when I started thinking about what could work on television in a serialized form, it felt to me like there might be an opportunity to make a musical for TV. I called them and said, “Is there anything that you’ve had on your mind—a new idea or an older idea?” And they said, “We always wanted to revisit this notion about a group of people from our past that imprint on us, and stay in our heads and make that into a musical that can happen over eight episodes, as opposed to living on stage for two and a half hours.”

And so I thought, “This is the form for that. This is exactly the medium to do that.” I said, “Let’s do it.” We reached out to our friend, Steven Levenson, who I knew from Fosse/Verdon, and they were pals with, and then Danielle Sanchez-Witzel, who I had developed some other stuff with, and I just knew was about as smart a TV writer as you could get. We put our brains together and wanted to see what we could make. For me, it was really about collaborating with these people that I knew and admired but hadn’t yet.

That was kind of the impetus. And then once we got into it, I felt, “Oh, we’re going to make a show that can be something that many people can feel themselves reflected back in.” What it takes to just walk out the door with all the noise in our heads is something that we can relate to, but people don’t really talk about. And I thought that this group of writers did it with great humor, with great joy, and also truthfulness. I think we relate to the show because it’s honest.

Lindsay and Miguel struggle to shake these voices and let go of these fears. They’ve become such a big part of their lives that they’re shown as physical manifestations. What are you hoping viewers take away from that aspect of the story?

Thomas Kail: I think that it is possible to get to know somebody and to work towards that. There might always be something buried deep, but can we get all of these voices out of our way and build a bridge to somebody else? That was the question. “Who am I and Who are You?” which is the song in the second episode, is really asking one of those large thematic ideas that our show is exploring.

If you are to truly love somebody, can you do so if you don’t truly love yourself? I think that’s also something that feels like it’s discussed more and more recently and not something we always have spoken about. I think that the show is hilarious and vulnerable, and I think it puts those things right next to each other, which is a much more accurate representation of life. Life doesn’t have a drama section and a comedy section. It’s all mixed together, and I think the show does that.

There are times when Miguel and Lindsay seem to be aware that they’ve started dancing in reality, so how much are they physically performing for others to see, and how much is taking place in their heads?

Thomas Kail: It’s just happening in their heads. And they can become aware of that. So in “What If?” when Lindsay goes outside, and she’s dancing with the people of New York…if you or I were just watching that or if someone was filming it—if they had cell phones back then and could film it—it would just be somebody walking down the street and getting a pretzel. It wouldn’t feel like a number to us. It is to them. It’s the person inside of it.

About Up Here

A musical romantic comedy set in New York City in the waning days of 1999, following the extraordinary story of one ordinary couple, as they fall in love – and discover that the single greatest obstacle to finding happiness together might just be themselves – and the treacherous world of memories, obsessions, fears, and fantasies that lives inside their heads.

Check back soon for our other interviews with the Up Here cast:

All 8 episodes of Up Here are now available to stream on Hulu.


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