“The animation, the people that you get to work with and the fun that you get to have in the booth when you’re bouncing off of each other, doing these different voices. It is phenomenal.” – Atticus Shaffer
Atticus Shaffer plays Brick, the youngest of the Heck family kids on ABC’s The Middle. Brick is a bit odd – he licks car windshields and his best friend is his backpack – but Atticus told me that he thinks Brick is “such a cool kid.” Adding, “I love the fact that he shows that it’s okay to be smart and to be unique and to do what you love to do and to follow the beat to your own drummer.”
For those not up to speed, The Middle, now in its sixth season and also staring Patricia Heaton, Neil Flynn, Charlie McDermott and Eden Sher, is about a semi-dysfunctional family and their attempts to survive life in general in the city of Orson, Indiana.
I was actually on an episode of the show in it’s first season and my scenes were with Atticus and Neil Flynn. Both were very cool to work with and I had a blast that day on-set. So, it was definitely fun to chat with Atticus and talk about the show, playing Brick, his voice-over career and what he does on hiatus.
The Middle airs on Wednesdays at 8pm on ABC
You guys are on your sixth season now?
Atticus Shaffer: We finished filming it just needs to complete airing but yes, it’s our sixth season.
People love your character. I thought he was completely made up because he’s so unique and original but he’s not completely fictional is he?
Atticus Shaffer: No, he’s not. Brick is actually based on one of the creators of the shows son. Eileen Heisler’s son. His name is Justin and he’s pretty much the silhouette of Brick. He used to whisper, he continues to be quirky and lick car windshields.
It’s cool because what she originated as outline of the character, I was able to come in and work with the writers and the directors to fill in everything else. So it’s cool because it is a collaboration effort.
I love playing Brick. I think he’s such a cool kid. I love the fact that he shows that it’s okay to be smart and to be unique and to do what you love to do and to follow the beat to your own drummer. And I think that’s what’s so cool, because I am in a position where I can be a role model. And I play a character that is a good role model and have people be inspired by and shows it is okay to be unique.
You’ve been playing him for so long do you have any say or suggestions and playing him?
Atticus Shaffer: Over the past six years, there is some suggestion but for the most part the writers have an idea what they want to do and so there pretty fixed and that. With all of us we are able to bring up suggestions every now and again. And of course is something does come out right we’re able to alter it slightly but we usually talk to the writers about it when that happens.
Like I said earlier, people love the show and you so much. When you’re meeting fans of the show, that’s got to make you feel great.
Atticus Shaffer: You know what it is, it’s not the attention itself that makes me feel good. What makes me feel good is the fact what people are saying. They’ll come up to me and they’ll say, “My son, my daughter, my family whoever, we look up to you because of what your message is.” My mom has always taught me always be yourself. We were all created to be unique because we have interests that make us unique and are creative.
And that’s what so cool, not just the character Brick but that I am in this position and I can share that message which is: be yourself. Never give up on yourself. Stay true to yourself and stand your ground on your moral foundation because that is what makes you, you.
How memorized are you when you get to the set? How prepared are you when you get there?
Atticus Shaffer: Well, see that’s the thing, we’re not a show that’s a multi-cam episode, where you film all the way through and you rehearse, you rehearse, you rehearse. You could be filming the end of the episode at the beginning of the week. To be honest, I usually don’t memorize my lines until I get to set that day. Because normally I don’t know what scenes we are doing that day unless I have my sides in my hands. However, when I do know that there’s going to be big speech or really important scene, I will look at it ahead of time when I can to memorize it and familiarize myself with it so when I get there I feel comfortable.
What’s your typical day like?
Atticus Shaffer: I live an hour and a half away from work. I love the country. I’m not that much of a city boy, I’m more of a country boy and so we think the drive is worth it. And so my day, which is normally a 10 ½ hour day now that I’m 16, is now at 12 ½ an hour day with all the driving. And normally the call times will vary, it’s not really 9-to-5 job, it’s fluctuating. So the only thing that’s consistent is I have weekends off and I do have time to myself. But beyond that, it’s a five day work week where I could be pulling in very late every night. I can be going in very early, getting off early every day. It varies so there’s no real specific routine.
Of course, me being OCD, I’m going to make a routine at some point.
I feel you on that. I’m the same way.
