Q & A: Charlie McDermott and Eden Sher Talk ‘The Middle’, Getting Syndicated and the Auditions That Got Them Their Roles
The Middle, ABC’s family comedy that stars Patricia Heaton, Neil Flynn, Charlie McDermott, Eden Sher and Atticus Shaffer, has just hit a huge milestone: Syndication!
The Hallmark Channel has added the show to its prime-time lineup and to promote the news, McDermott (who plays Axl Heck) and Sher (Sue Heck), participated in a conference call to talk all things The Middle.
I, for one, am happy about the news. I was on one of the early episodes… which means residuals for yours truly!
In the call, they chat about the show, their auditions, the first time they met and tons more. Check it out below and be sure to catch an episode. It’s a really fun show!
How do you two feel about being interactive in social media with the fans?
Charlie McDermott: Yes, no, I think — I enjoy it. I think it’s fun. Yes, it’s cool. I think it’s a neat — it gets a little, I don’t know, I don’t know how to exactly describe it. There’s days where I really like it a lot and I think it’s cool and then there’s days where it’s a little too much and I kind of just want to get rid of it. So I feel like I’m constantly fluctuating back and forth between the two. I know Eden has — I think Eden has a very definitive opinion on the matter.
Eden Sher: I do. Well, it’s not definitive in that it’s kind of convoluted and volatile in my brain, because on the one hand I’m really, really, really not a fan of the internet just like in general. I have a sort of general phobia of the internet and I don’t really want it that much. But then on the other hand, I feel like that can sometimes not responding to fans on the internet can be misconstrued as ingratitude and I don’t want to feel like ungrateful. I am so grateful for all of the fans and I think it’s so awesome that they want to know information, like personal or they want to be involved. And I’m so happy to be involved, like I want to share myself and let them know that I’m grateful for them, but I really am not the biggest user of social media and the internet in general.
What is your favorite aspect then of your character?
Eden Sher: My — I’ll just go and jump in real quick, mine is the — is getting the professional opportunity to get paid to just fall on my butt multiple times a day, and squeal, and steal unicorn onesies from Sue’s wardrobe pretty much.
Charlie McDermott: Yes, no, I guess my favorite aspect of Axl is, I don’t know, I always feel like a terrible person usually when I’m playing Axl because he kind of does a lot of terrible things. He’s fun in the sense that I get to just act like an imbecile I guess a lot and always get away with it. And I guess that’s my favorite — yes. He’s funny. I like playing — yes, you want to help me, Eden?
Eden Sher: Yes, it’s super hard to talk about yourself and also talk about the character that you play because so much of yourself goes into it and I know that that’s a weird thing to come to terms with, when you can see objectively that your character is kind of an asshole. But I would say you’re really, really skilled at groaning. It seems really specific really, just the groan and whatever, but I would say my favorite, every time, anytime you have to be outraged at something, something really, really miniscule, I can see the Charlie every part of you that is super — as you, Charlie, rational, and grateful, and would never complain about anything just to get throw that out for a second so that you can just be a brat, and groan, and you just do it so well. And it’s with so much heart. It’s crazy how much (inaudible) can go into your groans, your really obnoxious groans.
Charlie McDermott: No, that is fun. I do like that. Yes, the obnoxious groan is definitely my favorite. I guess because this year, I think I just started to realize I’ve been doing this rolling growl thing with (inaudible) in one scene. That’s been my favorite thing lately. I don’t know where that came from, but I’ve been enjoying doing that to the point where they kind of tell me to stop. I’ve been doing it too much. What did you say?
Eden Sher: I was going to say, it makes me break regularly. Your (inaudible), God, your glares are so funny. Just funny little ticks, be like, favorite part, the groans.
For some of those people out there who are not huge fans of the show or maybe haven’t seen the show, do you think that the aspect of the show is something that you need from the beginning or that someone can just jump in at any time during the series?
Charlie McDermott: No, I think the one thing that our show definitely has going for it is that there’s — I mean there are a few callbacks sometimes and some episodes that have continued stories, but mostly the show is isolated incidents, every episode. I kind of look at it like we’re kind of human cartoon characters in a way. Our show is written as though it was going to be drawn by cartoonists but they actually had actors perform it. So yes, I think you can definitely jump in anywhere in any season to start watching it, and not feel like you’re missing anything.
