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The Upside: History vs. Hollywood

Bryan Cranston
Born: March 7, 1956
Hollywood, California, USA
Philippe Pozzo di Borgo
Born: February 14, 1951
Birthplace: Tunis, Tunisia
Kevin Hart
Born: July 6, 1979
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Abdel Sellou
Born: abt 1972
Birthplace: Algeria

Renamed Dell in the Movie
Nicole Kidman
Born: June 20, 1967
Honolulu, Hawaii, USA
Laurence Landouc'h

Renamed Yvonne in the Movie

Questioning the Story:

Was Philippe paralyzed as the result of a paragliding accident?

Yes. The Upside true story reveals that the real-life paragliding accident happened in the Savoyard reliefs of Mont Bisanne in the Swiss Alps in 1993 when Philippe was 42. He had been distracted by thoughts of the workers he had laid off and hadn’t been paying enough attention to what he was doing. As a result, he crashed. Philippe remained in the hospital for two years before he was able to go home. At the same time, his wife was dying of cancer.

Despite being paralyzed in a 1993 paragliding accident, it didn't stop Philippe Pozzo di Borgo (right) from returning to the skies in the years after his crash. Bryan Cranston (left) recreates the moment in The Upside movie.

Was Philippe really a wealthy American businessman?

No. Philippe Pozzo di Borgo was not an American businessman. In exploring how accurate The Upside movie is, we discovered that Philippe is actually a wealthy French aristocrat. He is the second son of French duke Pozzo di Borgo and his wife the Marquis de Vogüé. He was born into a life of privilege and abundant wealth, growing up in castles and manors. This contradicts the movie, in which the character states that his father gave him nothing and that he earned every penny. As an adult, the real Philippe worked as the director of the Pommery champagne house located in Reims, France.

Founded in 1858, the Pommery is an Elizabethan-style estate constructed to facilitate the production and distribution of champagne, which is stored in its 18 kilometers of interconnected underground wine cellars that were dug into the chalk quarries beneath the property. In addition to selling Pommery Champagne, the estate also houses an art installation. -Champagne Pommery Website

As implied above, the true story behind The Upside unfolded in Paris, not Manhattan like in the movie.

How old was Philippe when the accident happened?

Wealthy Corsican French businessman Philippe Pozzo di Borgo was 42 when he became a quadriplegic after a 1993 paragliding accident.

Actor Bryan Cranston in the movie (left) and his character's real-life inspiration, Philippe Pozzo di Borgo (right), pictured in the years following the accident. He uses the joystick by his chin to control his power wheelchair.

Had Philippe's caretaker really been in jail?

Yes. "I'm disabled, but he is also a little bit disabled," said Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, the real-life individual on whom Bryan Cranston's character is based. "In his case, he was socially very disabled, coming out of jail, basically. So, he has a problem. I have to understand his problem, and once we both understand each other's problem, then we are in a very close confidence relationship." Abdel Yasmin Sellou, who inspired Kevin Hart's character, was a career criminal from Algeria who had been in prison for nearly two years. His name was changed from Abdel to Dell for the movie. -The Intouchables Premiere Interview

What had the real caretaker been in prison for?

"I was doing black-market work," Abdel Sellou told The Telegraph. This “black-market work” included stealing from tourists on the streets of Paris, which is eventually what landed him in jail (Mirror Online). Learn more about Abdel's past and his life-changing experience with quadriplegic Philippe Pozzo di Borgo in his memoir You Changed My Life.

Read Abdel Sellou's book 'You Changed My Life' in which he shares his story of caring for quadriplegic Philippe Pozzo di Borgo.

Did Abdel really have no interest in being a caretaker at first?

The Upside true story confirms that Philippe's ex-con caretaker, Abdel Sellou, only applied for the job so that he could get government support, which required him to be employed. His counselor had encouraged him to apply for the position. At the time he was hired, Abdel was 21 and Philippe 42. Similar to the movie, he was given a private apartment in Philippe’s home. Abdel had no intentions of sticking around long helping a disabled person and his ailing wife. Abdel even stole a Faberge egg during his job interview.

Is Nicole Kidman's character, Yvonne, based on a real person?

Yes. As indicated by the photos at the top, Nicole Kidman's character in the movie, Yvonne, is based on Philippe Pozzo di Borgo's real-life female assistant, Laurence Landouc'h (pictured below, right). The affection and budding romance between Yvonne and Bryan Cranston's character in the movie is fictional. In his memoir, Philippe never mentions that their relationship was anything more than professional.

