ATX Television Festival’s virtual platform ATX TV…from the Couch! presented the U.S. premiere of the first two episodes of Upright on July 21. This limited TV series from Australia will show on Sundance Now in the US. Normally a live event, but only virtual this year, Austin Television Expo (ATX) invited series star Tim Minchin (Californication, Robin Hood (2018)) and filmmaker Judd Apatow (The Big Sick, Knocked Up) to discuss the series after the viewing.
It’s a piano. We meet Minchin’s character, Flynn, a down-on-his-luck 40-something musician, as he is traveling across Australia towing a trailer containing an upright piano. We see Flynn popping pills, but we don’t know for sure why.
In the middle of nowhere he has an accident with a pickup truck being driven by a feisty 16-year-old runaway girl, Meg. Flynn’s car totaled, Meg’s arm broken, the upright ends up in the pickup truck. The unlikely pair become a reluctant team, trying to cross 2,000 miles of Australia with no money and a lack of trust between them.
Australian actress Milly Alcock plays Meg. Her performance as the tough, resourceful, and funny runaway makes this a must-see. She plays it like a cute, and unstoppable, but totally human Terminator. Her performance in Upright makes it easy to see why Alcock won the Casting Guild of Australia’s 2018 Rising Star Award.
After the first two episodes completed, American screenwriter/producer Judd Apatow joined Minchin to discuss the project, filmmaking, and life in general.
Apatow and Minchin shared observations on the current health crisis and expressed admiration for each other’s work.
Minchin, in between movie work, wrote lyrics and music for the musical version of Groundhog Day. “Groundhog Day is such an amazing allegory for life,” Minchin said. “The Phil Connors character has to find his release from depression. He must face up to the truths of life. I love it more as I’ve gotten older. It addresses the things I’m interested in, such as how to live a meaningful life in a meaningless universe and that’s what Upright is about as well.”
Apatow praised Minchin’s work. “You do a beautiful job,” he said. “The simple act of just connecting and being real with people can be so hard.”
The interview revealed several similarities between Minchin and the character Flynn. Both are musicians, from Perth, Australia, who had been exiled from their family for over a dozen years. Although Minchin’s “exile” in California was of his own choosing.
The Amazing Milly
Apatow also had praise for Minchin’s co-star, Milly Alcock: “She’s amazing! It’s wonderful when you find something like that. Ninety seconds into the episode you think ‘I’m watching a mega-star I’ll see again for the next 50 years.’ Every moment is good. It’s fun to watch her. You think, ‘Is this her 50th thing?,’ but it’s about her first thing.”
Minchin and Apatow both liked the format of the show, eight half-hour episodes.
Minchin said that the show breaks the typical writing rules where you find out the main character’s problem in the first 30 minutes. “You don’t actually find out what Flynn wants till the last episode,” he said. “I was probably most proud of the team to have the courage to do that. Some people may think it’s slow compared to much of modern television, but I’m not interested in feeding the audience bubblegum.”
Apatow agreed: “That’s one of the great things about doing an eight-part mini-series is that you really get to know the characters.”
Minchin said that Upright rewards binge-watching. “Sometimes spending four hours on an arc, if you do your job right, can be the most satisfying thing for an audience,” he observed. “I think we will find a great audience on Sundance, but I don’t want people to think it’s an art house thing. Upright is a rollicking good time.”
Upright will show on the SUNDANCE NOW streaming service beginning August 6. You can watch the teaser that played in Australia below. The entire Minchin/Apatow interview awaits you on the ATX TV Festival YouTube page. ATX also shares programming through Facebook and Twitter.