Up Here | Official Trailer | Hulu

AVC: Lindsay is ambitious but naive, moving to New York City on a whim to pursue her passion. How did you capture those traits? 

MW: One cool thing was we had a month of preparing before we began so we could dig deeper into those traits. We explored them in rehearsal and writing but also with singing and dancing. We were interested in understanding why they were singing, what’s the message behind every word, what does it make their body feel, and how are they moving. It’s a dream for an actor. I’ve been in places where I’ve felt stuck, or there’s this concept of safety and stagnation, which is equally dangerous because you grow resentful and shove down your intuition. You look up one day, and you’ve been trying to be someone you’re not by pleasing everyone. I’ve been there thinking, “There’s no hope.” But then I changed one thing that seemed scary to do, and a whole thread unraveled. Every time I’ve made a terrifying leap, it’s changed my life for the better. So I was excited to play a person in Up Here with the perspective of the incredible wonder on the other side of tough choices.

AVC: You’ve said you were afraid of singing on camera for the show because it’s the most vulnerable you’ve felt. How did you overcome that fear?

MW: Yeah, even the audition process was terrifying. I had to go to New York City and act like a theater person who can sing in front of people as if it’s no big deal. That was an ordeal in and of itself. I don’t have a system for knowing how not to sink my heart into something without my life crumbling if it doesn’t happen. I wanted this so badly. I hired an incredible vocal coach, Doug Peck, thinking it’s gonna be funny exercises and weird sounds. It was the opposite. He was teaching me about vocal cords, the science of it, going through every moment and figuring out where it’s coming from. It was super emotional, like therapy. I cried with him. He’s the most loving person. He sat in on every long-ass recording session I did on Zoom, and we had a special sign language. I think that gave me confidence.

It helps when you’re working with people who are so good they don’t feel insecure or the need to control and go, “I need to show them how to do it.” [Director] Thomas Kail said to hire people you trust and admit when you don’t know something. You have to trust them and ask them questions. Having a collaborative environment makes an enormous difference, which is what happened here with all these big people who are humble and self-deprecating. They put me at ease. For all the limitations I have, of which I’m sure there are many, the one thing I try to bring to a role is vulnerability and my true experiences. Thankfully, it was something they wanted for Lindsay.

Up Here - Cast - Please Like Me (From “Up Here”) ft. Mae Whitman

AVC: You were a child actor and have been part of this industry for three decades. Have you ever felt self-doubt—like Lindsay has—and had to work on it, especially in those early days?

MW: We’re in a time now when we’re emphasizing trauma and where it comes from and identifying what it means to be reactionary. There’s a language for understanding yourself that wasn’t there before. It was beneficial to me to go back and identify moments in childhood when there weren’t enough tools to deal with situations [and I] had to jump into protective mode. We don’t think about it, and those defensive mechanisms stick around. Suddenly, you’re 29, reacting like you were five to something. What’s worked for me is identifying those times.

I’m trying to be compassionate and gentle with myself because I wasn’t before. I would always tell myself, “You’re lazy, why can’t you do more, be more capable.” And then I answered myself like, “Oh, maybe because I’m completely exhausted from working for 30-plus years and having a disease that makes me sick all the time?” I need to rest and say, “I’m going to put this to the side and say no thank you.” I think it’s cool these elements are explored in Up Here too.

Arrested Development (2004-2006, 2013)—“Ann Veal,” a.k.a. “Her”

MW: As you know, another actor [Alessandra Torresani] played Ann in season one. The device was going to be to change her out every episode, which is very funny and in line with the character. I [had been] best friends with Alia [Shawkat] since we were 11 or 12, so I was hanging on set with Alia and Michael [Cera] a lot, and then I auditioned for Ann. I don’t know what I did, but producer and writer Jim Vallely, a joyous man, laughed so hard. I said, “I swear, I didn’t do anything.” But it made me feel so good to make this brilliant man laugh. It felt like we were already family.

I love being that kind of fun character and exploring weird people. Ann seems like she’s not memorable, but she’s a pervert who’s obsessed with sex. She’s terrifying. I love that. She’s an example of what happens when you repress anything stimulating because you overflow with it later. I love that all of it is bubbling under the surface, and she’s intense about it as she grows up. [Series creator] Mitch Hurwitz has a brain that works so fast at creating incredible stuff. Plus, the cast was one of the funniest of all time. That show is one of my proudest moments.

AVC: Arrested Development became such a cult hit once it began streaming, which means lots of memes, especially of Jason Bateman looking at you going, “Her?”

MW: I know, it’s huge. People are always telling me they’re the biggest Arrested Development fan. I’m like, “Not more than me. I can quote it more than you can.” I’ve seen it a million times. They didn’t assume their audience was stupid. They told jokes at a rapid-fire pace, and things don’t always make sense until six episodes later. It makes you want to go back and watch. Even now, I catch new jokes every time. I can’t imagine having a brain like that.