Atticus Shaffer: There you go.
I know you’re couple years older than Brick. Does that make things tons easier to relate to?
Atticus Shaffer: I think that what makes it nice, especially now, Brick is 13 in the show and so he’s maturing. I remember going through that and it does. It helps a lot to channel that and to be able to understand that and feel that when I’m in a scene. Especially when he’s going through whatever it is he’s going through that’s an issue or that’s a new challenge for him or something he’s learning. And it’s absolutely hilarious because I look back on all that stuff and I think it’s funny. Because at the time, you’re like, “Oh, my gosh, that was so awkward” or something like that. So it’s very fun to be able take that and be like, “Oh, you know what? I can kind of relive that now.” So it is cool and it does make it fun.
You do a lot of voice work too.
Atticus Shaffer: Yeah.
How did you get into that?
Atticus Shaffer: Well voiceover work was actually what I originally got into the business to do. I literally fell into this business.
My mom and I, we would do storybook reading out loud together and I would play with my voice and do character voices or whatever and I really enjoyed it. And my mom had this fleeting thought of, “Oh, he would be a cute cartoon character, maybe a book on tape reader.”
Through the course of events, we found information for a manager and we sent a few things to her and she honestly didn’t know what to do with me. And we signed on with her and she’s like, “Well maybe something will come up in voiceover.”
But then her daughter/assistant, sent me on an audition for guest role on the CBS role called, The Clerk and I booked it. And everything snowballed from there theatrically.
I’d done voiceover work in the past, now that I’m on The Middle, everything really started come in for voiceover work. And it was nice because I was able not only to do Brick, but I was able to do all these other voiceover projects at the same time.
I love it. I’m such a voiceover geek, it’s so cool. The animation, the people that you get to work with and the fun that you get to have in the booth when you’re bouncing off of each other, doing these different voices. It is phenomenal. I mean, it’s an art form to me because you have to put everything into your voice. And then from the animators hearing what you say, they draw up your character and that’s how the character will literally come to life.
What’s the process of creating a voice for the character?
Atticus Shaffer: Well see that’s the thing, with the audition they will give specs. And the specs will be like, don’t sound too cartoony or sound very cartoony. And I’ll try to give an idea of what his accent might be in this that the other. And they will give a general idea.
Again, when you just have a piece of paper and you read something, you kind of panic because it’s like, “Well, there’s 30 different ways that I could give what you want me to do and I’m sure you’re not going to sit through 30 takes. How do I pair that down to the one or two takes that I’m going to send you?”
And in the thing too is, my mom she actually has a very, very good ear for sounds and voices. So I will do my auditions and practice around her. Because when I’m saying it, she can hear it. So she’s my ear when I’m saying it. Because when you say something all the time, it kinda comes out and you’re like, “That sounds the same.” So I’ll have my mom listen to me and try to give me notes. And then we kind of worked together and I’ll try to think of something.
And in the second thing I do is when I’m on set, sometimes I don’t have time to get a recording studio to record. So I record it on my iPad. It’s actually quite hilarious sometimes because I will do one way of a take and I’ll play it back to myself and I will either go, “That’s exactly what I wanted.” Or I’ll be like, “That’s nothing at all like how I wanted it to come out. Oh no.” And then I panic and that it’s like, “Okay, hold on. How do I change this?” And then, I searched through the card catalog of 30 different ways to say each word and try to make it come out either natural or very cartoony or funny or dramatic or whatever.
Do you have your own little sound booth at your house?
Atticus Shaffer: No, no. My sound booth is being up against my mattress with my iPad and put a blanket over me so sound doesn’t ricochet.
You’re on hiatus now right?
Atticus Shaffer: We just went on hiatus.
What you do during your break? Are you auditioning for other things or just kind of taking it easy?
Atticus Shaffer: Well the thing is, because we still are technically part of the show and there’s always the possibility you’re coming back or not, we can’t necessarily audition for, let’s say another pilot. But if we were to get a movie and films over the summer, we’re able to do that.
Summer time is my time to be me but I love voiceover work. So I usually continued to do voiceover work for the shows I’m on now. But for the most part, I’m still a student and so I continue my studies and I’ll do my stop-motion animation and this is my time to really hang out with my friends and family. Catch up on my home life, do the usual home things that always build up when you’re working.