Picture a piano in the outback. Then picture a guy trying to take that piano from Sydney to Perth. That's the striking vision comedian Chris Taylor shared with actor and writer, Tim Minchin when they first discussed the comedy-drama Upright.
"It was an immediately attractive idea," Tim, 44, says. "I went, 'That's obviously a really good, clear image. You can see the poster. That's always helpful.'"
But Perth-raised Tim, who found success overseas on stage and won a Tony Award for the music in Matilda The Musical, had come back home to tell Australian stories.
Needing more than just images, he started asking questions. What does the piano represent? Why has his protagonist, the down-on-life musician Lucky Flynn, been exiled by his family?
Once the wheels started turning, a road-trip series rolled out with the piano being a burden to Lucky, his literal cross to bear.
Then, through his personal journey and his outward one with unlikely teen companion Meg, "It's no longer just a cross," Tim explains. "The piano is his heart. It's actually his soul."
Moved and energised, Tim poured his own heart and soul into the production.
"Actually," he says with a smile, "every time I look at it, I really like this show. It's the first thing I've been involved in where I can watch it and go, 'Yup.'"
Tim tells TV WEEK more about the making of Upright, his ever-evolving career, and finding peace.
TV WEEK: Lucky isn't on this cross-country trip by himself. Fate crashes into him in the form of Milly Alcock's Meg.
Tim: Lucky becomes a reluctant father figure – or uncle figure – and she a sort of daughter figure. Because if it's a show about self-forgiveness, it's really about closure or contextualising your mistakes.
Was Milly much of a potty-mouth beforehand or had she acquired all that in the course of working with you?
[Laughs] She's a Newtown girl – I don't think anything shocks her! We looked after her. I sort of don't want the audience to know how old she is, because I want them to just see the character, but she's so good.
This role for you is so different from your past work. Was that a conscious choice? Although, you are sitting in a car for a lot of it, like in Squinters.
When they asked me to do Squinters season two, I said, "I just don't think I can. I'll just be the car guy!" But I've consciously done a self-imposed apprenticeship since things started going well. And I realised people were no longer totally uninterested in me.
I did Rosencrantz [And Guildenstern Are Dead]. And I did Jesus Christ Superstar and then I did Secret River, No Activity and Squinters – and Californication was a huge step, a bit of a leap.
Is it different being the lead now?
This has been huge for me because I like acting, and I've always gone, "Can I be an actor as well?" Obviously, I don't look like the Hemsworths, and I wonder what my place is.
What is your place?
I'm sort of in this neverland. Actually, part of my motive for being so involved in Upright, and why I was so motivated to work with such amazing writers, is I thought, "I want to try to prove to myself and the industry that I can carry a show properly, because then I might get cast." But now I've done it, I don't care if I get cast, because I kind of love this!
Have you found a creative rejuvenation in moving back from the US?
Upright has been the best thing ever for me, having something to put everything into and to care about. It's losing a couple of projects, coming home for the first time in 12 years, turning 40 about four years ago, your kids becoming teenagers. I'm a lot happier than I was two years ago.
I've always had a relationship with happiness, which has been like, "Tim, if you don't do these things…"
Not that I've ever had mental-health issues, but I've always been hyper-aware that if I stop exercising, or take drugs or all those things...I don't take my mental health for granted. I feel like being OK is an active process more than ever before.'
What do you do to cope?
I've never been to therapy or done meditation or anything, but I'm starting to think about that sort of thing. Like, I'm having to go, "How do I allow myself to enjoy the day? With all my f*ing privilege, how do I let go of the anxiety of the world and my survivor guilt?"
The trouble with privilege is, if you're wired like I am, you feel bad for it all the time! Not that I'm complaining. I think I've talked about this with my friends.
I think it's about turning 40. It's a bit about the world, but you got to find your moments of peace. And that's what Upright is about.
Upright premieres Sunday 1 December, 8.30pm on FOX Showcase.