Insecurity, old wounds, fear of rejection—they’re all voices in our heads, constantly telling us we’re unworthy of love. In Hulu’s new comedy, Lindsay (Mae Whitman) is plagued by such voices. But because it’s TV, they’re personified as her parents and her worst childhood friend. Because it’s a musical, instead of just speaking all of Lindsay’s negative self-talk, they’re singing it. And because the series is adapted from a stage show by the multiple award-winning team of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Bobby Lopez, those songs are extremely catchy. Before long, Lindsay meets Miguel (Carlos Valdes), someone interesting enough for her to try to ignore her voices…if he can manage to silence his own.

Musical comedy is an increasingly viable TV genre—High School Musical: The Musical: The Series helped launch Olivia Rodrigo, and we’re mere weeks away from a new season of AppleTV+’s Schmigadoon!—but few titles have Up Here’s pedigree. In addition to the Lopezes, the show is co-written by Steven Levenson (tick, tick…BOOM!) and directed by Thomas Kail (Hamilton); the supporting cast includes multiple Tony winners Katie Finneran and Brian Stokes Mitchell

Vanity Fair spoke to Whitman about taking on such an all-encompassing challenge, what her former TV mom-turned-dear friend Lauren Graham had to say about it, and whether a dog’s animosity toward a new partner must always spell doom.

__Vanity Fair: __You have sung in quite a few of your past films and shows. Had you specifically been looking for a musical project when Up Here came along?

Mae Whitman: It was just something that I hadn’t done before. It’s easy to show up, do your thing, have a parking place, go home, not really be as invested. But what makes me feel the most connected to the artistry of acting is doing something new, and especially something that scares the living bejesus out of me, which is singing in public.

How extensive was the audition process?

It was long. But I appreciated that it was all done really mindfully. The whole thing took about a month because I was sick and I lost my voice. So I was able to work with my voice coach, Doug Peck. My friend Ahmir [Thompson], who’s Questlove, gave me a self-help book on tape. Literally. Then Lauren Graham sat me down at a dinner table for two hours and was like, “I don’t want to hear it. This is why you can do it. This is why this is your destiny.”

After I got it, it was time to cast Miguel, so I did chemistry reads. When Carlos came in, I was struck by not only what a good listener he was, but also that he was very contained in the way he presented this character: there was a protective layer on the surface, and you could just feel, right underneath it, this beautiful kindness and vulnerability. I went home and told my best friend, Miles [Heizer], “There was this one guy, Carlos, who actually was a really good actor,” and Miles was like, “Wow, I haven’t heard you say that about anybody in years.” 

You already mentioned Lauren Graham. She has done musicals on stage, and she co-starred with your friend, Jane Levy, in Zoe’s Extraordinary Playlist. I imagine you had questions for her about this project.

I always felt like I was an honorary cast member on Zoe’s because I was also working on NBC at the time [in Good Girls]. I’m obsessed with my circle of friends. Lauren is my guru, frankly.  I have this golden hotline to the most incredible advice.

You’ve talked in the past about your friends and what a support system they are for you. We really don’t see Lindsay having friends at all—the people that are surrounding her are the voices that are constantly undermining her. How was it for you to get into that mode?

It’s a little bit like how I’ve always played slightly younger characters, because I still look young—which, of course, I used to be frustrated about, and now I’m like, “Thank God.” But I felt like I always played characters who were a few experiences behind me, and it gave me the ability to have an omnipotent point of view: “Oh, I remember the entire feeling of this.” I have the perspective on the before, the middle, and the after of what that experience brought to me, and I can go back into it with a more mindful view on what it felt like to be present in it.

For Lindsay, so much of it is about knowing herself and being brave enough to actually act on that intuition and free herself. I’m very domestic. I love to be at home doing a jigsaw puzzle.I think for many years, in my twenties, I would get into these Relationships where I would stay past the time where there was growth happening, and I really came to realize that there is danger in that stagnancy. That’s the danger when it comes to people-pleasing: you’re trying to give everybody what you think they want from you, and in actuality, it’s just not the truth. You can’t give them something you don’t have.

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