‘The Middle’: Neil Flynn on Acting With the Kids and the Volkswagen Episode

Neil Flynn in "The Middle" (Richard Foreman/ABC)

Neil Flynn in "The Middle" (Richard Foreman/ABC)

In his third year as Mike, the patriarch of the Heck family on ABC’s “The Middle,” Neil Flynn has played the rock that anchors all of the craziness that buzzes around Indiana’s funniest family.

After eight years as the off-kilter Janitor on “Scrubs”, a role where he improvised much of his dialogue, he plays a man who is of few words, who gets his laughs out of how he deals with his harried wife Frankie (Patricia Heaton), lazy oldest son Axl (Charlie McDermott), earnest but often forgotten middle child Sue (Eden Sher) and his hyper-smart but socially awkward youngest son, Brick (Atticus Shaffer).

Before tonight’s new episode, where Mike helps Brick return to spelling bee prominence after a big loss last year, Flynn talked with XfinityTV.com about the season so far, what he likes about doing one-on-one stories with the kids, and his take on the product placement-influenced plot from a few weeks ago.

The Middle” is a show that people have liked in sort of an underground way, but this season it seems to be getting the same attention that the rest of the Wednesday lineup has gotten. Is that a satisfying feeling for you, or do you want to tell people, “Hey, this has been good all along”?
I don’t mind traveling under the radar, so I haven’t felt any concern that the show has been underwatched or underappreciated or undervalued. If it gets more attention, great. But I haven’t been feeling bad about it, put it that way.

This season we’ve seen a lot of changes going on with the kids, and a few with Mike and Frankie. What themes did the creators tell you they wanted to explore this year?
We’re not really forewarned by the producers what’s coming or what sort of arc the season is taking. And that’s fine; we just get the episodes one at a time and are surprised by whatever devlopment occurs that week. That’s fine with me; I think we just stay showing situations that are relatable and believable to this family. I guess the good thing about the kids’ characters is that kids’ live change on a week to week basis more than adults’ lives do, I think, so there’s always something new, a new storyline for each of the kids to offer.

What’s been your favorite thing you’ve had to do as Mike this year?
Well, coming up, I coach Brick for his second shot at a spelling bee title. And I enjoy that; I always like storylines where they have me working one-on-one with the kids. They rotate that pretty well; I recently had interaction with Sue, and I guess I’m due for an Axl episode. I think it deepens the relationships among and between the characters, for our sake and the audiences. People appreciate seeing different dynamics characters have in one-on-one situations.

Atticus does seem to be a beyond-his-years kind of kid. How does he show that on set?
That’s true, he’s a very mature kid, very bright. Smarter than I am, I’m gonna guess. It’s always nice to be surrounded by intelligent co-workers, and it’s certainly the case with him. He’s a great kid and a good actor.

There was an episode a few weeks ago where the plot revolved around a Volkswagen. Was it approached that they had a plot that was written rather than a product placement that created a plot?
Considering it was fairly obvious that it was a product placement, I thought it was handled very well. There are ways it could have been less believable, like if we suddenly owned a brand-new car or something, it wouldn’t make any sense. So I thought for something that appears to be something along the lines of a necessary evil in television, I thought it was handled very well and subtlely.

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