The Upside stars Bryan Cranston as a quadriplegic billionaire who forms an unlikely friendship with a former convict hired to be his caretaker, played by Kevin Hart. The film has received some backlash because Bryan Cranston, an able-bodied actor, is playing the role of a quadriplegic, which theoretically could have went to a disabled actor. Bryan Cranston has responded to the backlash, taking a very measured stance. In his words:
We live in the world of criticism, if we're willing to get up and try something, we have to also be willing to take criticism. We're very aware of the need to expand the opportunities for people with disabilities. I think being cast in this role as a quadriplegic really came down to a business decision. As actors, we're asked to be other people, to play other people. If I, as a straight, older person, and I'm wealthy, I'm very fortunate, does that mean I can't play a person who is not wealthy, does that mean I can't play a homosexual? I don't know, where does the restriction apply, where is the line for that? I think it is worthy for debate to discuss those issues.
Rather than fighting back against the criticisms in any sort of way or dismissing them out of hand, Bryan Cranston actually seems very open-minded and willing to hear them out and have a discussion. He knows that life is a platform subject to criticism, and his position as a public figure leading this movie such only emphasizes that. But that doesn't mean he's running from the delicate topic.
In his comments to Sky News, Bryan Cranston acknowledges the need for the industry to have more opportunities for people with disabilities, while also admitting that for him, taking the role in The Upside was a business decision. He is an actor and he took a job that required him to act as another person, who in this case happened to be quadriplegic.
The acclaimed actor then sort of muses about what the acceptable societal limits are for him as an actor, and how far he can he go from his own personal experiences when taking a role. He mentions that he is straight, so does that mean he can't play a homosexual? Bryan Cranston doesn't answer his question here, admitting he doesn't know the answer, insisting it is a discussion worth having.
This isn't the first time this sort of debate has sprung up, and it most certainly won't be the last. In 2018 actress Scarlett Johansson faced major backlash when she was cast as a transgender man in the film Rub & Tug. She eventually dropped out of the film. Several people came to her defense, like Glenn Close and Andy Serkis.
Where Bryan Cranston wondered out loud where the line is, Glenn Close and Andy Serkis believe that there is no line and as actors; it is their job to become someone else and thus anyone should be able to play anyone. That belief runs up against a movement for the industry to be more inclusive, and offer more opportunities to minorities and marginalized groups.
It is certainly a complicated issue and unfortunately not the only one surrounding one of The Upside's stars. Kevin Hart was set to host the Oscars this year, before dropping out over backlash due to insensitive comments he made in the past. The Oscars look like they will now be going without a host for 2019.
The Upside opens in theaters on January 11. For all of this year's biggest movies, check out our premiere guide.