'Upload' Stars on Bringing Humanity to the Virtual Afterlife

Upload -Amazon  - Robbie Amell and Andy Allo -Publicity_H 2020
Courtesy of Amazon

[This story contains spoilers for Amazon's Upload.]

Amazon's series Upload is a romantic comedy, and also a science-fiction show, and also a mystery, and also a satire about 21st century capitalism and meditation on the afterlife — all in 10 half-hour(ish) episodes.

It's a lot of tones to juggle, and most of that burden falls on the two lead characters. The recently deceased Nathan (Robbie Amell) has allowed his wealthy girlfriend (Allegra Edwards) to have his consciousness uploaded to a digital afterlife run by a massive tech company. Nathan's "angel," the one whose job is to help Nathan adjust to his new surroundings, is Nora (Andy Allo), a low-level employee of the company. As they get to know one another, Nathan and Nora start to fall for each other, even though he's no longer living.

That "genre stew," as Allo puts it, was a big part of the appeal of Upload, which was created by Greg Daniels (The Office, Parks and Recreation) and debuted Friday on Amazon's Prime Video.

"At the core of it are these relationships. That's part of Greg's genius is his ability to craft these characters that you instantly relate to and feel connected to," Allo — who's also a singer-songwriter and former member of Prince's New Power Generation — told The Hollywood Reporter over a Zoom call with Amell. "The writing is so effortless that a lot of times you just have to get out of the way and let the writing and the world that's been built speak for itself."

Set in 2033, Upload's world revels in details both small — phone screens are now projections from a device people wear on their wrists — and large, like the glitchy, stratified world the creators of Nathan's afterlife built. It's a place where Nathan has a well-appointed suite, but his dead billionaire neighbor's door opens onto acres of virtual land — and where people unable to afford all the perks of in-app purchases live in the virtual-reality equivalent of steerage.

"I think Greg does a great job in creating an unbelievable world. He's been thinking about it for so long, and there's so much detail and nuance to it," said Amell (The Flash). "But there are similarities to the world we live in today. He said it's not a utopia or a dystopia, it's this 'middletopia,' because if people made the afterlife, it would have a lot of the same problems our current world does, like with the … division of wealth and my character saying, 'This is so stupid, it's code. They can have everything.' But that's not how it works — it's business, it's capitalism. They're going to upcharge."

With its focus on a novel concept of life after death, Upload bears some resemblance to NBC's The Good Place — down to both shows being created by veterans of The Office and Parks and Recreation in Daniels and Mike Schur. Allo counts herself as a fan of The Good Place, but said there are key differences in the two series.

"I feel like Upload differs in that it exists in both worlds, where you get to see Nora exist in New York, and it's simultaneous as opposed to a flashback kind of setup," she said. "And it's this digital world that's been built by humans to continue life after death. So it's different in that sense, and [also] Nora and Nathan really get to grow together, and you're getting to see these two people who exist in different worlds kind of come together, which I think is really cool."

The core of the show is the relationship between Nora and Nathan, and the two leads worked to build chemistry, whether it was Amell reading lines off-camera in scenes when Nora is at her workstation or time spent hanging out with their fellow castmembers off set.

"When you're living in a different city — we were shooting in Vancouver — and you don't know a lot of people, you get close," Amell said. "You hang out with your cast and become a tight-knit group of friends. Or you start to hate each other, depending on the people you're with. We got very lucky in that we all got very close."

Having lived with the idea of Upload's virtual afterlife, both Amell and Allo say they get the appeal of Daniels' concept and how it could coexist with spiritual concepts of what happens when we die.

"In episode seven, Greg's son Owen [Daniels, who's also part of the cast] wrote a beautiful line that Nathan says to Nora's dad," said Amell. "He says, 'It doesn't matter if you last for a thousand years here. It's going to feel short when we're out of time with the people we love.' I think that's so simply put and so beautiful, and that's how I would feel. If I have the opportunity to spend more time with my family and my friends, even in whatever this weird version would be, I would probably give it a shot and stick it out as long as I could, and then find out what's next."

Upload is now streaming on Amazon.