Bryan Cranston says 'The Upside' highlights the lack of opportunities for disabled actors (exclusive)

Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart star in ‘The Upside’
Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart star in ‘The Upside’

The Intouchables is one of the most celebrated French films of the last decade so its no surprise that Hollywood wanted to do their own version and this week, that film, called The Upside, is heading into cinemas.

The comedy-drama is about two men; Phillip is a wealthy, white quadriplegic and Dell is a poor, black ex-con who becomes his carer with Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart filling the roles François Cluzet and Omar Sy won critical acclaim for.

Of course, neither Cluzet or Cranston is actually quadriplegic and so, at least for the latter, ensuring his portrayal was respectful and responsible was paramount to him taking on the role.

“I really needed to feel like I’m doing this justice,” the actor told Yahoo Movies UK. “I met with several quadriplegics and spent a lot of time with them to get to know what they were thinking and how they’ve adjusted in their lives, and, the level of happiness they could attain. It fluctuates.

“It’s not every day, so if you catch them on a good day you can celebrate that but the lows are very low and the psychological dependency they have is enough to bring them down with the pressure so I was concerned about that.

“I was also very aware that an able-bodied person is sitting in a wheelchair,” he added.

Last week, comedian, actor and disability advocate, Maysoon Zayid, criticised the lack of opportunities for disabled performers getting to play disabled roles.

“We are by far the largest minority in the world,” Zayid, who has cerebral palsy, said on Hardtalk, “We are 20% of the population and we are only 2% of the images you see on American television and of those 2%, 95% are played by non-disabled actors.”

Cranston says that the decision to cast him in the movie was made by the studio but what he hopes the film does highlight is the need for more actors with disabilities getting to appear on TV and in film.

“The real business dynamic of that is the choice of the studios to try to see if they can make an investment into a film that could bring a return, so that wasn’t part of my decision making,” he explained. “But I think it points out the lack of diversity in disabled actors and the lack of opportunity in order to be even considered to play the lead role in a film like this.

“Are there any actors who have reached any kind of star status to be able to be considered? I think by not coming up with an answer to that is the answer to that. There is a dearth of opportunity for actors with a disability.”

Bryan Cranston, left, and Kevin Hart in a scene from “The Upside.” (David Lee/STXfilms via AP)
Bryan Cranston, left, and Kevin Hart in a scene from “The Upside.” (David Lee/STXfilms via AP)

Our differing social privilege is an underlying theme of the film which Hart thinks is explored in a fresh way.

“You have the ‘white privileged male’ going through one of the roughest moments of his life that people can’t even imagine how or what it’s like to go through what he’s going through,” he says. “On my side, he’s been incarcerated, now on probation and not been able to get an opportunity and feel like the world is against me.

“There are unique ways to address the conversation from a cinematic point of view so why not take up the opportunity? Especially if we’re going to do from the perspective of looking at ‘the upside.'”

“There are people who don’t even know [white privilege] exists which is probably the height of white privilege,” Cranston continues. “I think in a small way that messaging is there and apparent.

“Our responsibility is to make an entertaining film. If the underlying tone can be felt, that these issues are present, then we’ve really done well and maybe, hopefully, it will get people to do something or start a conversation about it.”

The Upside is in cinemas from 11 January.

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