A Conversation with THE MIDDLE Star Patricia Heaton

While her new ABC series might not quite garner the critical acclaim of MODERN FAMILY, or controversial buzz that comes with naming a Courteney Cox vehicle COUGAR TOWN, actress Patricia Heaton loves being stuck in THE MIDDLE of ABC’s resurgent comedy Wednesday. So much so that Heaton, who plays Frankie Heck the loving, overworked and hilarious wife and mother of three, took some time away from her much needed hiatus to talk to theTVaddict.com about what brought her back to TV, the similarities between herself and her small screen alter ego, and which of her favorite fictional children is her favorite.

After the disappointing way in which FOX handled your last series BACK TO YOU, was there any apprehension about jumping back into another network series?
Patricia Heaton: No. I saw what the problems were with BACK TO YOU. I feel like I have a pretty good business sense about what we do. I think I’ve long put away emotional attachment to this business, or my personal attachment to things — thank God — that’s sort of not where I get my self-esteem anymore! So I can kind of step back and say, that didn’t work, and here’s why. Kelsey’s [Grammer] great, obviously Steve Levitan and Chris Lloyd are great because they’ve got MODERN FAMILY on which is so flippin’ hilarious. And Ty Burrell, Fred Willard, all those BACK TO YOU people are doing great, which is always encouraging to see because sometimes when something doesn’t work, they don’t work for a number of reasons. It doesn’t mean you don’t have good ideas or there’s anything wrong with you. It’s timing, it’s the right people, it’s all that kind of stuff, because they came back with this amazing show.

Me too! I emailed Levitan and Lloyd because I had heard they get finished by 2 o’clock in the afternoon because they work all on steady cams, while we’re working a flippin’ 14 hour day! I was like, “Excuse me, I’m working twice as much as I did on BACK TO YOU and making half the money! How can you guys get off at 2 o’clock in the afternoon?” They wrote back to me and said, “Yeah sorry about that, our hours are very short and we’re all having great sex!”

I can’t help but notice you’ve used the word “Flippin’,” twice which is something I’ve definitely heard Frankie say.
Ah really! Anybody who is a good midwestern person who was raised Catholic and used to swear all the time but can’t anymore because they have kids says flippin’ or freakin’ instead of you know what.

Although I imagine your home life isn’t as crazy as Frankie’s, how similar are you to your character?
There was a point when I was working on RAYMOND [as in EVERYBODY LOVES…] I had four kids ages 5 and under. At that time I was working, not getting any sleep and running around like a chicken with her head cut off so I was like Frankie in terms of Toaster Waffles, Pop Tarts, Tang, whatever was fast, just get it done. Same with homework projects being done at the last second, asking the props people on RAYMOND to give me stuff because I had to make a Volcano or a model of a California Mission, a poster board or something. I was very much like Frankie early on, but things have calmed down now to the point where tonight all my four sons have something to do and my husband and I are going to be alone, which is unbelievable.

But I totally relate to Frankie and I also grew up like Frankie. In a house where I got that same breakfast of Pop Tarts and Tang. My mom had five kids, no help, my dad was a sports writer who travelled with teams all the time so it was really up to my her to do all the laundry, grocery shopping and cooking and all that kind of stuff. Problem was, she wasn’t really the type, it wasn’t the kind of thing that interested her, but she did it. I didn’t grow up in a Martha Stewart house, let’s put it that way.

But really, who does?
Exactly! Nobody does and that’s why everybody relates to THE MIDDLE. It’s nice to have aspirational shows where you think, “Oh that would be nice to organize my cabinet that way, or label this.” But basically most people are like the Heck family. I think what people embrace is that it’s kind of nice to see yourself represented and have it be okay. That’s what the show is a real celebration of.

No mother should ever have to pick a favorite child, but I’m curious if you have a favorite fictional child you enjoy working.
I love Sue so much because first of all I don’t have a daughter in my real life so it’s fun to do those scenes with her. But what I like about that character as it’s written — and I of course love all the kids — but what I love about her so much is that we have not seen as far as I can tell a female child character who is not a bitch, or a slut! You usually get the bitchy, slutty, mouthing off disrespectful kind of obnoxious girl, or you get the brainiac. Sue is really respectful and not really smart and I’ve never seen that before. I think it’s wonderful. And Eden Sher [The actress who plays Sue] is so great at it. She is just a sweetheart herself, but that character just wears the worst stuff, is always smiling, only gets down for a minute, gets very excited about the smallest things, trying her best, always optimistic, it’s just a charming, charming character. Now that said, Axl reminds me completely of my oldest son who also never wears a shirt around the house.

Let me just say how impressive it is that you’ve managed to keep that gag going all season long!
I know [Laughs] I think that’s just keep the younger demographic coming back to watch. And of course, every family has a Brick. I have a Brick in my family.

Do your real-life kids watch the show and see themselves in the characters?
They kind of do, especially with Axl. They really like it, and it’s really fun because they were very little when RAYMOND was on so they really didn’t watch it. And there was stuff on RAYMOND that they wouldn’t get and wasn’t appropriate for them. It’s really the perfect timing that this show comes on when they are at the perfect age for them to watch it, which is kind of gratifying for me.

Are any of your kids itching to follow in your acting footsteps?
You know, my third one kind of toys with it, but he’s also very self conscious about not wanting to mess up in front of people. Which is a problem because that’s what you do everyday when you rehearse, rehearsal is basically messing up in front of a bunch of people, so I’m going to have to work on that with him!

Before we go, I just have to ask about last week’s episode that saw you flying over the table to take out Axl’s girlfriend Morgan [Alexa Vega]. How much of that was you and how much your stunt double?
[Laughs] It was me over the table until the chair fell over and I have a bruise on my shin to prove it to you. It was a very long day, but wasn’t that great, you couldn’t tell. It was very well edited.

THE MIDDLE airs Wednesday nights at 8:30PM on ABC (Tuesdays at 9PM on “A” Channel in Canada)

  • TVFan

    LOVE The Middle. Funniest kids on TV. [Funniest]

  • Ace

    It really is a great family show. My favorite is Brick's whispering. It cracks me up every time.

  • Ace

    *I'm not lying*

  • grumpiestoldman

    Love “The Middle”, loved “Back to You” and lurve Ms. Heaton in anything.