Eden Sher: I kind of respect the fact that it’s funny on the level, like if you watch it from the beginning there are definitely Easter eggs at places, like oh that’s funny, they’re bringing (inaudible). Or, oh wow, this is sort of on some level following the actual life — the lives of these people. But on another level, they just write not one off jokes, but you can sort of — you can jump in at any given moment and just, ha, ha, this is funny. I don’t know anything and I can still laugh at this.
What does it mean to you to be — to have gotten to that threshold of 100 episodes and now to be on Hallmark Channel and to have the show be presented to a whole new audience?
Eden Sher: Only because this is actually something that I think about a lot, Charlie probably has some idea of my like — the sentiment, the sentimentality or whatever, how sentimental I am about the show going for so many years and how fearful I am for it to be over, and how —
Because you cried at the 100 anniversary party, right?
Eden Sher: To say the least, yes. Cry.
Charlie McDermott: She cries at everything, though.
Eden Sher: I sobbed just a little bit.
Can we talk about your auditions, when you first came to read for the show, and what do you remember about that?
Charlie McDermott: Well, I first moved here in 2006 and I auditioned for the original pilot a couple months after coming out here. And the character was named Elvis then. And I went in and made it two auditions in and I got cut. I didn’t make it any further. And then the pilot went and they didn’t get picked up. And then a year after that, the audition came back again and it was the exact same audition sides except the character name was scratched out and it said Axl instead of Elvis. And I still had the scenes memorized because I only had two or three lines in the pilot. I had nothing to work with.
I auditioned, I went through five auditions over a couple months and got it. And yes, and then that was it. What were you going to say, Eden?
Eden Sher: I was just going to say I kind of agree. If I ever saw the sides again. If I ever just checked them out, if I just did it with a once over I would 100% be able to recite them again because I think had a little bit more of a tumultuous auditioning process than Charlie just because I feel like (inaudible) difficult time casting too just because I don’t know if they had such — it was so vague, their idea, and also so specific, which is kind of the curse of having a character that you love but also having such little idea of how someone could execute it. But I went through also just months and months of auditioning and just being 100% confident that they hated me because they kept bringing me in, and every time they’d say it was a callback there would be different, more and different girls there. And I was just like, this isn’t a callback. These are just more auditions. Are they just forgetting that they’ve seen me already? Like they don’t like me.
Charlie McDermott: That’s what happened to me. That’s what freaked me out because the first time I went in there was like maybe 25, 30 kids and I made it through that one. And I came back and there was like double that amount there. And I had the same thing. I was like, I thought this was a callback, why are there more people. So then, the three auditions after that, which were all for network and studio, there was no one else there. It was just me (inaudible).
Eden Sher: Those aren’t auditions. Those for network and studio, those were your screen tests.
Charlie McDermott: Well, yes, but it was weird. I’ve done those before and I’ve never been by myself. So it was kind of nerve-wracking in the sense that it was like I had zero — my only competition was myself, which terrified me. It was just literally mine to lose. What was weird was that every screen test they had five or six suits and every time they were different, and they were all 10 to 12 years old. You were never there.
Eden Sher: The role that I eventually I ended up — I was like, okay, they’re screen testing me, maybe they do actually like me. I’m reading these sides for the 14th time. The two other girls were 11 and 12 and I was like, well, all right, clearly they want whatever, an actual 12 year old and I’m 17 and have way too — there’s no way I can actually look this young. And each — they never even — they did a process of elimination. First, it was two girls. Then there was just one other girl at the next one and then the other girl at that one was in the room for 30 minutes and I was in for I want to say literally four minutes. So I was again just confident, oh my God, this whole emotional process was just not worth anything. I can’t believe I went through this for nothing, even though I really wanted the role and then ha, ha, it was the best wrong I’ve ever been.
Charlie McDermott: And then the first time I met you, I was in my underwear.
Eden Sher: That’s true.
Charlie McDermott: Remember that?
Eden Sher: Quite a fortuitous meeting.
Charlie McDermott: I thought it was a little strange that they just brought these two girls into the dressing room as I was taking my pants off. Like, hi.
Eden Sher: And just before the casting agent had to come up to me and been like, have you met the boy who’s playing Axl? And I was like, no, I haven’t yet and she was like, oh, he’s so cute. And then I walk into — and I was like, oh, okay, he’s like my brother. And I walk into the room and you’re in your underwear. And I was like, this is (inaudible). This is weird.
