Brock Ciarlelli is best known for his role as Brad on the ABC sitcom The Middle. I was fortunate enough to be able to ask him some questions about The Middle, Brad and his cast members.
Brock started acting when he was very young. “I started community theatre when I was 5. Every single weekend was filled with rehearsals, shows, or something performance related. That discipline really built a solid foundation and made me positive that acting was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I continued to do community theatre until freshman year of high school. That’s when I started to pursue acting professionally.”
Brock comes from Littleton, a suburb outside of Denver, Colorado and he got the audition for The Middle when he was still living there. “My mom and I flew out to LA the next morning for the audition. The callback was the following day. And the first table read was the day after that. Television works at such a fast pace because so much content is being created, so the whole experience was kind of a whirlwind.”
And even when he got the role of Brad on the show, he didn’t move to Los Angeles. “When I booked The Middle, I flew back and forth between Colorado and LA so I could continue going to school while working on the show. When it came time for college, I still wanted to go to school and work simultaneously, so I ended up going to Chapman University, which is about an hour south of LA. And now that I’ve graduated college, I’m living in LA full time.”
The Middle is a comedy about the Heck family. They are trying to get through life, struggling with problems everybody faces, which makes The Middle one of the most relatable shows on TV right now. Brock simply describes the show as “funny”, which it definitely is, but it’s much more than that. “It’s a show centered around a middle class family where, truly, every single person in your own family can watch, laugh, and relate. Not many shows can cater to a demographic that spans over every single generation, but The Middle can and does it phenomenally. The writing makes you laugh, cry, and everything in between.”
Brock plays the character of Brad, Sue Heck’s best friend, who has been on as a recurring character since the beginning of the show and in seven seasons, Brad has grown to be a favorite for a lot of The Middle fans. His positivity and loyalty towards his friends are some of the great character traits of Brad. “It’s actually not hard”, Brock says about playing such an optimistic character. “It’s one of my favorite qualities about him. So being “on” in front of the camera isn’t difficult because it’s the root of Brad’s punch lines.”
“Brad is a lot like me. I would say my energy is a little more subdued than his, but there’s no denying our similarities. We value the same things and have a lot of the same morals. However, Brad overreacts way more than I do. He has a flare for the dramatics! But the thing that I love most about Brad is how good of a friend he is. After Sue and Brad broke up in season 1, he became Sue’s best friend. And from then on, Brad has been a solid rock for her. And Sue’s done the same when Brad needs her the most. I love that about him because it makes him likeable in a way that I connect to the most. When creating a character, you’re exposing some fraction of who you are and then creating other nuances around that. That’s how the character comes to life. I think that goes for everyone, writers, actors, and directors alike.”
And while I think most episodes with Brad are awesome, Brock has a few favorites himself: “The Halloween episode where I was half Danny and half Sandy from Grease was pretty fun. I also loved the coming out episode. That was just an entirely new side of Brad I got to play. So as an actor, that was challenging and different, and I thoroughly enjoyed the entire process.”
During the show’s run, viewers got to see Brad develop as a flamboyant character and it might’ve lead to questions about Brad’s sexuality. For the first 6 seasons, it was never actually discussed on the show, the focus was more on Brad’s friendship with Sue, but at the beginning of season 7, Brad came out to Sue in a beautiful scene (for which both Brock and Eden Sher, who plays Sue, still deserve some kind of award in my opinion).
“I didn’t have any input [on Brad’s coming out scene], but that’s completely okay because no additive input was needed. The showrunners and creators of The Middle, Eileen Heisler and DeAnn Heline, wrote the scene, and in my opinion it was perfect. It remained true to who the characters were, but also told a lot about their friendship, growth as people, and showed a level of maturity necessary for a scene like that.”
The scene was indeed perfect. The focus of the episode was not necessarily on Brad coming out, it focused on how good the friendship is between Brad and Sue, which made the scene stand out even more.
“The thing that impressed the hell out of me was how simple the scene was. That’s the key. Heisler and Heline wrote a coming out scene that network television hasn’t ever seen before. It wasn’t melodramatic. It wasn’t overly sappy. And that simplicity speaks volumes, in my opinion. Speaking from my own analytical perspective on the scene, the fact that overly dramatic characters, such as Brad and Sue, didn’t make Brad’s coming out melodramatic goes to show that sexuality is not important to them, that there are wayyy more important things to get in a fuss about, such as what they’re going to wear to their Dollywood audition.”
