Carlos Valdes Talks ‘Up Here’ and the Challenges of Making a Musical
Mar 27, 2023
Written by Steven Levenson and Danielle Sanchez-Witzel, with original songs by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the Hulu original musical romantic comedy series Up Here follows the love story of Lindsay (Mae Whitman) and Miguel (Carlos Valdes), who must overcome their own insecurities, anxieties and fears, and ignore the voices inside their heads, if they’re going to find happiness with each other. Set in New York City in the last days of 1999, with the dread of Y2K looming, Lindsay and Miguel sing and dance their way through their journeys of self-discovery, as they try to figure things out for themselves and each other.
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During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, Valdes talked about how auditioning for The Flash (he played Cisco Ramon for seven seasons) compared to auditioning for Up Here, the collaborative foundation they built during the rehearsal process, how technical things sometimes got, and the Miguel’s Quest video game.
Collider: I first became aware of you with The Flash, which you did a bit of singing in, but I didn’t necessarily know that you had all of this in you, which is awesome. How did your audition process for this compared to what your audition process was for The Flash? Were things very different with this? Did you have to do any singing?
CARLOS VALDES: Both audition processes, at the time, were pretty scary, to be honest. My audition process for The Flash, I didn’t really have a whole lot of experience auditioning for stuff on screen all that much. And so, I just stepped into it and, on a wing and a prayer, just went for it and hoped for the best. Fortunately, the best did happen, in that particular circumstance and I worked on The Flash for eight years. During that time, I pretty much stepped away from theater, to lend more of my focus to The Flash and working on camera. So then, auditioning for Up Here, I had to come back to that experience that I was comfortable with long ago, with the whole auditioning for theater experience. It definitely felt much more like a theater audition than it did a film or TV audition, which I really appreciated, but it was also challenging to have to go back to that. I had to lean back on some of that stuff, unconsciously, and that then became the challenge. I used to remember how to do that and I used to have such facility with it, and I had clear the cobwebs, so to speak. But they were both challenging, for similar reasons. Being outside your comfort zone is sometimes the best place to be, so it was good.
Image via Hulu
Something like this is different from a regular show because you get to rehearse the performance numbers and record the songs, so you have a background with the material before you shoot it. Does that take away some of the nerves, or is there a different kind of nerves because you’ve got to figure out how it all works on camera?
VALDES: For the most part, it took away the nerves because, through the audition process, I really got to be familiar with how these people work. There’s something a little scary about working with people that operate on the higher echelon of what it is that they do. In this case, that was namely (director/EP) Tommy [Kail], (writer/EP) Steven [Levenson], (writer/EP) Danielle [Sanchez-Witzel], (songwriter/EP) Bobby [Lopez], (songwriter/EP) Kristen [Anderson-Lopez], and (choreographer) Sonya [Tayeh]. They really operate at the highest level of what they do, and you don’t really know what to expect from somebody that carries all of that knowledge and clout with them. And so, the audition process was pretty instrumental in helping me get a sense of how they each operate as creators and what their communication style is like. And I met Mae [Whitman] through that process. We had our chemistry read and things went well there, and I got to know her a little bit. We just sat in that comfort and started building trust, throughout the rehearsal process. What was established in the audition process, we just built on in the rehearsal process. And so, getting to become familiar with these songs and pre-record them and start working on choreography and having all of this prep work, and even being able to sit down with Tommy and talk about character and scenes and the arc, that’s not something that you often get to do with projects. That really helped to sow a lot of trust. By the time we went to camera, we had already built all that foundation, as collaborators, and I think it ended up making the result even better because of it.
What was it like to adjust to acting and singing with the manifestations from your head standing around and sometimes communicating with you, and then you also sometimes had all of Mae’s manifestations there? What was all of that like to figure all of that out?
VALDES: Usually in a stage context, when you’re doing a musical, the confines are predetermined with a more generalized approach, so you can feel free to live in the moment on stage, at a much larger scale. But obviously, when you’re working on camera, that scale is shrunk down to an annoyingly small size sometimes. Oftentimes, that expression that I’m so used to being able to feel within like very vast parameters, I really had to shrink that awareness down because it got very technical at times. You quite literally have to figure out how to play the moment with your head characters in the frame with you, and without blocking anyone or blocking anyone’s light, and making sure the angle is right. It got very technical. I didn’t feel the same like degree of expressive freedom that I’m used to feeling when I’m on stage, but there’s something really gratifying to me about making it work within a confined set of parameters.
Image via Hulu
One of the moments that I loved is the Miguel’s Quest game. What did you think of that and how that was done, getting to see little bits of what the game would be, but also having those characters singing to you?
VALDES: Speaking of technical, that was an incredibly technical dance. We really had to shoot every piece of it, in and of itself. I didn’t really get the chance to do it all as one connected thing, which is the dream for an actor. You wanna be able to feel out what it is in real time, in the moment. We had to chop it up and parcel it all out, and do it one piece at a time, just because logistically and with the camera, that was just the only way it was gonna get done, but that made it very challenging. I credit my time on The Flash with helping me become comfortable with processes like that. It definitely is a muscle, to be able to know how to compartmentalize the thing in your brain and be able to step into a specific chapter of that novel, at any given point in time. So, it was challenging, but it was a lot of fun.
How fun would it be to have that game?
VALDES: While we were shooting it, my brain was rife with all these different imaginings of how they were gonna do it in post. I’m a child of the nineties, so video games were definitely part of my life growing up. Sometimes my life feels like a video game, so that would be fun.
Up Here is available to stream at Hulu.
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