Based on the 2011 French film Les Intouchables, The Upside is about the unlikely friendship between Phillip Lacasse (Bryan Cranston), a billionaire who is left paralysed after a paragliding accident, and Dell Scott (Kevin Hart), an unemployed ex-felon who becomes his carer after walking into the wrong job interview.
The filmmakers – led by director Neil Burger – wanted to remain faithful to the real-life story of French businessman Phillippe Pozzo Di Borgo, on whom the original film was based, as well as stories of others with quadriplegia, a condition in which all limbs are paralysed.
“Our decision to remake Les Intouchables stemmed from a desire to dive deeper into the lives of the incredible real people the original film is based on,” said producer Todd Black.
“We wanted to know more about their stories, and believed we could give audiences a fresh interpretation that honoured the brilliance of the French version.”
Cranston, an Oscar nominee known for playing Walter White on TV series Breaking Bad, underwent a massive transformation, both physically and mentally, to bring his character to life.
“At first, I thought I’d really have to focus on being absolutely still – I started practising holding my body in a rigid manner, but that can’t be sustained – you’re too tense,” he said.
“It really had to just be the opposite of that – I had to go into a Zen-like state and have my whole body collapse in the chair to the point where the only thing I can move is my neck.
“Before the movie, I didn’t realise how often actors depend on their entire bodies to sell a performance and a scene,” producer Jason Blumenthal added.
Cranston sought advice from former football star Eric LeGrand, who was paralysed following an accident in 2010. To get a better idea of his daily struggles, Cranston spent hours listening to his story and observing him during therapy sessions.
“This role required [Cranston] to approach his character in an entirely new way, and discover how to deliver an emotional, funny and at times heartbreaking performance without using most of the tools he’s used to having at his disposal,” said Blumenthal.
“Were there times when he wanted to give up? Yes. Were there depths of depression? Yes. Were there peaks where he thought, wait, I do have some options. Yes. It’s all of the above,” Cranston said.
“It was up to him to be able to embrace everything about the challenges ahead, both good and bad.”
To give an accurate portrayal of someone with physical disabilities, both Cranston and Hart worked with consultants from rehabilitation centres. For example, for Hart, whose character Scott is tasked with taking care of Lacasse, it was important that he knew how to physically move Cranston’s character from one place to another.
While the subject matter is by no means a lighthearted one, Hart, best known as a comedian, still managed to weave his signature humour into his performance.
“When people hear Kevin Hart, they immediately think it’s going to be broad and funny,” Blumenthal said.
“We will see funny Kevin for sure, but also a more serious, dramatic Kevin.
“This was not your typical Kevin Hart movie. Though Kevin brings humour to the film, his role goes beyond comedic relief while his character struggles to turn his life around.”