There’s a lot to like about John Gammon when you get to talk to him. The young actor from ‘The Middle’ appreciates his relative sit-com stability, is forging ahead with new challenges in a fledgling stand-up career and still has time to consider the future of his character, Darrin, and his star-crossed sweetheart, Sue Heck. The Middle’s Darrin, and John Gammon, are both far too good to be true.
I know you have a strong academic background: How does the discipline of an education help your acting career?
Certainly knowing that nothing comes easily, that you’ve got to work no matter what. Especially a lot of times, what you might be thinking, in the moment, is just ‘busy work.’
A lot of times you’ve got to read for certain characters; you’ve just kind of got to get through it as you would for any English class, any History class, it might be a little mind-numbing, but you’ve got to push on through because its only right around the corner, maybe you get to that next page and maybe that passage turns a light on, but if you’re not pushing through the text, if you’re not pushing through the pages, you might not come up with a good way to suggest something to the audience that you need them to have in mind, either consciously or subconsciously.
So you always have to be ready to do the work, be prepared, and stay on top if you’re going to create this character that’s going to be completely alive in the world.
I read that the role of ‘Darrin’ was only your third audition; is this true?
Yes. The third audition for anything that people at home would be watching.
Yeah, there’s a whole bunch of student films, there’s some short films that, you know, I don’t think people in Cleveland will be watching that every Wednesday night.
Ok, so you don’t have this skewed version of reality where you think things will be this easy for you all the time?
No, no, no, no.
What do you think of Darrin as a character?
He’s everything that is loveable and disarming. Aside from the jock part. He’s got a massive heart. In the more recent seasons, he’s become more of an intelligent character than we first noticed.
Probably one of the biggest decisions high school kids can ever make is deciding what to do after high school, and normally everybody wants to go off and jump right into college. I know I went to college, I know that it was a good thing for me, ultimately, but it just normally is not for most people, especially if you have the brain of Darrin.
Darrin, I think, is not smart, but he’s smart enough to know that he does not belong in college. He needs to go to a trade school, and start making money right away. And he’s smart enough to get Sue. You’ve got to give him that. He’s got two really smart things that he’s doing. Darrin has picked someone who is very virtuous, a very good, sweet girl, who’s not the winner, who’s not the one everyone wants to be with, however that’s happiness. And I think Darrin is smart enough to do two really huge things in recent years that most people, if they’re lucky, can get done in a lifetime.
What was your reaction when Darrin and Sue first started their romance?
I thought it was kind of funny because I think it’s normally how small town folks get together, often. (Puts on Southern twang) “I don’t have anybody to take me to this thing, he’s coming inside, he’s needs to go to the restroom. I was just gettin’ off the phone and he overheard me and was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll take you…’”.
There’s nothing wrong with it. Nothing particularly *right* about it, either. I guess you could say it’s sort of romantic and sweet. It just is what it is, you know. People in different circumstances and in environments behave in certain kind of ways that are specific to that environment and I think that’s what makes it on to the show. That’s normally how it goes. I thought it was very true to how normal people find themselves falling in love with someone who basically lives down the street who they’ve known their entire lives.
What do you see in the future for Sue and Darrin?
Sue is coming up on her Senior year, that would normally mean prom. I would say it was up to her whether she would want to date someone else, however Darrin is still in town and he has been sort of paying a little bit more attention to Sue lately and I think that if anything happens, it will happen Senior year.
Senior year, I think, Darrin and Sue will find each other again. But we’ll have to see. I think they might find themselves a summer romance but you never know. However, we do normally have prom episodes on the show, so I wouldn’t be surprised if some kind of triangle happened where Darrin showed up with Angel and Sue is dumped and he is just at the same time having trouble with Angel and they’re re-united either at the prom or outside of it; I don’t exactly know.
How would it affect the dynamic of the show of they were to get back together?
I think it would make a lot of people happy. They never had as many letters for anything, they never had as many people write into the show as they did for when Sue and Darrin split up. They wanted to see Darrin and sue get back together. It felt really good to hear about all that because people were really adamant about them being together and being in love. I think that they’ll give the people what they want.
How do you put your personal stamp on Darrin, to make him stand out, since he’s not in every episode?
