Atticus Shaffer on THE MIDDLE’s “wonderful” Season Finale

THE MIDDLE – ABC’s “The Middle” stars Atticus Shaffer as Brick. (ABC/Craig Sjodin)

Season 8 of THE MIDDLE comes to a fun ending tonight (worry not, it’s been renewed for S9) with an episode that shows the immediate aftermath of Axl being graduated, while Sue deals with a minor traffic incident and Brick’s long-gone lawn chair makes a surprise return.

I got on the phone with Atticus Shaffer (Brick) late last week to preview the end of this season and he told me that he and his old buddy Lawn Chair, “pick back up where we left off, we’ll just say.” He also previewed the “wonderful” season finale while giving some insight on what it’s like to push these characters and grow with them over the last decade. All that, and of course we talked all things Brick & Cindy!  Check out the full interview below!

I’m so excited the show’s coming back and that we’ve known for so long.
Thank you so much. No, we’re excited too. Trust me, it was a little bit scary this year because we’re like hey, we’re a senior show now. Are we going to come back? Then when we found out that we were, we’re like, “Oh, thank God.”

Especially in a world where three shows are left from when you guys premiered. Few shows from that year last as long as you and MODERN FAMILY have.
You know what, we were just talking about that the other day. I was talking with my parents and that is a huge blessing for us, to be able to say hey, we’re the little show that could and we’re still going strong. Not only the people making it still enjoy what they’re doing, but the people who are watching it enjoy seeing it, so that’s a huge blessing for us.

Like you said, you are this little show that could, and I think every year, unlike a lot of shows, you’ve picked up more viewers and you’ve found more people who love you, with every year. It’s not a show that’s waning, it’s a show that’s growing.
You know, that is an interesting point, because I get all the time, whether I go on interviews or I’m actually just talking with people or I’m on social media talking, I get a lot of people that say, “Hey, we actually have not seen the show from the beginning. We just started and now we’re going back and watching from the beginning up until now to catch up,” so you’re right, we’re not a show that’s so linear that you’re completely lost if you jump right into the middle of it … no pun intended … but we were able to catch people in any episode and it makes them want to see the other episodes, so I think that’s a huge benefit for us.

I was having a conversation about the show actually with someone yesterday about how the season feels similar and different than what we’ve seen, in that it almost feels like you guys, as you and Charlie and Eden are taking strides to see these characters growing up, more so maybe than we’ve ever seen. What’s it’s been like in season eight to really flex your muscles and get these guys to the next step?
It’s fun, because in our show, it’s not like we’re coming in as adult characters and then finding arcs as adults. We are, as you said, we’re growing, and we are both literally and figuratively growing because we as actual humans grow up. Then as we grow up our characters grow up, and what do the writers choose to be the story arcs for our characters growing up?

I think this year especially, like you said, has been a wonderful year seeing how each of the characters have grown up. Axl got married and then got divorced, and now he is going to graduate from college. Sue, she’s growing, she’s going through college now. She’s learning more about herself, and Brick is growing more emotionally.

(ABC/Michael Ansell) EDEN SHER, ATTICUS SHAFFER, PATRICIA HEATON, NEIL FLYNN

That’s the thing with Brick, is as he matures, he’s still remaining Brick in the sense that he’s not going off and doing what all the other kids do. He’s still following the beat to his own drummer, but as that unique quirky person that Brick is, he’s growing up emotionally. He’s always been the eye of the storm, but now he’s realizing depths or lengths of certain issues. He’s wanting to grow in a way where he wants to spend time with his family and do family things. He wants to experience new things in his life and try new things.

I think it’s so cool that that’s the direction that Brick is growing, and also in his confidence, because he’s becoming … again, he’s always been the person to follow the beat to his own drummer, so he knows in ways that he’s a weird kid, but he also knows in other ways that that’s what makes him so special, so to see him grow in that way has just been a blast for me to perform, and then getting excited every week to see what the writers have entail for him.

That’s what I love about it too, is that Brick knows he’s the “weird kid.” His parents know he’s the weird kid, but no one tries to change Brick, and no one tries to change any of these characters. The love and support … when Frankie and Mike have an argument, it’s so watching my parents have some stupid argument. I’m like they’re the Hecks, like that’s what it is. That love is so there for everybody, even in those tense moments.
Yes, exactly, and that’s the big thing, is understanding each other and then growing in that as a family.

What can you tease about the S8 finale and what we’re going to see and how that may propel us into a 9th season?
It’s interesting, without going into too much detail, because I think it was a wonderful season finale and it was a lot of fun to be able to film. We’re able to see what Axl’s immediate plan is for when he graduates college, and that idea is an Axl idea, so it sits well with some people and it doesn’t with others. It’s going to be up to the audience to make that decision in their own heart of what they feel, but in the end, it wraps up nicely.

Brick is unfortunately experiencing some backaches, so he’s trying to figure out why that is and what’s the solution for it, and you’re going to be seeing Brick’s old lawn chair back, which was a bittersweet moment for me because I’ve spent a lot of time in that chair obviously for a lot of dinner scenes, and when I didn’t need to do that anymore I was like, “Wow, okay, cool, I’m actually going to be comfortable on a padded chair.” But then when the lawn chair came back, I was like, “I’m not going to be comfortable anymore,” but at the same time I was like, “But he’s a friend. It’s Lawn Chair!” [laughs] We pick back up where we left off, we’ll just say.

