Can’t sleep? You’ll love Apple TV+’s hilarious new comedy, Still Up, a tale of two friends bonded by insomnia. Regardless of your sleep habits, Still Up is something to marvel — a rare kind of comedy that speaks to that innate human desire for connection and all the messy things people occasionally have to manage just to get by in the world.
Meet Lisa and Danny (Antonia Thomas and Craig Roberts). They chat away late into the night and are there for each other, often via FaceTime, as they brave a bevy of quirky circumstances in their lives. The duo’s platonic relationship develops over the course of their regular late-night repartee.
It’s a stellar premise for a series about two very different people—Lisa is a mother and in a relationship, Danny is single and a bit agoraphobic. Still Up’s executive producers Phil Clarke (Peep Show, I May Destroy You) and Paul Schlesinger (Boomers, W1A) and producer Arabella McGuigan (Brief Encounters) share more about the new comedy in this exclusive MovieWeb interview.
The Challenges Creating Still Up
In what surely will be one of the brightest new series hitting streaming this fall, Still Up charms with its British wit, and its two leads nail their performances. Viewers may recall Antonia Thomas from her great work in The Good Doctor, Lovesick, and Misfits. Craig Roberts turned heads in Submarine and The Fundamentals of Caring, a caregiving tale that also starred Paul Rudd. Together, these two are a great comedic duo, right up there with current comedic buds like Rose Byrne/Seth Rogen (Platonic) and Jennifer Aniston/Adam Sandler (Murder Mystery).
But the producers and director John Addis were confronted with a curious challenge: creating the best format for the series. After all, the two leads are never in the same room together. They’re on the phone.
“They’re amazing, the two of them,” beamed Arabella McGuigan of Antonia Thomas and Craig Roberts. “I say that without reservation. It’s an easy thing to say, but in this case, it’s completely true. They were so committed to getting this show right. As you probably can tell, there are complexities to making a show where each scene has two entirely separate locations that run through the whole thread of that scene.” She added:
“So, effectively you have to shoot it twice. And Craig and Antonio said from the very outset, the only way they felt they could really do it justice and what they wanted to do was to be there all the time. So that effectively, even when the camera’s only pointing at one of them, and that might have been at 3 a.m. in a forest, the other one was there in order to provide the other side of this conversation. And that’s typical of their approach to teamwork and to the quality of the project. They were both brilliant from that point of view, as well as embodying these characters so delicately.”
The Genesis of the Series
Still Up was created by Steve Budge and Natalie Walter, and based the series on their real-life experiences. They are both insomniacs, in fact. After meeting 10 years ago on a Radio 4 sketch series, something clicked, and they realized they shared some things in common. When they began talking in the wee morning hours, they soon realized that their sleep issues could be a great launch pad for a different kind of comedy series.
Eventually, Paul Schlesinger received a draft of the script. “I took it to Phil, and Arabella came on board, and the idea developed from a very simple starting point, but obviously we needed to add in other elements, and that’s where we are today,” he said, adding:
“I loved it because it felt very real, it felt very different to most romantic comedies. It felt more grounded in reality and more particular, and not the sort of familiar tropes of romantic comedies like the meet-cute or the guy who’s going to break up the relationship. I thought that was very interesting in the writing. And so that’s what appealed to me.”
“When Paul brought the first script in an early draft, I just thought it was really original,” Phil Clarke shared. “It’s an almost romantic comedy, which then gives itself a whole load of obstacles to, you know, make it work. It’s at night, they don’t meet, he can’t leave his flat, she’s got a kid, and is in a relationship. So, then we’ve given ourselves all those problems, and now we’re going to create a show out of that. I was drawn to it immediately.”
A Feel-Good Comedy
Producer Arabella McGuigan pointed out that finding actors for the series’ many guest roles was a thrill. As was some of the inventive ideas served up. One episode finds the character of Antonia on a bus and having to confront some shady youngsters. Another episode finds Danny hiding from his landlord yet trying to order pizza. Brilliantly played out all around.
“There is something really unusual about the world it sits in,” Arabella McGuigan noted of the show. “It’s shining a light on insomnia in a way that’s kind of accepting of it, even though it troubles these characters so much. I hope it approaches that territory with an awful lot of optimism. It feels like a very hopeful show, and I found that very appealing in the context. And the dialogue and the economy of the jokes is really great.”
Schlesinger also noted that overall, the series offers a fully immersive experience, a series that audiences will get hooked on from the get-go. “Interestingly, the first draft came out of a period of time when we were all living in our little bubbles communicating remotely anyway. That was the pandemic. This is just more the norm now,” explained Schlesinger, who continued:
“But this is a show about friendship and connection, and I think at a deeper level, that’s a really good thing to be talking about now. Because I think sometimes we’re sort of losing sight of things that are not about romantic, sort of love at first sight things, which can often feel a bit melodramatic or a bit unreal. This is rooted in real friendship. And they look after each other, these guys, you know? And I think that’s the feel-good element of the show.”
Still Up premieres September 22 on Apple TV+.