I think it’s actually easier when he’s not a part of every episode to make him stand out just by virtue of not seeing him very much in the first place, so he’s normally popping up in more unique situations just because the show revolves directly around what happens to the main family members and the main house and the main places they’re going to in Orson, Indiana. So the times Darrin is inserted in there, it’s easy to make him snap because he’s pretty unique just showing up and pretty unique not being the sharpest tool in the shed.
Also, trying to balance his friendship with Axl Heck and his feelings for Axl’s sister, Sue. The way I’ve normally been putting a stamp on him is by making him strong but sweet, dumb but wise.
When they sent Axl off to college, were you concerned about Darrin’s screen time being affected?
Yeah, but, I think because he was still in town, it wasn’t the ultimate, I wasn’t, you know, panicking. I’ve been doing this long enough to understand there’s basically no guarantees and just to be on the show in a recurring way is a huge thing to have. Even if I didn’t have it, I’d have the whole world open to me. I’d be able to go after other kinds of things; I would certainly be able to grow my hair out, that’d be great.
You get to work with Patricia Heaton and Neal Flynn, two comedy greats, what have you learned from them?
From Neal, ceratinly that you’ve got to prove that you are trustworthy both to the cast and the crew and especially the writers and producers to be there on time, every time, and to handle the work and to be ego-less and that’s something he’s been regularly verifying to me when we sit down to have lunch or when we talk in between shots or just some mentions in passing.
Patty, I would say, through her example, the way she carries herself on set all the time is just to have fun, really. She very much has fun, but she’s still very real, which is cool. She always reminds me of the mothers that I grew up with back home in Cleveland and it’s nice to get a chance to talk with her now and again and hear her opinions on politics or whatever, and it’s cool.
I think she has a wonderful balance of being able to still stay herself but have fun in the way that you would hope a celebrity still has fun. She’s that. She has fun, but there’s no ‘act,’ which is nice. She’ll smile and she’ll goof and she’ll joke, but it’s not an ‘act’ and that’s a pleasure to see.
What have you personally gained from being on ‘The Middle’, aside from job security?
I don’t really have ‘job security’. I do have a following. I do have something more important than job security which is proof that even without job security, I can work consistently on a show that I really value working on and that is very funny and that people respond to. So even without a contract or very solid job security, I can still make that sort of thing happen, which is very nice and a that’s huge thing to be able to achieve because its very difficult to do that, especially coming from that stressful normal place that a lot of actors have to go through.
What will you take away from The Middle to future jobs?
That you’re not always so lucky. What’s kind of a coincidence is that it’s a relatively wholesome family comedy, especially when you compare it to Modern Family, it’s the kind of thing everybody can sit down and watch together and not have to worry about censorship of any kind; you’ve got that and it kind of lends itself to basically the same thing on set, everybody gets along very, very well. It’s not a crazy, stressed-out situation, basically, ever, on set.
It’s not always going to be like that. I don’t learn that from being on the show, but I do learn that from the people with whom I work on the show, they let me kind of know that. If you just took my experience on the show, you’d think that every set was like going to summer camp every day where you’re expected to be prepared. That’s the best way I can put it, “Be prepared. Know your part. Time to go to summer camp.” And that’s hard to get.
What projects are you working on right now, aside from The Middle?
I’ve been doing a lot of stand-up; I’ve been doing a lot of open mics around town, doing my five minutes. It’s tough to get comfortable in front of a crowd, but I’m very happy that of a five-minute set, about three minutes I’m very happy about keeping and making work and just changing in and out that last two minutes, but still, it’s important for the discomfort of being in front of a crowd all on your own.
I’ve done improv with teams before, and it’s a great exercise, it’s a great kind of show, but it’s not as challenging to get up with a team, with a cast and to perform for a live audience. When it’s just you it’s definitely tougher, it’s definitely more uncomfortable, but it’s much more satisfying when you get it to work, so that’s something I’m interested in now.
I’m also writing my own show, with my brother James, based on our lives as caddies. I caddied for 11 summers, starting when I was 12 until I was about 22, every golf season, so there’s a lot of material to bring to a show, so that’s what we’re in the process of doing now.
John Gammon can be found online on Twitter: @_JohnGammon. He’s promised his stand-up will be on YouTube soon. Fingers crossed.
Watch John Gammon on ‘The Middle’ Wednesdays at 8:00 pm on ABC
Tobey can be found at tvgoodness.com