First of all, if you haven’t read my interview with Neil Flynn, star of The Middle and Scrubs, that’s over at the AV Club, then go do so right away. Not that what you’re about to read here is full of spoilers about what you’ll read there or anything, but it’s just a really nice conversation…and one that went on at least a little bit longer than you’d think, based on the way it wraps up. After Mr. Flynn regaled me with the tale of how he came to appear for slightly more than a split second in Magnolia, I brought the topic of conversation back to The Middle to wrap things up. For whatever reason, though, they brought the piece in for a landing right where it was, so this’ll be your first chance to see how the chat really ended…
AVC: Okay, so as far as guest stars on The Middle go, Patricia Heaton’s gotten to re-team with Ray Romano and Doris Roberts, but the only Scrubs alumni who’s been on The Middle has been Sam Lloyd. Has there been any talk of anyone else stopping by?
NF: I don’t know, but it’s a nice gig if you’re an actor around town to play one of the kids’ teachers. [Laughs.] You’ve got at least a year, so you get a season where you might appear more than once if you’re lucky. Sam’s gotten on a couple of times now. And Dave Foley’s been on recently. Did you hear him slip in the Kids in the Hall reference?
AVC: Could you help but hear him slip in the Kids in the Hall reference? That was one of the most egregious—but still funny—references to an actor’s past credit in recent memory.
NF: [Laughs.] Yeah. I don’t remember that being in the script at the read-through. I don’t know if he ad-libbed it or if he re-worded it or if they wrote it that way. At first, I was, like, “What the…? Was there even any context for that?” It took a second for me to realize, “Oh, right, he’s talking about the actual kids in the hall.” I just suspect the original word might’ve been “hallway,” and maybe Dave did that one himself. I don’t know, but I’m sure he did with the blessing of the producers. Otherwise it wouldn’t have made it into the show. It was funny. And, I mean, how many people watching The Middle even got that joke? Probably not many people watching that episode also watched Kids in the Hall. But I’m just guessing. I don’t know. I’m just not sure we share a core audience. Your instinct wouldn’t be to think so, anyway.
AVC: Lastly, there have been several moments during the course of the series where Mike reacts to something in a scene and—this could simply be my imagination, but others claim to have noticed it as well—it looks suspiciously like it’s Neil Flynn thinking something’s funny rather than Mike Heck.
NF: Hmm. That doesn’t sound like a good thing. [Laughs.] Or maybe I’m acting so well that it just seems like me rather than Mike.
AVC: We could go with that if it’ll make you feel better.
NF: Huh. I, uh, don’t know how to parse that one. I don’t think you’re seeing that. I don’t think there’s anything that I actually broke and laughed at that they captured. I can hardly recall laughing on the show. Oh, but you never actually said laughing, I guess. I…I dunno. But let’s go with this: the character isn’t a world apart from me, so I’m more or less playing myself if I lived in Indiana and had a wife and kids. I’m not putting on some fake demeanor, an accent or a limp or anything. Mike walks like I walk and talks like I talk. A little less than I talk, but…
You know, now that I’ve said that, it doesn’t exactly make me sound very deep or talented to say that I’m basically playing myself. In fact, I think it might be the last time I say that to a reporter. [Laughs.] So let’s go back and underline the bits that clarify that I’m clearly not playing myself. Basically, if I had a more stoic brother, that would probably be Mike Heck. Yeah, let’s go with that. I’ll rather end this by having people think of me as being at least slightly credible as an actor!
After Mr. Flynn and I wrapped up, we shook hands and I prepared to depart, but as I was picking up my bag, he suddenly asked, “Hey, did you do that Lily Tomlin thing?” (He’d already made it clear that he knew I was interviewing him for the AV Club.) When I confirmed his suspicion, he laughed and said, “Jesus, that thing was long! I read that, and I thought, ‘There’s no way I’m gonna have this much to say!'” Of course, the first thing I took from that comment was the awareness that Neil Flynn read something I wrote. After that, though, I realized that he and I had just talked for 45 minutes, and with a comment right before my last question which indicated that he was fine with wrapping up whenever I was done with whatever I had to ask him. Either he seriously underestimates his ability to talk, or I really managed to hit on some subjects that he just happened to have an interest in discussing at length, but whichever it was, I still had a great time talking to him.
Oh, and one more thing: when The Middle had their Television Critics Association panel an hour or so after our interview concluded, Flynn got the last word, and it was with a line which made everyone laugh but made me laugh just a little bit harder.
After he smirked and said, “I want to talk about my stunning transformation from
Neil to Mike, but it would take too long,” series co-creator Eileen Heisler teased him by saying, “So unlike your character…”
At this, Flynn started to say, “Yeah, I accidentally…” Then he stopped dead and said, “Oh, no. I’m not going to say that now. I was about to tell you what I said to one reporter earlier today that I’ll never say again. This would not be the right time to point that out.”
Hopefully, now is.