The Office boss Greg Daniels built his preferred afterlife with Amazon's Upload
Daniels and stars Robbie Amell and Andy Allo talk to EW about their futuristic new series.
Greg Daniels is a busy man these days. Once upon a time, he was the showrunner of both The Office and Parks and Recreation simultaneously, and he’s back to his old tricks with two new streaming comedies set to launch in May. Daniels reunited with his Office star Steve Carell for Netflix’s Space Force, which they co-created together. “Steve called me in 2018 and said, ‘Hey, you want to do this show with me? I’ve got two words: Space Force.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, cool!’ [Laughs] And we pitched that really fast and sold it without a script.” If only Upload could have been that easy.
On Friday, Daniels’ new afterlife comedy will premiere on Amazon Prime Video two years after the pilot was shot, three years after Amazon greenlit the first episode, five years after Daniels initially sold it to HBO, 12 years after he wrote it as a book (he cites Harry Potter as an influence at this time), and more than 30 years after he came up with the idea while brainstorming sketches at Saturday Night Live. "If we go all the way back to when Greg thought it up, we were babies," Robbie Amell jokes of him and costar Andy Allo. "The interesting thing about shooting it over the last couple years is that some of the things that Greg predicted on the show have come true, and, sadly, it will look like art imitating life, but really it was life imitating art."
Part of the delay in Upload coming to life for viewers was what Daniels describes as a "very complicated" special effects process, which he previously didn't have much experience with, considering he believes they only did one VFX shot in the entire run of The Office. "It reminds me of animation — but it's more expensive," cracks the King of the Hill co-creator. "Sometimes it’s hard in Hollywood to do something different than what you’ve done in the past. I was pretty insistent that I thought this should be very cinematic and have a lot of different tones in it."
Once Daniels finally got the project going at Amazon, he cast Amell and Allo as the two leads of his ensemble. Both drawn to Upload by the presence of Daniels, they were the first (Amell) and last (Allo) people to audition. "You hear Greg Daniels and you’re like, 'Okay, great, I’ll play a tree. I’m in,'” says Amell, who is best known for starring as Ronnie Raymond on The Flash. "I’ve been really lucky to work with two incredible Gregs in Greg Daniels and [Arrowverse mastermind] Greg Berlanti, who are both at the top of their game and so successful and smart and funny. But the other thing they have in common is that there’s no ego, which is really special for someone who has had so much success."
Set in a technologically advanced future where humans can be "uploaded" into a virtual afterlife as they approach death, Amell stars as Nathan, a young app developer who must make his choice after a self-driving car accident. Pressured by his shallow girlfriend, he's uploaded to Lakeview, her family's beautiful mountain hotel digital extension. It's there where he's connected with his "Angel," Nora (Allo), who, despite still being alive, serves as the customer service guide through his new life. "Nora really just fit like a glove," says Allo, a musician and Pitch Perfect 3 alum. "She has such a big heart, and I instantly connected to that and her dedication to taking care of her Lakeview clients." For Nathan, Amell says he saw similarities to his character in The DUFF, "a guy who I think innately has a good heart, but is a little shallow and a little bit of a brat."
"Because she’s in the real world and he’s in upload, it takes some of the stress off of it being a romantic relationship" shares Amell of the evolving connection between the characters. "They can become friends before anything else happens. It’s not quite Romeo and Juliet, but it’s a relationship that isn’t supposed to be able to work, so there’s no pressure. They can really be themselves around each other, and I think it’s beautiful."
Allo promises that Upload will provide some comedy, mystery, romance, and "awesome tech and sci-fi" all wrapped into one, but it also will make you think about your own ideal afterlife. "I would absolutely love to upload and just be on permanent vacation," says Allo. "Mine would be more of a Caribbean vibe, with just like white sandy beaches, pure crystal blue water." Amell interrupts, "You're back on the beach again?" He references her previously wanting to upload to a Persian vacation. "You just want to travel!" She fires back at his plan to upload to Lakeview and work there to keep busy. "You're kind of in a retirement home there," he explains, "so I'd want to find something do and not get too bored."
Daniels doesn't have to think about his choice — he's already built it. "The show is set in my preferred choice of afterlife," he says. "Part of my goal is try and get Amazon to actually get into this business in time to have it ready for me. And that maybe they would give it to me for free because I gave them the idea."
Maybe come season 2 renegotiations?
He laughs. "I should put that in the contract."