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Patricia Heaton Q&A On Her New ABC Series 'The Middle'

Fred Topel Fred Topel
August 26th, 2009 10:12am EDT
Patricia HeatonPatricia Heaton is back with another TV comedy. Now, we know what you're thinking. She already tried to follow up Everybody Loves Raymond with Back to You, that newsroom comedy. Well, this one is back in her wheelhouse.

ABC's The Middle stars Heaton as a married mother raising her family in middle America. Each of her kids have their own special demands, and the first episode already has her wearing a Superwoman costume for a last minute school presentation.

As a working mom herself, Heaton knows The Middle is all too real. She was happy to share her experiences, both real and dramatized, in anticipation of this fall's new comedy.

Q: Do you ever think about telling your agents, "Okay, enough of the kids! Can I do a show without any?"

Patricia Heaton: You know, it's not the kids so much, it's more the wardrobe. When I went back for my wardrobe fitting, I stood in front of the rack and just started sobbing.

Q: What about the Superwoman outfit?

PH: That was like the height of my sartorial experience on this pilot. It was really fun. I really wanted to make it look as bad as possible. I tried to get a girdle underneath it, that would really cut in so that you could see the lumps and bumps. I don't know how well, in Hi Def, hopefully, it will show up, because everything shows up. You have to be true to the character and she's certainly not a fashion plate, that's not what is first on her agenda.

Q: So, you're going there?

PH: Yeah, unfortunately. I don't know why I couldn't be on Desperate Housewives, but there you go.

Q: Since you have so many demands put on you by doing a show like this, is it true you don't have any help at home with your kids.

PH: Well, I'm going to have to get some help. For the last year or so, I guess maybe less, I haven't had any help at all, so I just get up at 5:30 and try to work-out, get the groceries done, get breakfast…

Q: You do grocery shopping ay 5:30 in the morning?

PH: No, that's when I work-out. Sometimes I go. Sometimes I try to get the groceries done by 7:00, before everybody gets up. And then taking the guys to camp or other activities and my husband and I are producing also, so we have a lot of that kind of work to do, too. So, it's quite a bit.

Q: The experience of raising children is so complex. Can a television show ever really get it right?

PH: This show really gets it. The Atticus character, for almost everybody I know who has more than one kid, has a kid that has these quirks. It's very real to me. Charlie's character is kind of sulky, silent, 15-year-old, it's just classic. I totally relate to that. Also, the Sue, she's the kid that doesn't seem to be good at anything, but keeps trying. It's all very realistic, and the way that Frankie just throws stuff in the microwave and the house is a mess, I have that whole thing going on.

Q: What does the show have to say to moms who are always multi-tasking? What advice to you have for working moms?

PH: The problem with multi-tasking is that nothing sinks in. You get these things done and it kind of floats by in the circus of your brain. It's very hard to retain. Nothing goes deep down. So I forget a lot of things. If something's done, and you asked me what I did yesterday or even a few hours ago, it would be hard for me to even tell you. I'm just kind of moving from one thing to another. I think you just have to give yourself a break. I'm kind of controlling, and I have to learn to let that go. And I found that most things work out without me having to control them or even trying to be perfect. I like to read stories about people coming up who have really abusive childhoods and they are still okay. My kids have a pretty good childhood, so I feel like they are already 100 perfect ahead.

Q: Does this couple have a different relationship than Deborah and Ray?

PH: I think that Frankie knows that it's just barely hanging on. So I think the worse she would ever criticize her husband, she's just trying to maintain her own set of responsibilities, so I think that it's more evenly balanced. I think it's a little tiresome to have the bumbling husband and the patronizing wife. So I think that this is going to have a very different appeal.

The Middle ABC

Image © American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.

Q: What seems familiar to you as a mom?

PH: Oh my gosh, every single little thing of following after people, like the kids with, "Where's your homework" and digging it out of the bottom of a backpack, and having the kid come up to you the night before or the day off and saying, "You're got to be here. I need this." It happens constantly. So that's why I think people are really, really going to relate to this show.

Q: What is your worst "Mom, I need this tomorrow" story?

PH: I had a similar thing with a French Medieval Knight's costume. And one of my sons, this was his summer reading, is that he had to read Medea and the memorize 20 lines from the play, which I'm kind of thrilled that they are challenging him, but on the other hand, it was not fun in that short time.

Q: What advise do you have for real-life moms like yourself?

PH: Really, I think the thing is to keep on having a good attitude, trying to find the fun in every day and not to sweat the small stuff.

Q: How do you prioritize?

