Photo by ABC/Bob D'Amico
When the annals of TV history get updated, Patricia Heaton will go down as one of the only actresses to achieve an amazing feat. Not only has she played an iconic mom on Everybody Loves Raymond but she’s managed to portray a second legendary television matriarch — Frankie Heck on The Middle.
And despite the fact that the TV star and the struggling suburban mom might seem like they live worlds apart, Patricia acknowledged that she can relate to Frankie. She conceded, “True, I’m on a different financial plane as the Hecks. But as every parent knows, you’re only as happy as your unhappiest kid. So that goes a long way in being relatable.”
“I really feel like we connect, having four boys and different personalities that correlate to ones on our show and different issues to ones on our show.” Patricia elaborated, “We totally, totally bonded over going through many things in the show that go on in my life.”
Patricia gave an example, “We have an episode coming up where Frankie’s youngest asks to see all his old art projects that she told him she had saved. And, in fact, she threw everything out. And that is so me. When I read it I thought, ‘Oh my God, every parent is going to totally relate to this.’”
And that’s the feeling that The Middle’s cast, creators and writers strive to invoke each week. As Patricia recounted, “We talk a lot. Particularly the two creators of the show, Eileen Heisler And DeAnn Heline, bring so much from their own lives. As do the writers, most of whom are parents, [who come in] and talk about what goes on in their lives. And then Eileen is usually the one who’s on the set overseeing what’s being shot and she and I have many discussions about family life. And so all of that plays into the story ideas that they come up with.”
They must be doing something right because the fans are really responding to the show. “Everybody just loves the show so much and said how much funnier it’s gotten as we’ve grown and been able to really explore the characters.” Heaton acknowledged, “It just gets better every day.”
The ever-evolving show reminds Patricia of her last big hit. She explained, “It’s a slow growth the way Raymond was because Raymond really hit its stride in its fourth season. So I think there’s that similar slow and steady growth in the show with the characters. And that’s just natural.”
That’s to be expected on a series where total strangers are cast to play a close knit family. As Patricia noted, “When you all first get together, actors don’t know each other. The writers don’t know the actors. We’re all feeling our way a little bit blindly. And now we’re just really coming into our stride, so it’s been a pleasure.”
And that joy keeps growing. This week The Middle will air a particularly funny episode in which the kids all learn some important life skills. Patricia shared the knowledge that she herself feels is critical to impart when raising kids.
She remarked, “On a moral level, that’s the most important thing is the kind of character you help create in your child. Everybody is born a certain personality type but hopefully values of being honest and decent and kind and generous and unselfish — those things can always be in place and serve you regardless of whether or not you are successful financially or personally or whatever. So that’s the main thing I worry about.”
But Patricia also urges parents to inspire their kids to follow their own paths. She looked back at her own experience as a struggling performer, “I had to find my own way in terms of becoming an actor because there was no one in the family who related to it or understood it or knew how to help shepherd that. There was nobody around and so in some ways that probably helped me because I had to figure it out on my own and it really tested my commitment to it because it took me a really long time and nobody told me how to do it. But I kept at it because it was the thing I wanted to do. So it built up a lot of strength in me and a lot of independence.”
She continued, “However, I think that I could have avoided a lot of pitfalls if I’d had somebody who’d recognized certain gifts and said, ‘Okay, this is what you’re going to do and I’m going to help you get there.’ So that’s the other thing that I try to teach my kids. Not trying to force my thing on them but trying to observe them, see what it is that they’re good at and that they love and figure out a way to help them achieve something in that area.”
Tune in to The Middle tonight at 8 p.m. EST/7 p.m. Central on ABC to see the life skills the Heck kids learn.
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