How much of yourselves you put into your characters but again, I think that’s something just from listening to you, you can tell the parts of your own personalities that are kind of fitting to build Sue and build Axl. But what do you think it is that’s made The Middle such a success, that’s made you get to 100 episode plus and now in syndication on network? What do you think has made that happen?
Eden Sher: I would say Charlie’s abs.
Charlie McDermott: Yes, my rock hard chiseled abs.
Eden Sher: Do you have a serious answer, Charlie? Because that’s the end of mine.
Charlie McDermott: Yes, I don’t know. It’s very — it’s always — I feel like someone removed from the project, or maybe Eileen or DeAnn would have a better answer. Because I’m never really sure exactly because I, for one, watching myself, I can’t even really watch the show just because I cringe whenever I have to watch myself. So I guess it’s just, I mean I think it’s relatable. From what people tell me that love it, they feel like they can relate to it. And it’s also, the one thing that it definitely has going for it is I’m pretty sure as far as I know, the only network TV show that’s enjoyable and appropriate for the entire family. There’s a lot of shows that are family shows, I’m doing air quotes by myself in the parking lot right now, but it gets too racy for some families, or some things go over the kids’ heads. I feel like this show is a good balance of appealing to young and old simultaneously.
Eden Sher: Also, there’s a certain level of high browness, a certain level of class that comes along with actually making the connotation around family sitcoms can be a little bit like, oh, so it’s going to be like (inaudible) or kid friendly, or whatever. But I think there’s a good (inaudible) of wow (inaudible) funny experience and not use any sort of — not have to resort to — and I like raunchy comedies too, but not have to resort to cheap cursing or just like raunchy, just for the shock value sort of things. If you just make something funny because it’s funny, when someone falls and it’s funny or when someone is stupid and it’s funny, that’s kind of respect. And I also am just going to add that it’s a really difficult question to answer because it’s always, at least for me, a pleasant surprise. I’m not — it’s just a pleasant surprise that — because I am me and Charlie is him. We’re putting ourselves into these characters. So for someone to say, wow, I relate so much to that, it’s always kind of like, really, wow, I’m so glad that you can derive joy from my absolute tomfoolery. Because I’m just being me. Thank you. I’m so glad you can relate, but it’s not the goal. I mean it’s probably Eileen and DeAnn’s genius goal, they know that they’re making it relatable. But when you’re actually in it, it’s hard to say if anyone is going to feel the feelings that you’re feeling at that time.
At what point do you guys think that you truly became at home with the characters? And I’m sensing today there’s always been a little bit of the characters in you as people, but at what point did you say, yes, okay, I feel completely at home with these characters?
Eden Sher: I feel like I had a very specific moment that I can — usually these things are, again, just difficult to answer. Just I don’t know, it’s just a gradual kind of process. And it is. It’s one of those things that when you’re growing, you’re physically growing and then all of a sudden you look back and you’re like, whoa, I’m a foot taller than I was. When did that happen?
But I had a very specific sort of revelatory moment, the season finale of season one with the cross-country, just sitting for 12 hours in this — in the — getting grass, and mud, and fake rain just spilled on me for hours and hours and having to be on crutches, and just, I’m going to finish. That’s the first time that I — not that all of season one I was inauthentic, but that was the most true to Sue that I’ve ever felt and it was like, okay, I love this — I like this character and I am like in it. Like, I got it, I’ve got this shit down.
Charlie McDermott: I feel like I started to actually get how to play Axl midway through season three is when I started to feel kind of like I knew what I was doing. And season four, I felt pretty good but I feel like this season has been, for me at least, the one where I kind of really understand what’s going on in his head a little bit better, or I’m able to — I kind of have a specific direction I guess with how I’m trying to portray him. But I feel like especially season one, I even recall Eileen talked to me about this I think it was last season that they basically had no idea what to do with me for the first year. Because I know Sue is kind of in a way, correct me if I’m wrong, Eden, but from what I’ve heard, Sue was kind of like an exaggeration of them when they were younger and then Brick is based off of Eileen’s actual son in real life, and Frankie and Mike come from real places. But Axl was a complete fabrication.
So yes, I didn’t really know exactly where — what I was supposed to be doing with him until about season three I started to feel comfortable. I can’t remember exactly what the episode was, but there was one moment where I just kind of was like, oh, now I get it. And then yes, I just feel like I’ve been building off that since then.
