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Patricia Heaton on Spending Mother's Day in 'The Middle'

by Joel Keller, posted May 5th 2010 9:01AM
Patricia Heaton in 'The Middle' - 'Mother's Day'As the first season of ABC's Wednesday comedy 'The Middle' comes to a close, viewers are starting to catch on to the show's easygoing comedy and family-friendly vibe. Much of that vibe has to do with the show's star, Patricia Heaton.

As the harried but loving Indiana mom Frankie Heck, Heaton has reminded audiences that a show can be funny without being mean. At the same time, she's broken away from the image people had of her for nine years, as high-strung Long Island housewife Debra Barone on 'Everybody Loves Raymond.'

Heaton spoke with me last week about how the first season has gone, how the word "security" doesn't exist in show biz and about the Japanese exchange student that came to live with her family. She also talked about the latest episode, 'Mother's Day,' and what it's like to work with Marsha Mason, who guests as Frankie's mother in the episode.

Now that the first season of 'The Middle' is done shooting, are you satisfied with how things went and the audience's response to the show?

Yeah, I'm really pleased. It's one of these things, it's almost like 'Everybody Loves Raymond,' in that it's taking a little more time, but I keep reading articles from critics and bloggers who have discovered the show, or are still discovering the show, and being surprised at how much they like it. And I'm really excited about that.

Because I think sometimes when you blow out of the gate, the expectations are set so high, and it's hard to sustain that. It's just like in acting, if you come out and you show everything in the first five minutes of your performance, you kind of have nowhere to go. And people are sort of still finding us, and really loving us, and telling other people about us. So I'm excited about that as far as viewership.

And I watched the episode (that aired last week); we did an episode where Axl gets back together with his girlfriend, Morgan, who I despise. It was definitely funny. I mean, when I laugh at my own stuff, it's funny. You know? Because I'm kind of a big critic. And I really, you know, just think every episode just gets better and better. And I'm so pleased with it.

The show got picked up for a second season in January. You've been on shows that haven't been picked up and on shows that you weren't sure...
Thanks for bringing that up, Joel. (laughs)

No problem. Does a sense of security settle over the set when you know you've been renewed?
No security. It's just sort of elation and euphoria. And you're happy for that moment. I don't think anyone ever uses the word "security" in our business. And you know, it's sort of a blessing in disguise. Because I think in what I call the civilian world, most people have a maybe unconscious assumption that they're going to be at this job for as long as they want to be, at whatever job they're working at. And it's devastating for people to lose their job, obviously. I read an article about a publisher who was let go after 21 years, and just the enormous adjustment that is, was, for him.

You know, there's no such thing (in show business). We don't think we might lose our job. We always know our job is going to end. Because even if you're on a hit series, it's going to be maybe seven years. So that's the atmosphere we live in, one of never, ever knowing.

And I've found it to really make me a stronger person. And also, it makes me have to be more of an entrepreneurial person, because I'm always thinking of what I can do when I'm not working, to bring money in. You know? So I find it to be a blessing that there is no job security. On the other hand, I am down on my knees kissing the ground of Stage 32 at the Warner Ranch, (knowing) that the show is being picked up again.

So you're not scouting out the local Starbucks to see who has jobs open or anything like that?
I am not planning on being a barista anytime soon.

When the show started, the obvious comparison was to 'Malcolm in the Middle.' Were you sensing that? Did you think those comparisons were unfair?
Everybody said that a lot. I hadn't really watched Malcolm. I know ('Malcolm in the Middle') was from Malcolm's point of view, so I think that that made the parents a little goofier. I think they pushed the reality out a little bit more, you know? I think it was a... I don't want to use the word, it's not cartoony, but it was bigger, I think. From the little bit I've seen. I was not really a 'Malcolm' watcher.

I feel like our (show) keeps pretty real, and when we kind of want to go somewhere that's a bit outside of reality, it's usually like me jumping over the table and throttling Axl's girlfriend. It's what's happening in my mind. But I think it stays pretty real.

How do you think the show has changed as the season's gone on?
Well, you know, with (co-creators) Eileen Heisler and DeAnn Heline, the reason that the show works is, they are very specific writers. And Eileen Heisler is on the set every day and she knows exactly how she wants things. So I would say they had a very clear idea in their head from the beginning, how this show should look, and feel, and what situations the characters are going to be in. So in that sense, I feel there's a real consistency to it from the beginning. Also, it was done previously, with another cast, and so they've had this in their mind for a long time. They've had a long time to think about it and look at it. And so I think it's actually stayed very consistent in tone and in situations.