“Talking in a broader sense, I think the overall character of Brad is important. Brad didn’t come out until season 7. That means the show used 6 seasons to define Brad with qualities they deemed more significant than the word ‘gay.’ They defined him on his loyalty, sense of humor, passion, talent, etcetera. I think that’s so important to expose to not only kids, but everyone who’s watching. The word ‘gay’ doesn’t (and shouldn’t) define a person. It’s something I have always believed to be true, so I’m honored I get to play a character that’s been created this way.”
Brad has been in every season so far, for a couple of episodes per year. Working with the cast members of the show has been “a dream come true” for Brock. “I grew up watching Everybody Loves Raymond, I was a fan of Patricia Heaton long before The Middle was ever a thing in both of our lives. To do scenes with her (and hell, make her laugh in the process) is indescribable. I have learned so much from every actor on the show, especially Eden. That girl is talented! I’m so fortunate that almost every scene I do is with her.”
Eden and Brock have a lot of great scenes together. Not only the coming out scene is one that comes to mind, but there are also the funny moments of them at school or at work or when they’re dancing or performing. “[Working with Eden is] incredible. She gives so much in every single take. And as her scene partner, that’s a dream. Our energies vibe really well, both on and off camera. And I think that attributes to the chemistry Brad and Sue hopefully have on screen.”
Besides his great scenes with Eden, Brock shares some really funny moments with Neil Flynn, who’s character of Mike couldn’t be more different than Brad. “The juxtaposition between Mike and Brad is genius. There’s a lot of awkwardness and uncomfortable air with the two characters, but that’s only between the characters. Neil’s a great guy, and he’s just as funny off camera as he is when he’s on. I always look forward to talking with him when we work together.”
The relationship between the cast members is great, as well as the atmosphere on set. “It’s light and fun. And I believe that’s what’s necessary. Creativity works in positive, non-stressful environments. The thing I appreciate the most about being on set is that there are no egos. The majority of Hollywood bends over backwards to kiss their own ass, but that’s not the case on our show and I couldn’t be more thrilled about that.”
A good relationship between the cast and crew members is important, considering the days on set are long. “One episode takes 5 days to shoot, usually about 10-12 hours a day.” For Brock most days on set look the same: “I arrive on set, sign some paperwork. Then I’ll go on the soundstage to rehearse whatever scene is about to be shot for about 10 minutes or so. After that, I’ll head into hair and make-up and then change into my costume. And then we shoot. Basically that’s the cycle for all the scenes that need to be shot that day. The only time it’s different is if there’s a dance scene we’re shooting. Because then I’ll arrive on set, do dance rehearsals for the majority of the day, and then film the dance scene(s) at the end of the day.”
And it’s not only a lot of fun on set, Brock also hangs out with some of the cast members outside of work. “I’m really really good friends with Jen Ray, who plays Nancy Donahue. She is truly one of the sweetest people on the face of the earth, and I’m so glad I get to call her a friend. I was just texting Natalie Lander and Brittany Ross [who play Debbie and Courtney, two of Axl’s high school friends], who always make me laugh, a few minutes before this interview. And I try to see Grace Bannon and Jessica Garcia [who play two of the wrestlerettes and Sue’s friends] as much as possible, as well. We’re always so busy, so I love when the three of us get together for dinner and drinks.”
Clip of Sue (Eden Sher), the wrestlerettes (Grace Bannon, Jessica Garcia and Katlin Mastandrea) and Brad (Brock) in a cheer off against the cheerleaders (Natalie Lander and Brittany Ross)
The Middle goes into its 8th season now and there is a lot to look forward to. Brock will be on the premiere and more episodes this season after that as well. “Per usual, they’re bringing the character of Brad back throughout the entire season. I’m not allowed to divulge more than that, but Brad will definitely be around!”
Besides his role on The Middle, Brock is currently working on another project: “I was just asked to be a part of season 2 of a web series. I’m not allowed to say what web series just yet. But we film in October, and I’m very excited about it. It’s going to bring a lot of laughs! I will be promoting it on my social media, so be on the lookout!” You can follow Brock @BrockCiarlelli on Twitter.
You can see Brock on the 8th season premiere of The Middle this Tuesday October 11th at 8/7c on ABC!