PH: I have a real problem with that and it paralyses me. I have just been thinking about this recently. I tend to get up in the morning and I already have anxiety. Because it wouldn't be a good thing to crack a beer open at 7:00 am, I really try to start analyzing this anxiety which is I have all these things to get done: school supplies, school uniforms and then I have a script to read and turn in to another network where we are trying to produce. We also have this Broadway musical that we're working on, so which thing do I do first? So I think what I should do now is just read Huffington Post for an hour. That's what I end up doing, just going to the computer and just start surfing the net because I don't want to face all the things I have to do.

Q: Do you think people Middle Americans are going to get The Middle?

PH: Oh yes. This is a complete love letter to every state between Los Angeles and New York City. I think, especially these days, with all the political craziness going on, I think there's pictures being painted of Middle Americans being a certain way, so I that this just takes it out of all of that and let's get back to people who live their daily lives struggling, and being very polite about it all the time, and being very friendly and optimistic.

Q: Does most of Hollywood feel that way, too? Do they get it?

PH: I think these writers certainly do. I think the balance that our writers have found is that you can have fun with the Mid-West and laugh, but you are not really making fun of them. You are having fun with it. With them, not at them.

Q: Do you sense that The Middle could be another long-running series for you?

PH: I do, and it's making me nervous. Because on Raymond, by the end, we were working four days a week and you would go in from like maybe ten to four. And on this show, the pilot, it was 12 to 15 hour days, so my only concern is how I am going to work that out with me having four kids.


Q: When they give you a ready-made to work with, how do you create that feeling of a real family?

PH: These kids are so kind of chilled, sweet and not showbiz-y kind of kids, and they are good actors, too. They have good work ethic, they just kind of buckle down and do it. It seemed very much a family from the get go, right from the start.

Q: What do your kids think about your work? Are that at the age where they are like, "Oh God, mom?"

PH: Yeah, I think they're excited. They are now at the point where they like to make some money. They go, "Mom, can we be extras on this show? Because I want to get this new bike." So now they are starting to see the advantage of me doing the show.

Q: What about your husband?

PH: We're all good, we're producing some stuff, so he's busy with that. That stuff hasn't taken off yet, so it's good to have this thing coming in, to sort of support our producing ventures.

Q: Unlike shows in the past where you were playing a supporting character, The Middle seems to be focused totally on you. How do you feel about that?

PH: When we were shooting it, I had no idea whether I was doing it well or whether it was funny, because I don't have the audience response. And the camera is this close and they're that far back, so it's just a completely different way of working and it's a way that I'm not accustomed to. So I didn't have a gauge, so that's why I just felt like, "I have no idea." I didn't even watch the pilot for a very long time, because I tend not to watch myself anyway once I shoot. I don't like to. It makes you too self-conscious, so I took a long time to watch it. I almost feel like I have to watch it a few more times, but we had a great director and if you have a great director and the writing's strong, that makes the difference.

Q: Everybody Loves Raymond is such a benchmark in your career. Did you worry about playing another mother in The Middle?

PH: Well, I think mainly, Raymond has sort of become iconic and I was feeling nervous about playing another mom. But this really did have a different feel to it, and the Mid-West is a very different feeling than Raymond, and also coming from a mother's point of view as opposed to the father's point-of-view, it felt very different. I think those were the things that made me think that it would be okay to take this job and I wouldn't be repeating myself.

Q: Is it more responsibility now, because you are the Raymond of the show?

PH: I suppose, but I don't think of it that way. I'm very much just trying to be real and funny in every scene. I don't think it terms of "I have to carry this show." I actually think that's the writer's responsibility.

Q: What are your feelings about Back To You not making it?

PH: I wasn't really sure about Back To You. But in many ways, me, Kelsey [Grammer], Ty [Burrell] and Fred Willard, I thought, "How could it not run?" So you just never know in this business, which is one of the things that makes it a great business is that anything can happen. It's funny that Kelsey's new show is on, mine follows him, and Ty Burrell's show, run by the exact same producers, runs after our show. It's odd that we are all together again.

Q: Was there any part of you that hesitated about jumping right back into another season after having just done it last year?

PH: Yeah, well, mostly because it was single camera and the hours are very long, so I'm concerned about that, but because the kids are older and they are very involved with school stuff, maybe it wont be so difficult. I just don't know what it's going to be like, so I am a little anxious about it. But the Warner Brothers people are great, they are going to do everything they can to try and facilitate.

Q: Did they actually shoot a pilot for this, years ago?


PH: Yes, they did, they shot a pilot with Ricki Lake. I wasn't aware of the show prior to them coming to me and I did not watch the other pilot. The fact is I didn't want anything in my head. I really liked this script and I really wanted to see what they were going to do with it. Julianne Robertson, our director, is British, so it's really odd that she had such a total feel for the Mid-West. She totally, totally got it.

Fred TopelStory/Interview by Fred Topel

Starpulse contributing writer

(Starpulse in Hollywood): Every week, Hollywood's biggest stars are meeting in the hot spots and Starpulse is there.



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