AVC: Do you have any funny memories from working with Jessica Walter, or a favorite episode with her?  

MW: There are many. The episode where Ann is left in Mexico was an incredible filming experience. It also has all the goods, like Gene Parmesan and the chicken dance. I laugh any time I see the chicken dance or Lucille going, “I don’t care for Gob.” Jessica was one of my favorite people on the planet; she was so funny. She came up to my parents at the wrap party and went on and on about me. It meant the world to all of us. When they wanted someone to play Dean’s (Matthew Lillard) mom on Good Girls years later, I immediately went, “Get Jessica,” and she was brought on board.

Michael Meets Ann For The First Time - Arrested Development

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (2010)—“Roxy Ritcher”

AVC: You reunited with Michael Cera for Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World a few years later. Was the experience any different because you both had more experience by then?

MW: Michael and I are very similar; we’re Geminis, born two days apart. So we’re really good friends. He’s so generous and funny; he’s not like many other comedians, needing validation constantly. He’s just who he is and likes making people laugh. It’s a pleasure to be around that. We had a good relationship from the get-go. That movie was hard to shoot, but it’s another proud moment. I had to do three months of boot camp for ribbon dancing and fight training every weekend. It took nine months overall to shoot that movie. I was going back and forth, but Michael is pretty much in every scene. It was reassuring to have each other. We could lie down and stare at the walls on our days off.

AVC: Scott Pilgrim is another one of those cult hits. It’s a crazy movie that wasn’t appreciated when it was released but has developed a following over the years.

MW: I was a big fan of Edgar Wright. I remember being a teen and not having seen Shaun Of The Dead. I went to the theater and the movie I wanted to see was sold out, so I went for Shaun and was blown to bits. I kept thinking, “What am I watching? It’s funny, cool, and scary at the same time.” I’m not a movie person who pulls things apart regarding producing or camerawork. In this case, though, the directing stood out to me. I made a mental note that I wanted to work with him. While making Scott Pilgrim, I don’t think we had that kind of care about what people might think. We just had such a good time. We had the time of our lives at Comic-Con that year. I’ve seen the movie in the theater more than any other, maybe seven times. We went to every screening. I feel like, for us, we weren’t hoping everyone would love it, but we were big fans of it.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (6/10) Movie CLIP - Bi-Furious (2010) HD

Chicago Hope (1996-1999)—“Sara Wilmette”

AVC: I want to talk about Chicago Hope because it’s your first longer TV role after episodes of Friends, Early Edition, and Duckman. What do you remember from that time?

MW: I remember turning 10 on that show. I had to talk about getting my period on an episode, and it was a big deal; I’ll tell you why. I saw a commercial for Tampax when I was seven or something and asked my mom about it. She gave me an “it’s complicated” answer because I was too young, but I remember thinking it would be cool and exciting—spoiler, it’s not—and wanted to figure it out. Finally, my character Sara has to bring it up. It’s funny the talks you have as a child actor.

Chicago Hope was so fun because, as you said, it was one of the first regular TV shows I was part of. Something about episodic television is different; you have your trailer and parking place, and you get to know each other. It feels constant. With a movie, you know it’s going to end. There were also no special effects in those days, so they built a hospital on a soundstage at Fox Studios. As a kid, it felt like a playground where I would run around at lunch or play with a prosthetic baby. It was like a wonderland where I learned good and bad behavior. I was 11 in the trailer when an actor walked in trying to remember lines. I said, “Oh, okay, you don’t have to learn lines before work.” Cut to me going, “What scene is this?” sometimes. It’s hard to go to work for 14 hours and then have brain space to learn more scenes for the next day. You have to learn as you go. I’m still friends with Christine Lahti from the show. Her husband, Tommy Schlamme, directed the Parenthood pilot. So that’s a fun connection.

AVC: Based on what you said about episodic TV, do you think, even at that young age, you were drawn to the medium? Because you’ve had some significant roles since, like AD, but also Family Guy, Good Girls, and Parenthood, which is anything but a Random Role, so we won’t be digging into it.

MW: That’s an excellent way to put it for Parenthood. [Laughs] My good friend and makeup artist, Julie, told me, “You find something you love in every job and let it teach you what it has to and take it with you.” Some projects turned out, you know, XYZ, but I met that person or bonded with the crew so I’ll never take that back. So much of what I love about acting is developing those connections. I liked that feeling early on with Chicago Hope. You become family with the people doing this insane thing of creating a life you must live as if it’s your own. I had to stop doing commercials at four or so because my parents were like, “This is traumatizing her. She’s getting to know and love people and then she has to leave.” Episodic TV feels like more than that.

