411mania Inteviews: Patricia Heaton
Patricia Heaton is a two time Emmy winner (7 total nominations) who is currently in her fourth season starring on ABC’s The Middle.
Al Norton: One of the things I hear a lot from people is along the lines of, “Modern Family is really funny but I see more of myself and my family in The Middle.”
Patricia Heaton: Interesting. I think our show is a reflection of a huge percentage of the lives of people watching the show. The episode coming up Frankie and Mike’s windshield of their crappy old car is taken out by a tree branch and the insurance company refuses to cover it because we haven’t had an arborist tending to our tree and Mike says, “oh, I’m sorry; we’re between arborists.” I think that encapsulates the show; they’re people who just cannot stay above water.
When I read the script I was laughing because I knew the visuals of Frankie trying to drive around without a windshield would be hilarious but it’s also that the writers are able to rain the stress down on this family and still make it funny and entertaining. This could easily take a turn and go into tragedy but the way they approach everything is funny. I think it’s sort of uplifting, the idea that you have to try to find the humor in the things that happen to you, knowing that as long as you have your family and your community, you’re going to be fine. Those themes come up constantly in the show and I think that’s why it works, why we can get away with torturing the Heck Family so much (lauging).
Sue’s character is a great example of that; just when you think her life is going to turn around, things get worse, and yet the way Eden (Sher) plays the character, with such buoyancy, and the way the writers write her, it makes it refreshing and rather hopeful.
Al Norton: Something else I hear is that a small but vocal group of fans want a Reverend Tim Tom spinoff.
Patricia Heaton: I just think Reverend Tim Tom should go on tour! Paul Hipp, who plays him, writes all his music; he’s fantastically gifted and I think he should put a CD out. It would be a big seller. I am so excited every time I see he’s doing an episode.
Al Norton: Did you know right away how much natural and realistic chemistry you and Neil Flynn had?
Patricia Heaton: We had such a funny introduction. I had only ever seen the pilot of Scrubs and he doesn’t have a single line in the pilot. I’d never seen the show after that and I knew there was something about his character in particular and I thought it was that he never spoke. That show was on for something like nine years but I never saw another episode. So we’re starting work on The Middle, rehearsing our first scene, and I turn to him and say, “how does it feel to have lines?” He looked at me like I was crazy and said, “what?!?!?” I said, “because your character never spoke, right?” He said, “I had lines.” I was like, “no, that your character’s thing, he never spoke.” He was like, “my character didn’t have a name. What do you think, I’ve never acted before?” I did get him to admit that if someone had only seen the pilot, they might have thought he never talked (laughing). That was the ice breaker for our relationship.
The very first scene in the pilot involved us kissing, and we’d never really met before, but Frankie and Mike had been married for years. It wasn’t a big kiss; if you’ve been married a while you can understand that. It’s always a little odd to kiss someone you don’t know. Neil is a reserved person and while I don’t have a reserved personality, I am a reserved person and it’s odd to be married and kiss someone who is not your spouse. We did the scene and it was fine and later Neil said to me later, “I don’t think anyone’s going to believe we’re a married couple because that kiss, there was nothing there.” I said, “oh, that’s exactly why people are going to believe we’re a married couple (laughing).”
Al Norton: Obviously working with Ray Romano for so many years you were aware of how funny he is but are you at all surprised by the dramatic skills he’s demonstrated the last couple of years?
Patricia Heaton: I am not surprised. I think it’s easier for comedians to drama than for dramatic actors to do comedy. Most comedic actors and comedians, and I know this is true for Ray and for me, have a huge amount of pain in their life and that’s why they do comedy and that’s what a lot of their comedy comes out of. It can be easy for a lot of comedians to tap into that for dramatic work.
Al Norton: You did an episode in season three called The Map that opened with an almost five minute scene of everyone in the car talking about death that I thought was one of the best things on any comedy series in 2012.
Patricia Heaton: I did, too. We all so enjoyed shooting it. It was a difficult scene because you’ve got five people and the subject matter keeps jumping around and we don’t get much rehearsal time at all; we block the scene twice, we go to hair and makeup, and then we come back to film it. When we do a scene like that, where we’re all together and we’re reliant on each other’s cues, everybody really gets the material down. When I saw how long the scene was, how many pages it was, I thought, “this is so great.” It so rarely happens; so many times shows are tiny little snippets of things. DeAnn Heline and Eileen Heisler were nominated for a Humanitas Prize for that episode, in particular because of that scene.
Al Norton: What more can you tell me about the upcoming episode?
Patrica Heaton: Aside from the windshield breaking, Axel’s biggest nightmare comes to life when Sue is not only in one of his classes but they get paired up together on a project. Dave Foley is back as Brick’s social therapist, trying to help him play games like tag and do things like talk to kids in the hallway and make eye contact, all the things we take for granted but it’s so hilarious when it’s foreign to someone. It’s a really terrific episode.
Don’t miss The Middle, Wednesdays at 8 pm on ABC.