What I love about the show, and I could name a thousand things, is that it surprises me. You know, I’m suddenly crying or I’m laughing out loud. Does it get you, as you’re reading scripts or as you’re watching it back? Are there moments where you are still surprised?
Absolutely. Brick and I are a lot alike. I definitely am like Brick in almost every way, except I don’t know nearly as much about fonts as he does [laughs]. However, as we look at the script, it’s funny, because there’s different moments, like you said.

When I’m reading a script to myself for the first time before we do the table read, which is where the cast and the executives and the writers and everyone, that we all come together and we read the storyline out loud for the next week. Before that happens, I read it to myself and I hear it in specific ways in my head, and then I’m really moved by it and what I usually try to do is I just read my parts, my scenes, because I want to be surprised what happens in the other parts of the script.

(ABC/Michael Ansell) ATTICUS SHAFFER

So I’ll read my stuff and I go, “Oh, that’s a cute storyline. That seems like an A, B, or C storyline, but that’s really cute. All right, this is awesome.” Then I hear it at the read-through, and when I hear it all the way through at the read-through, then I’m starting to hear the potential of it and I’m going, “Wow, okay, this is going to be great moments for Charlie,” or “These are going to be great moments for Mike and Frankie,” or “This is going to be a great Brick moment.” Being able to hear it out loud for the first time is incredibly fun.

Then you do the filming and all you’re able to see from filming is your perspective now, because it’s your scenes as the actor. Then you’re able to see the finished product, and it’s airing for the first time and you see the finished, edited pieced together product, it’s beautiful how it comes together. These moments, like you were saying, it’s like wow, written on the written page, these sound magnificent. They’re funny or they’re sweet or they’re sad or they’re … your heart goes out to these characters and that’s on the written page. But then you actually see it come together and the work that not only the actors put into it but the director, the writers, and the editors and the crew, everyone on the show, when you’re able to see that finished product, it’s beautiful how it all comes together.

Did you ever think that your relationship with Cindy on the show would be this long relationship? You’re the stable relationship of the Heck kids.
You know, it’s actually kind of funny because knowing Brick the way I do, I know that he is the person that could be in a stable relationship, believe it or not, because he’s very thoughtful and he wants to do the right thing. When he cares about someone, he genuinely cares for them and wants what’s best for them. So way back when the Cindy thing was in its infancy, Brick had a little kid girlfriend way, way back in the day and he had a little crush once, twice, three times since then. I thought that was going to be it. I thought it was going to be one or two episodes and then something happened. But when the Cindy character came in, and actually when I first met her, she was so tall, Casey, compared to me, I was like, “This I like Frankie and Mike! This is going to be the one that lasts!”

YES!
So then as the story line started to arc, I was like, “Yeah okay. She’s going to stay around and this is so cool,” because the way the characters are, I think it’s such a cool little story line to tell and relationship to have. I really look forward to Brick and Cindy growing in their little relationship and see what happens. Like you said, they are the stable one and I think it’s so cool. I’m really happy that the writers decided to give me that relationship. I think it’s so cool. I think it’s a cool victory for Brick.

It really is. I know the writers, DeAnn and Eileen, they’re not back writing yet I don’t think for the next season but has there been any conversation about what comes next or have you given thoughts about what you’d like to see for next season?
That is a good point. I usually do. With everyone in the season in the past when we were in our infancy, we would never know if we were picked up. We would have to wait for months until the up-fronts came and everything like that. Then we would find out oh yay, we were picked up and then the writers would go back to work. So there was never really a conversation for it. But in the recent years where we’ve been allowed to have our contracts be signed up and be known and be given the knowledge that we’re going to be coming back, it’s been awesome because we have been able to talk about it with the writers and discuss what are your ideas or whatever but Eileen and DeAnn, they are very much wanting to keep things close to the chest until we get close to the filming.

So what I usually do is I usually go out to breakfast with Eileen usually the day of the first table read of the new season. It’s just kind of like a, “Hey. I just want to talk about what Brick is going to be doing. And also I enjoy your company” and she enjoys mine. I love hanging out with all of them so that’s usually when I’m able to find out what Brick is going to be doing at least for the first half of the season and get some insider info and get things to look forward to.

Then, of course, I do make suggestions. I don’t tell them flat out what to do, obviously, because this is their field but I’ll say, “Hey you know what was really cool is I found out about this Bluegrass band called the Wimberley Bluegrass Band and they’re out here in California and they’re incredibly talented. Let’s find a way to put them in the show because they’re awesome”. Or “I learned about flatfoot dancing, Appalachian flatfoot dancing. Maybe we could tie that in with the Wimberley Bluegrass Band and whatever.” That was an idea that I had pitched and then they incorporated into the show. So there’s little things that I chip in here and there and then Eileen and Dan, they find amazingly creative ways to incorporate into the show and it’s better than I ever thought possible. So it’s fun.

THE MIDDLE Season Finale airs at 8/7c May 16th on ABC.

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