Nicole Kidman's character (left) in The Upside movie was inspired by Philippe Pozzo di Borgo's female assistant, Laurence Landouc'h (right).

Why did the real-life Philippe hire a recently paroled convict to care for him?

"At the time, I was coming out of two years of hospital, intensive care and rehabilitation, and [Abdel Sellou] was coming out of nearly two years of jail," recalled Philippe. "And my wife was very sick and had a few months left to live, and we were both on our bed in bad shape. I need a guy crazy enough not to be afraid of the situation. He's afraid of nothing at all, and very strong, available, and extremely generous. So he was the best person we could imagine." Philippe described Abdel as his "guardian devil." -The Intouchables Premiere Interview

Did Philippe really interview 90 people before hiring Abdel as his caretaker?

Yes. After interviewing around 90 people, like in the movie, Philippe knew immediately that Abdel was the one. "This is the guy I need," Philippe recalled in an interview with The Telegraph. "I don't give a damn that he is out of jail. I needed him. And he became a friend afterwards." Philippe said that the fact that they were both on the fringes of society, he a disabled person and Abdel a criminal, created a common bond between them. Like in The Upside movie, they also shared a similar sense of humor. "He didn't feel sorry for me," said Philippe. "He was irreverent, cheeky and had an outrageous sense of humor" (Mirror Online).

Kevin Hart in The Upside movie (left) and Philippe's real-life caretaker, Abdel Sellou (right), pictured in the 1990s.

Does Kevin Hart physically resemble Philippe's real-life caretaker?

While both men are short with relatively square faces, Philippe's real-life caretaker, Abdel Sellou, is an Algerian Muslim, not a black American. Like his onscreen counterpart, Abdel was indeed hot-tempered and accustomed to solving disputes with his fists, something that he has since given up. -The Telegraph

One of nine children, Abdel says that he was “the devil” of his family from an early age. At 4, he was sent to Paris to live with relatives. By age 10, he was stealing and trying to extort his schoolmates. It didn’t take long for his run-ins with the police to begin and he eventually dropped out of school. He spent his time coming up with ways to steal from the tourists who roamed the streets of Paris.

Had the real caretaker been a deadbeat dad when he was hired by Philippe?

No. In answering the question, "How accurate is The Upside movie?" we learned that unlike Kevin Hart's character in the film, there is no record of the real caretaker, Abdel Sellou, having any children when he was hired by Philippe. One reason that Philippe hired him in real life was because he was available 24/7.

Kevin Hart's character's son Anthony (Jahi Di'Allo Winston) is fictional.

When did Philippe's wife die?

After a long battle with cancer, Philippe Pozzo di Borgo's wife Béatrice died in 1996, roughly three years after his paragliding accident. This means that in real life, Philippe's first wife was alive for almost three years after his caretaker, Abdel Sellou, was hired in 1993.

Was the real Dell a reckless driver?

Yes. "What I can tell you is that he drove like mad," said Philippe at the premiere of The Intouchables, the blockbuster French movie on which The Upside was based. "He had no idea how to handle a car at 200 kilometers an hour, which he did drive with no permit, of course no driving license, for ten years. So, that's one stupid thing I accepted from him."

Did Philippe and Abdel do all the crazy things together that are shown in the movie?

Many of the wild things that Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart's characters do in the movie were inspired by the real-life exploits of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and his caretaker Abdel Sellou. Together, they made a game of speeding through Paris in Philippe's Rolls-Royce until the police pulled them over. Abdel would then explain that the reason they were speeding was because Philippe was having a seizure. Not only didn't they get a ticket, the police would escort them to the closest hospital.

Another thing Abdel did was have Philippe's wheelchair modified so that it was capable of going as fast as 9mph, with Abdel riding on the back like Kevin Hart's character does in the movie. The chair had a wing mirror and an onboard computer that allowed Philippe to execute a variety of tasks, including opening windows and using his phone.

"I suddenly found I was enjoying life again," says Philippe, "feeling like I didn’t know what was coming next." -The Telegraph

Left: Actors Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston.  Right: Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, the inspiration for Bryan Cranston's character, and his caretaker Abdel Sellou, the basis for Kevin Hart's character Dell.

Did Abdel trim Philippe's beard into a Hitler mustache?

No. In real life, Abdel didn't play a trick on Philippe by trimming his beard into a Hitler mustache prior to going on a date.

Was Philippe's caretaker really a womanizer?

