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‘Life-changing’: The reason feel-good Aussie series Upright has a whole new audience

Milly Alcock looks ahead to her next project after <I>Upright</I> – independent films and a return to the stage.

Milly Alcock looks ahead to her next project after Upright – independent films and a return to the stage. Photo: Foxtel/Scott Belzner

When young Australian actress Milly Alcock scored the pivotal role of Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen in House of the Dragon, she was washing dishes in a Sydney restaurant and living in her mother’s attic.

She had already won the Casting Guild of Australia’s Rising Star Award in 2018 for the TV drama Upright (Foxtel), in which she starred alongside the very talented singer-songwriter Tim Minchin (Matilda), but that was about it.

Together they created a feel-good road trip story, involving a piano, two lost souls and some drama and adventure, scoring a 93 per cent audience approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

At the time, the undiscovered Alcock had about 27,000 followers on Instagram.

Fast-forward to her breakthrough role on 2022’s Dragon, and suddenly Alcock, 22, was catapulted to international stardom.

Her life changed overnight, from drinking wine with undergraduate friends in small apartments to fame and fortune with fashion magazine photo shoots, Prada perfume ads and Greek holidays.

Appearing in just five episodes – reportedly with a budget of $20 million an episode – her Instagram numbers climbed daily to 1.4 million.

All eyes were watching what she did next, and where they would see her.

Now we know … Season 2 of Upright.

What did her star power do for Upright 2?

It’s hard to quantify as Foxtel don’t release figures, but a recent Crikey business report noted it cracked the top five pay TV programs.

“Did the return of Upright set things right for TV viewers?” it asked, after a night of “dire” TV viewing on free-to-air channels.

Or was the real reason thanks to a whole new audience riding the Alcock wave?

Filmed in South Australia and Western Australia, the first season saw adrift musician Lucky (Minchin) and teenage rebel Meg (Alcock) travel across the Nullarbor to Perth to deliver an upright piano.

The show was nominated for Best International Drama at the Edinburgh TV Awards and won Best Comedy Series at the AACTA Awards.

Curiously, in the trailer for the new season, Alcock is introduced by name, with a credit to House of the Dragon.

Minchin (who doesn’t need any CV nods) is introduced by name only.

In Upright 2, Lucky and Meg hit the road on another mission, trading the desert for the steamy tropics of Far North Queensland (filmed in South East Queensland).

When filming started for Upright 2 earlier this year, Alcock flew to Australia to film the eight-episode series before returning to London where she lives in the East End.

In a recent interview with The Weekend Australian Alcock’s superstar status is front and centre.

“I went straight from Dragon into Upright. So I was just absolutely exhausted. And that was the hardest thing for me, to find my footing, and kind of being burnt out while trying not to look burnt out.

“To give Meg the performance she deserves even though I was so f–ing tired. That was really hard. The physical aspects [of Meg] like the nose ring and everything else made it easier [to switch to] because you could see how she was different,” she tells Peter Craven.

He concludes “the absolutely weird combo of Meg in Upright and Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen in House of the Dragon convinces you that Alcock knows exactly what she’s doing as she plots her course on the way to ­achieving stature as an actress.

“It helps that she is self-evidently great in both performances.

“Whether it will take her to a career in theatre and ­independent film is another question.

“But simply put, Alcock is a star. And my hunch is she’s going to be a superstar,” Craven wrote.

In a wide-ranging interview with LA fashion magazine Flaunt, Alcock said she’d love to return to the stage, where she first found her love of acting as a teenager (Little Red Rocking Hood at her local church).

“I think it would be something that would help me hone my skills as an actor and I think it would make me feel more legitimised, if that makes sense.

“To have that experience on stage that happens just once in that moment, and it’s such a shared experience with the audience.”

She told Insider in London: “The opportunities that House of the Dragon brought me will change the rest of my life. And I will be eternally grateful for it. But, for me, the endgame of my job isn’t to be a movie star.

“That’s not why I’m doing this.”

She says she prefers storylines that are “centralised around character, as opposed to plot. They’re the types of narratives that really inspire me to go to work”.

At a recent HOTD Q&A talkfest for Comic Con, she was asked what her future projects look like: “There’s a few independent films coming up … but nothing official.”

Fingers crossed, we might yet see her on the screen some time soon.

The final episode of Season 2 of Upright will air December 6 at 9pm on Fox Showcase (all episodes are available on Foxtel on Demand)

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