Interview: The Middle’s John Gammon on Workshops, Auditions and Quitting his Day Job
If you watch ABC’s The Middle, then you’ll probably agree when I say that some of the funniest scenes on the show feature Axl (Charlie McDermott), Sean (Beau Wirick) and the dim-witted Darrin, played by expertly by John Gammon.
Now in it’s fourth season, John has been recurring on the show since the start. When I talked to him recently and told him how popular his character was, he said that when he auditioned, he was told that the character had a small “potential to come occur.” But, overall, he was “very, very lucky.”
I actually know John from a standup comedy workshop we did together a couple years ago. It was a 5-week class where we had to come up with a 5-minute set and at the end, we performed at the world famous Improv here in LA. I’m not going to toot our own horns but as memory serves, we’re both brilliant. Brilliant!
John is an incredibly nice guy and I’m loving the success he’s having right now. In the interview we talk about his moving to LA and getting started, his audition for the show, playing a dumb guy and how he doesn’t have to have a day job anymore.
For the full interview, click the audio link above or download it from iTunes
The Middle airs on Wednesdays at 8 on ABC
What brought you out to L.A.? Had you always wanted to be an actor?
John Gammon: Yeah, I had always wanted to be an actor ever since I was a kid. At the time my siblings had moved out here, I had two siblings – a brother and sister out here – and I figured that it was a great time to network since I was already out here and it was a good idea to go for it after I graduated college.
How did you know to start doing the workshops and everything like that?
John Gammon: I took a couple of classes in college. They were kind of right up my alley. I had goofed around and acted out for my whole life, so when I actually had real formal training in college, it made total sense to me.
When I moved out here, it’s pretty straight forward how you have to do everything and what it is that you need to, so it just takes a lot of focus. It takes a lot of determination and that’s just basically what I did as soon as I got out here.
How many workshops would you take a month?
John Gammon: Before The Middle came around, I think it was like one and half. I didn’t go to too many, you know. I was pretty broke at the time. [laughs] I needed to keep it kind of low on that, even professional workshops.
Did you meet the casting director, G. Charles Wright, of the The Middle through a workshop?
John Gammon: I actually met him through my first agent. Yeah. And they were looking for people from the Midwest, so I think the picture sort of matched up with the kind of actor that they were choosing for the thing. So, it was very, very lucky across the board how it worked out.
When you got the sides, did you know the character would grow like it has?
John Gammon: They had that as a potential to occur but it they weren’t clear about that at all, you know. They were just trying out different characters.
I didn’t put all my stock into it. I guess when those episodes started going over really well it was just like, oh okay. And they really liked writing for the three boys, so it kind of just came about organically that way.
Now, I know you a bit, you’re not stupid, obviously.
John Gammon: [laughs] Thanks.
Do you have to get into some sort of mindset or is just completely easy for you to walk on and just be, you know, a dumb guy for a day?
John Gammon: I think it’s pretty easy just because I’ve made dumb decisions I think. Anybody who wants to learn and wants to seek knowledge, the first step of course is to know what you don’t know and to admit that and to just sort of flow into that as a character and add in some kind of slack jaw. There’s all these kind of mannerisms, “Oh yeah, that guy looks pretty dumb.” You know, it’s not too often that you see a slack jaw with no light behind the eyes who is actually kind of intelligent, so there’s some key things you kind of throw in there. I’ve been plenty stupid all my life. [laughs] I’ve done some pretty dumb things, so it wasn’t much of a stretch.
How many episodes do you usually appear in? Because this is what, the fourth season now maybe?
John Gammon: Yeah, this is the fourth season and I’ve done fifteen episodes so far.
How far in advance do you know you’re going to film?
John Gammon: Anywhere from a week to like several months. It really depends.
Are you auditioning for other things while you’re not working on the show, or like what do you do while you’re not working?
John Gammon: Well, what I’m doing is I read a lot. I’m trying to write a lot more in the down time I’ve got. I just went in the other day for a character on Bones, a nice little guest star, it’s kind of funny. So, there are auditions that pop up now and again.
Have you kept your agent? Or, no offense to them, move up to something better?
John Gammon: The first agent, I did not keep, the contract kind of ran out so I decided to go elsewhere.
How have things changed for you, from the time you got the show to now?
John Gammon: I get a lot of weird looks. There are very few people that will come up to me and say, I recognize you, can I have an autograph. There’s definitely fan mail that comes in. I guess the main thing is just knowing that I became a working actor. I don’t have like a day job, you know? I don’t wait tables or anything like that. That was the biggest thing for me. That was a serious triumph.
How awesome is that, that you don’t have a day job.
John Gammon: It’s not easy to come by. It’s amazing.
Did you have a day job prior to booking the show?
John Gammon: Yeah, I worked as a bus boy for close to two years at two different places. It was rough. I would’ve killed for a waiter’s job, but you know, I just wasn’t going to lie on my resume. Nobody is going to hire you if you do that.
How awesome was it when you walked into the bus boy job and said, “I quit.”
John Gammon: It’s funny, it was completely un-dramatic. It wasn’t like this big Rocky triumph. It was just, I had been crunching the numbers, what I needed to live and what I was bringing in, and I think I was coming back from a vacation so I came back early or something like that, so I basically hadn’t even been given my schedule yet. I was just supposed to call the manager as soon as I got back from vacation and I got some checks or something and I was like, “Whoa, I hit my number.”
And so I emailed them and said, I am not going to be able to make it. I’m just not going to be able to do it. So it was totally under the radar kind of thing, but of course it’s huge.
In the audition or auditions, what do you think you did right that other people weren’t doing?
John Gammon: I guess what I did right was I never, ever looked at the auditioning process as anything but a sort of celebration. It’s supposed to be enjoyable for what it is and you get to take a break from whatever else it is that you’re doing and you get to act, you know?
It’s a very different of course when you get to the set and everything, but, all it is that we do is captured in that entire process. If you go into it even saying, you know, this is kind of necessary evil, that’s the first terrible step that you can do in the wrong direction. That’s not how it is. You’ve got to really enjoy auditioning and even enjoy the competition of it because there’s no getting away from it.
You can’t even understand what kind of advantage you have over people who have a mistaken attitude towards it if you’re actually enjoying it. When everybody else doesn’t like it or just kind of looks at it like some sort of chore and you’re actually in there enjoying it, like that really comes through in everything that you do and everything that you are and I think that puts you miles ahead of everybody else.
It’s just a good way to live your life anyway because it’s going to be there and it’s awesome to be there and it should be. That’s the very best way that you’re going to be able to find out who is the best person for the job.