Yes. In researching The Upside true story, we learned that Abdel was indeed a womanizer. After his time working with Philippe came to an end, he did settle down and got married. He now operates a poultry farm in Algeria and has three children who call Philippe their "uncle."

"Back then I would not even have asked those questions about settling down," says Abdel. "I was just interested in women as the equivalent of fast food. I'm now settled, squeezed into my new life, but I am still a man and I tell it loudly, which people don't usually. I still like women." -The Telegraph

Did Abdel really get Philippe to smoke a joint?

Yes. "That was true," says Philippe. "He said it would help me. In fact, it doesn't help. It takes away the pain and puts me to sleep for two hours, but I wake up feeling tired. First time I tried it I was 48." -The Telegraph

Top: Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and his caretaker, Abdel Sellou, share a moment of levity during an interview.  Bottom: Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart's characters bond in the movie.

Does Philippe live with a lot of pain even though he's paralyzed from the neck down?

Yes. The pain we see Bryan Cranston's character endure in the movie is very much based on the real Philippe's constant battle with pain. "Phantom pain my ass," says Philippe. "It's very real. It's a neurological pain. Scalding and corrosive. Constantly on fire. I cry because I am in actual pain, not because I'm sad." -The Telegraph

Did Philippe try to commit suicide?

Yes. As he explained in his memoir A Second Wind, he tried to commit suicide once in 1993 by wrapping his oxygen tube around his neck and jerking backwards. "It is quite common this reaction, when the pain gets too bad. I attempted it because I felt guilty that I was going to be a burden on others who had to look after me," said Philippe. "It was unbearable because I was always in charge and then all of a sudden I was dependent, especially on a wife who was ill." Philippe says that he no longer thinks about suicide. "I would be very sad if I had succeeded in killing myself 19 years ago, because I have enjoyed the 19 years that came after that," he told The Telegraph in 2012.

Read Philippe Pozzo di Borgo's book 'A Second Wind' to learn more about both his life before the accident and his life-changing friendship with his caretaker, Abdel Sellou, after becoming a quadriplegic.

Did the streetwise Abdel really learn to appreciate fine art like Kevin Hart's character does in the movie?

No. While he never stopped making fun of the fine art (paintings) that Philippe admired, Abdel did take a liking to some of the classical music Philippe listened to. In turn, Philippe learned to enjoy some of the pop music that Abdel liked. This is emphasized in the movie as we see Dell (Kevin Hart) humming along to The Marriage of Figaro and Phillip (Bryan Cranston) jamming to Aretha Franklin.

Top: Philippe (center) is pictured with his assistant, Laurence Landouc'h (left), and his caretaker, Abdel Sellou (right).  Bottom: Actors Nicole Kidman, Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart portray the trio in The Upside movie.

Is Philippe a religious man?

Yes. Philippe Pozzo di Borgo is a Christian. Though not included in The Upside movie, Philippe has a strong faith and even had a small chapel included when he had his house built. -The Telegraph

For how many years did former convict Abdel Sellou care for Philippe Pozzo di Borgo?

Abdel Sellou, who is renamed Dell and portrayed by Kevin Hart in the movie, worked as Philippe Pozzo di Borgo's caregiver for ten years. “According to [his memoirs], I have changed his life," Philippe stated. "That may be true, but in any case, what I am certain of is that he changed mine.” -Mirror Online

Top: Philippe Pozzo di Borgo's caretaker, Abdel Sellou, lifts him into a car.  Bottom: Kevin Hart's character does therapy with Phillip (Bryan Cranston) in the movie.

Have any other movies been made about Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and Abdel Sellou?

Yes. The Upside is largely based on the 2011 international hit The Intouchables, which is one of France's biggest box office successes. That film led to other retellings of their story around the world, including the 2016 Argentinean movie Inseparables and an Indian film titled Oopiri (2016).

Did Philippe remarry?

Yes. In the decades after he lost his first wife Béatrice to cancer, Philippe remarried, tying the knot with a Muslim woman named Khadija. He met her while on a trip to Morocco with Abdel, who also met the woman he would marry. "Abdel and I finished our collaboration when we both found our soul mates," said Philippe. "We finished our time together without sadness or difficulty." -Le

Philippe and his wife have three daughters; two are hers biologically and the other they adopted. He moved from France to his wife's home country of Morocco where he currently resides. -The Telegraph

Philippe Pozzo di Borgo with his second wife, Khadija.

Philippe and Abdel Documentary & Related Videos

Peer deeper into The Upside true story by watching the documentary below that focuses on the relationship between Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and Abdel Sellou.