And we're allowed to bring things in. I had a chat with Eileen the other day, and while I was filming, in my personal life, we had a Japanese exchange student come and live with us for ten days. And every day, I would come in and tell them more things. And we started talking about, wouldn't it be hilarious, what would the Heck family do with a Japanese exchange --or with any kind of exchange student, looking at their life? So I think, actually, next season, you may see them getting an exchange student. So they are drawing stuff from everybody's experiences.

How was working with Marsha Mason, who plays your mother in this week's Mother's Day episode?
You know, it's great, Marsha and I have a connection because I did a remake of 'The Goodbye Girl,' which of course is one of Marsha's signature roles. And for her to play my mother was so exciting. And I have to tell you, she was in the middle of rehearsing a play in New York, and she flew into L.A. We had, I think, one day to shoot a whole lot of stuff. And it was probably a 16-hour day and she had to go right back. She was perfect as my mother. She was such a pro. She just ... I can't tell you how brilliant she is in this part.

What is Frankie's mom like?
Very Midwestern, and everything's (done) with a smile. She's very accommodating, but she's one of these women -- it's like a lot of our moms, they've been slaving away for their kids and their husband all their lives, and doing it with a smile, but it gets to a point when the kids are out of the house and they're still kind of having to wait on their husband hand and foot, they start to crack a little bit. You know, when you come home and you're 30 years old, and you dump your laundry, just thinking your mom's gonna do it. And your mom is like, "excuse me?" So there's a little bit of a crack there.

Frankie's having a tough time, because her Mother's Day is always more work for her than it is for the family. So then she goes and kind of dumps on her own mom, and the tables are turned.

Is it more refreshing for you to play a role that's closer to the environment you grew up with in Ohio?
It's a lot of fun. It's really a lot of fun. You know, anybody who's from the midwest, and particularly if you're from like Cleveland, which is where I'm from, there's a lot to poke fun at. But you love it. I mean, in some ways, it's your heritage, so you're allowed to say what's wrong with it. But there's a lot that you love about it, and you wouldn't be who you were if you weren't from there. So it is so much fun for me to play.

And so many of us -- Neil Flynn grew up in the suburbs of Chicago -- and just talking about how he grew up ... And he's also Irish-Catholic, which is how I grew up. So we have a very similar upbringing. And in the same era, too. So it's really a lot of fun to kind of re-live a lot of that stuff. Because a lot of things haven't changed in a lot of midwestern places, which is kinda nice.

And it's kinda nice to be able to go back to that when you've had your fill of the whole L.A. scene or the New York scene. Sometimes you want to just be able to go home on the 4th of July, have a funnel cake, a beer, and light off some illegal firecrackers, you know? And that's all you need.

Sounds like a fun 4th of July to me.
Yeah. (laughing) Well come on by.

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31 Comments

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dianne

The Middle is great entertainment, Patrica is wonderful,Neil is more adorable(than in Scrubs),this is a great show, great cast (all of them)

May 06 2010 at 7:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
bill

she can't act
played same role in every sitcom she has been associated with - typical type-cast
no talent

May 06 2010 at 7:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Larry

Heaton is just too unlikable. I know she played a nagging wife in Raymond, but after seeing a few interviews with her it became clear she was type-cast. Can't stand her.

May 06 2010 at 6:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
sue

if it wasn't started behind. sorry

May 06 2010 at 4:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
sue

i think everybody would be watching the middle if it was started behind kelsey's grammer's failure. it is the funniest show in tv at this time besides big bang theory

May 06 2010 at 4:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
God reigns!!!

I just like the show. Yes, it has a touch of Malcom in the Middle (I was one of its avid watchers)but it has its own unique qualities just as well. I guess what reminds me of Malcom is the likeness of one of her boys to a character in the other series. But I just want to watch something a little less cerebral and more of what my life is actually like everyday.Middle is entertaining and funny!

May 06 2010 at 3:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
frank

I love this show. Patricia and cast are excellent. The writing, filming, music and tone of show is just great. So happy ABC is keeping The Middle and critics and viewers are responding to this hilarious show. Best kid actors on TV by far and Mike and Frankie are the most realistic married couple since Dan and Rosanne Conner.

May 06 2010 at 3:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
pfem989

Patricia is GREAT !

Great Personality !
Great Talent !
Great Looking !

May 06 2010 at 2:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rpopeteacher1

She's a one trick pony. She can only play the over-stressed housewife married to a dingbat husband.
It gets old.

May 06 2010 at 12:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
spike

Boy, THAT'S the pot calling the kettle "black".
So sad.

May 06 2010 at 12:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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