Eden Sher: Well, I want to jump in just about Charlie, just a little bit just because the character, writing a character like Axl, having that sort of brat — not brat, yes, kind of like bratty, attitudinal teenage son is a little bit of a trope. So making a character like that, you totally run the risk of having a false caricature of that teenager, but I think they really, really hit the nail on the head with my good buddy, Chuck, because again, like I said, it takes a really special kind of person to bring really, really heartfelt humanity to a character like that. So I think they really — it took you a little — maybe it took you longer, it took them to kind of figure it out, but I think when you did, when they sort of started giving you a little bit more of a whole person, you started seeing different sides of Axl. I think that had a lot to do with seeing different sides of Charlie.
It’s almost like they can more accurately see the similarities between Axl and Charlie by seeing how different the real Charlie is. If they see, oh, whoa, Charlie has so much heart it can maybe just inspire them to see, oh, well since Charlie plays this brat so well but his heart is so really in there, it allows them to write Axl with heart more easily, sort of combine it. They can marry the two.
Do you have any fears or what are your feelings about that regarding syndication and the outcomes of what it could mean for the future?
Charlie McDermott: I think luckily for Eden and I, I mean the show is successful but it’s not anywhere near the success that Full House, or Different Strokes, or the Brady Bunch was because that was kind of the show and 30 million people watched that every week. And also, Eden and I are very fortunate in the fact that we don’t necessarily look that much like our characters outside of filming, especially Eden. And we all are really — I feel like a lot of — we also started the show post-childhood, which helps too. I mean I was almost 20 when we started the first season and Eden was 18. So luckily, we also have — I feel like a lot of the pigeonholing happens when you’re a little kid because you’re not really acting. You’re not performing a character. You’re just playing yourself. So then you as a person becomes identified with the character and that’s how the pigeonholing happens.
But the fact that we were old enough to kind of know that we were playing a character and separate that from our own. So (inaudible) very helpful.
Eden Sher: I don’t know. I’m not fearful. I’m more really excited for the future when I am only — when people just call me Sue Heck on the street and I’m getting paid to make birthday party appearances as Sue and that’s my only source of income. I don’t know, I’m not fearful.
Charlie McDermott: I got offered to do a birthday party season one, did you know that? Season one, halfway through, I got offered to be flown to Tennessee for a birthday party as an Axl Heck. Really weird.
Eden Sher: Yes, I think Charlie and I are lucky in that also — not that look different, but I’m pretty confident in that we’re pretty talented human beings who will be able to convince others that we can play other people.
Charlie McDermott: Yes. And if not, then we’ll just do joint birthday party appearances.
When you have to do one of these heartfelt scenes or moments, how do you prepare for those? And what’s it like on the set when you do those because they’re so different from what you usually do? I mean do you have trouble keeping a straight face or what’s that like?
Eden Sher: I can say how I prepare. There’s this — oh, it aired already. The episode where I am scared of Axl not being my brother anymore, I felt so spoiled. I just, as an actor, my actual preparation was just imagining if Charlie was not my friend.
What it been like for you guys working five years with Patty Heaton and Neil Flynn, what you’ve learned from them and how it’s been.
Charlie McDermott: An honor.
Eden Sher: Really a — the cheesy and true answer, a privilege. Not everyone gets their first big sort of ongoing acting experience to be with such welcoming and kind, and the opposite of — because actors are all kind of, I would say, I’m just going to make this blanket generalization, kind of crazy people.
Charlie McDermott: Wacky, yes. Wackadoo, wackadoo.
Eden Sher: Totally wackadoo. And they’re always there are two sides to being wackadoo. There’s either the kooky, hilarious, just kind but just out of — outlandish kook. And then there’s sometimes, I don’t know, maybe — because I have debilitating insecurity as well. I’m constantly in search of external validation. So if there are some actors who maybe have also that fear, that insecurity, maybe it’s possible to take it out on other people. And it’s just been so the opposite of that. I’m just in awe of how humble and talented everyone, Patty and Neil really are.
What are a few secrets or things that we don’t know about The Middle, whether it be about the set, or about the story? What are some things that we really don’t know?
Charlie McDermott: The ceilings are made of fabric. The ceilings are all fabric, the white ceilings. It’s just cloth.
Eden Sher: The walls are completely movable.
Charlie McDermott: Yes, you could punch a hole through the walls without even really trying that hard. They’re so thin.