The Middle's Charlie McDermott on directing his first episode and recreating the Friends intro
After eight seasons of starring on ABC’s The Middle, actor Charlie McDermott — who plays Axl Heck on the long-running sitcom — finally stepped behind the camera. Here he is telling us about his first experience directing Tuesday night’s episode, “The Confirmation”…
Directing is something I’ve wanted to do as long as the show’s been on. So I’ve been shadowing on set pretty much since the show began, even on all the projects I worked on prior to The Middle. So it’s something I prepared for a long, long time. So when the time finally came, I felt like I had a good grasp on it.
But I definitely had to do some extra work the week leading up to it in terms of prep work and the specifics to figuring out the actual episode. A lot of the prep work was really just about trying to read what the writers had written and talking to Eileen Heisler, one of the showrunners, about what she wanted pretty much down to the tee so I could make sure I was getting it right.
The scene I was definitely looking forward to the most was where Sue [Eden Sher], Lexie [Daniela Bobadilla], and Brad [Brock Ciarlelli] play in the fountain like in the Friends intro. We watched the intro just to match the camera angles, which I did pretty much close to what it was on the show. But one thing we realized was that in the first couple of seasons they’re actually not in the fountain and they’re not wet, which I’d just assumed. So we had to decide which season of Friends we wanted to match. But I never noticed that there were a couple of different versions of the intro until I had to watch them all. That ended up being one of the most fun parts of the week.
A lot of times our writers write our physical gags like it’s a cartoon. In the script it says, “He dives over the counter,” so that day the stunt guy came in and I was kind of just rolling over the counter and it wasn’t funny. So he suggested that I go up and hold and then fall, and I did it and that’s the one that made it in. What’s fun about that is there’s a whole scene after I jump over the counter so I actually had a small four-inch monitor on the ground so I could fall and watch the rest of the scene, which was fun. I felt like I had a private video village.
The one thing we did change — we ended up shooting it two or three weeks later — was the snow globe reveal to being in the trash can, which I really liked. It was an idea Eileen actually had. She decided she wanted to kind of wait until after it’s thrown out to see what it is. Initially, in the shooting script Beau [Wirick, who plays Sean Donahue] pulls the snow globe out of the bag at the door and then walks down the hall.
Television moves so smooth. It’s a machine pretty much at this point, especially on a show they’re running this well. Everyone knows how it goes, so for me, I felt very lucky that this was my first one because it was a great environment and really hard to mess up. Everyone already knew what they were doing and had a lot of fun. It didn’t really feel much different than it feels when I’m there as an actor.
The Middle airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.
— As told to Nivea Serrao