The Duff (2015)—“Bianca Piper”

MW: The Duff was interesting because I was like, if we’re doing this kind of teen comedy, we are doing it right. Some people hear the title and what it stands for [Designated Ugly Fat Friend] and think we’re not doing it right or can’t. But that’s the point because I went through it. I was getting character breakdowns of the “unattractive best friend” or “fat best friend” about how she’s jealous of her BFF, who looks good in a tank top. It exists; I’ve faced it and had to find a way not to take it personally. I had to understand it wasn’t my problem; it was theirs. This comes from a world of people who don’t have a sense of self. People want to be “cool,” but the only cool thing to do is live with authenticity. I put much of myself into The Duff. Bianca never changes who she is.

I thought, I’d make this how I was in school, so those are my overalls and Doc Martens. I wanted to go into how I felt when I was being made fun of, plus the weird Hollywood thing. It wasn’t like, “Oh, I’m disgusting,” but more how it sucks. It’s insane. We think we’d do better in uncomfortable shoes, in a hideous dress, trying to talk to the guy we think you should like. People instead respond most to those saying, “No thanks, I’m good. This is how I am.” That’s cool. The important thing for me with The Duff was to share with people that everyone has felt or [been] made to feel that way. Getting that perspective was essential to me.

The DUFF Official Trailer #1 (2015) - Bella Thorne, Mae Whitman Comedy HD

AVC: The Duff is also a rom-com. What was it like to work with Robbie Amell to flesh that out? You also share great chemistry with Carlos in Up Here and Zach Gilford in Parenthood and Good Girls.

MW: It depends on the other person usually. I’m gregarious, and I can be like, “Come on, let’s get in there.” With the people you mentioned, I have to agree. I didn’t do a goddamn thing. With Robbie especially, I was initially judgemental because he walked in, this hot guy wearing Abercrombie. I thought, “Can he be funny?” But then he opened his mouth and he was funny, polite, and so nice—he’s Canadian. He was my partner throughout filming when creative vision wasn’t there. He had my back. To this day, he’s a good friend. I’m obsessed with his wife, Italia.

And now, with Carlos, who shares a superhero history with Robbie [they both starred in The Flash], I don’t have the flowchart, but it’s funny. He’s a talented guy. When we did the chemistry read for Up Here, he encapsulated how Miguel is specific about having boundaries, and underneath is a giant well of emotion and compassion. That’s hard to find. When he came in, you could see it.

Various voice performances, including The Owl House (2020-)—“Amity Blight”

AVC: Your mother, Pat Musick, is a legendary voice actor. You’ve done tons of voice roles yourself. How do you think that experience helped your craft? And do you have a favorite?

MW: Honestly, it’s a perfect tie-in back to Up Here and how I ended up with it. I’m like Lindsay, a believer in signs from the universe. It makes you feel like you’re on the right track and dismantles the ego. I’ve had years of expressing myself vocally on various shows, which informed how I could express myself through my voice in Up Here. I’m glad I was able to pull from years of voice acting to put myself through it. All the roles are unbelievable. I’ve learned from each one. Disney Channel’s Owl House is important, though, especially as a bisexual. I wish I had something like it growing up. The fans of that show are very vocal, and that’s special to me. Of course, there’s also Avatar: The Last Airbender and Tinker Bell.

Good Girls (2018-2021)—“Annie Marks”

MW: I’ve realized what I look for in a role is if there’s growth, a reason for telling the story, and something in it that I can connect to and love. That’s what happened with Up Here and the musical. What makes you grow is what terrifies you. What else am I going to do? I get embarrassed, which sucks. I’ll eat ice cream and move on. It’s an important exercise for me, even if I fail. I’ve done dramas, comedies, and voice acting. With Good Girls, what struck me was I hadn’t played a mom. I didn’t get to have that with Amber in Parenthood. So I loved going from being a child actor to now playing a mother. To this day, Isaiah, who plays my son Ben, is a good friend. He came to the Up Here premiere.

Good Girls | Annie’s Funniest Moments

I also loved portraying someone like Annie because she doesn’t have it all together like you’re supposed to. But she’s not the trope of an alcoholic mom who sleeps in and has eyeliner all over. It was more than that. Like the critical voices in my head, I often think I’m scattered or incapable, and when I look back, it’s like, “Okay, I am doing a lot. I can give myself some credit.” Annie, whatever her methods are, was doing a lot after raising a kid she had at 17. It was fun going from Amber, who was so mature and wise for her age, to someone like Annie. The three of us [co-stars Christina Hendricks and Retta] are still tight. We’re on a group thread and tell each other everything.

AVC: You’ve appeared on landmark TV staples like Friends, Law & Order: SVU, Cold Case, CSI, Grey’s Anatomy, Judging Amy, ER, and Desperate Housewives. That’s impressive.  

MW: The only one I didn’t get on is 7th Heaven. I have a picture with David Gallagher, but it’s not the same. I feel like I should move into the Motion Pictures Home and watch Wheel Of Fortune. I don’t know what would’ve happened if I started my career at a normal person’s age. It’s a gift I’m able to do what I do and to be witness to how the industry has changed in the three decades. It’s my home to be on a set. No random role was too small. They’ve all informed the rest of my life.