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I grew up on programming like this.
From the premise itself to the actual execution of it there’s a sense of appreciation for those of us who like to be talked to and not talked at that which at least saves this program being like so many other clones which dabble in pulp comic book wackiness. Even though THE MIDDLEMAN deals in a kind of sci-fi and comedy usually reserved for summertime blockbusters the writing is exceptionally good and that’s because it’s coming from one of Lost’s writers’ own, Javier Grillo-Marxuach, graphic novel. That said, I am blown away at how sharp it is.
You would expect that a show that is on ABC Family would be as milquetoast as it comes but the true delineation from what you would think it would be comes when you see how much thought has gone into creating a viewing experience that at once titillates a kid’s need for eye candy with an adults desperate need, that is, if we must watch everything our kids watch in order to be good stewards to the youths, to feel engaged as well. From fighting bad guys with big guns and enough wit to carry through an entire program admirably, it doesn’t hurt to be noticed by Variety for all the work as well.
Matt Kesslar is the star of this program and he is, without question, a real honest actor when it comes to knowing the difference between those actors who eschew television work and those who see opportunity in any project that is handled with enough care and thoughtfulness as this has. You’ve just got to root for a guy who is slugging it out in order to make a name for himself, professionally, and who is honestly just excited to be a working actor.
Not only can you catch THE MIDDLEMAN on ABC Family every Monday at 10/9c but you can also catch Matt and Javier at Comic-Con on Thursday, July 24th. To wit:
2:00-3:00 The Middleman— Creator and executive producer Javier Grillo-Marxuach (Lost) and The Middleman Matt Keeslar ( actors Dune) and Natalie Morales (CSI: Miami) discuss the bizarre world of The Middleman. Based on the graphic novels by Javier Grillo-Marxuach, The Middleman follows the surreal life of twenty-something Wendy Watson as she gets recruited by a top secret agency to fight comic book-esque criminals under the guidance of her straight-laced boss, The Middleman. Room 5AB
CHRISTOPHER STIPP: Thank you for making time for me. I appreciate it.
MATT KESSLAR: No worries.
CS: I’m kind of unsure, exactly, and I usually don’t usually ask the question “What’s the show about?” but since I haven’t been able to see the show itself and can really only read a little show description, can you tell me: What’s the show’s about?
KESSLAR: There’s actually a free download on iTunes now but The Middleman is a tongue-in-cheek look at comic book superheroes. That’s the genre we’re working in. Specifically, it’s about a girl, Wendy Watson who is played by Natalie Morales who is fresh out of art school and looking for a job and gets inducted into this secret crime fighting organization that is headed by a mysterious middleman character. And this crime fighting organization has been around forever and has been fighting evil – sort of like the X-Files characters. Paranormal characters, so there is a relationship of big brother/younger sister relationship between Wendy Watson and the Middleman, the character that I play. We’re a crime fighting duo.
CS: When you first initially received a script, listening to the premise, was there any hesitation on your part of was this going to be done well or more of a Sci-Fi Channel movie of the week, Mansquito kind of project?
KEESLAR: I didn’t know anything of the premise, I just got the script. So I didn’t know anything about the comic books or the writer or anything. I just got the script and came from ABC Family which in and of itself made me raise my eyebrows – is this a family show, what’s it going to be about but the level of ABC Family’s scripts and the work they have been doing has been progressively better and better and I did a television movie for them this summer which was very well written, so I read it bearing that in mind and I really thought it was a great script. It was very smart, very witty, but at the same time it’s a little silly, something that can be enjoyed on many different levels – little kids watching monsters type level and then also the adult allegiance to sci-fi series and references to a lot of different pop culture references – so it can be enjoyed on many different levels. I was very excited about the script and the moment I read it I thought my character, Middleman, was sort of a mysterious character. He’s just an interesting guy – very ultra clean living former Navy Seal crew-cut type of guy but also has some odd quirks about him. In particular the way that he speaks. He’s obviously very intelligent – just an interesting character to portray.
CS: You mentioned ABC Family. There seems to be a shift toward family entertainment type things that kids and adults can enjoy. Certainly, Pixar is one example of the kind of company who is a vanguard in making things for kids but not making it completely devoid for something for adults. Is that something that is important to you?
KEESLAR: It doesn’t really matter to me. Let me put it this way: I think good art appeals on many different levels of a person appreciating it. There are some movies, novels, art work, paintings, etc. that appeal only to adults and that’s mainly because they are adult themes that kids don’t have the experience of yet. However I think there are a lot of things that can appeal to children like classical music for example that can appeal to anyone. And I think that that’s one of the watermarks of a good piece of art that it can appeal to a broad section because it appeals to humanity, not just to a particular demographic. It’s not my goal to make a family-friendly television show but it just happens that a good piece of work appeals to many.
CS: You brought up the idea of super powers to super human these sorts of things, is the shooting schedule heavier because of the effects that are needed in the show or is there a reliance on practical effects in order to save on money?
KEESLAR: Well, there are effect shots in every show. Obviously we don’t have the budget of I AM LEGEND or something like that that we can make amazing effects. We are a television show on basic cable network and we wouldn’t be able to just pull off those kind of effects. But the nature of the project, because it is a tongue-in-cheek project – it’s a lot like the old Dr. Who and even Star Trek for example - those effects were pretty basic but got the point across of what we were trying to show what we’re going for. We have some special effects but if that’s the reason you are tuning in, it’s not the reason. The show is more about the wit of the characters and the relationships of the characters and as I said before the kind of tongue-in-cheek plot lines that are at once parodying to other sci-fi television shows, novels and movies.
CS: Right. And Javier comes from a pretty rich pedigree writing for television. Is there a lot of input from you – are you able to go back and forth – or are the scripts just being pumped out, one after another, in spite of your thoughts?
KEESLAR: So far there hasn’t been a lot of opportunity for a lot of back and forth although occasionally I’ll have an idea of a way I think will help the story be told better but at this point, Javier has ownership of this character – this project. When you start a show, the actor is coming in at the 11th hour, after the director has been hired, after the set has been built and the costumes are made, then they hire the actors.
So, really, when you start a show the actors know the least about the project but as the show progresses and different writers are brought in and different directors are brought in the actors are able to be with the character for a long time, eventually the actors know more about the character than anyone. So since we are just in the beginning of the process, it’s all about Javier and Javier’s vision which is totally fine with me. He has a brilliant, encyclopedic knowledge of sci-fi and pop culture so he’s setting up everything for us right now and eventually we will have more understanding of the characters and the plot lines.
CS: As you go forward, it only lists two episodes so far, is this slated for any number right now of episodes of the season?
KEESLAR: Thirteen episodes, so it’s twelve episodes plus the pilot are scheduled to air on ABC Family on Monday nights at 8:00 PM – that’s the slot it has right now. Greek is going on hiatus. They have an option to buy the back nine although ABC Family doesn’t typically do a 22 episode season with any of their shows so it will be the first time if they did decide to do 22 episodes. It would be the first time they have ever done that. Certainly for me I think the main thing is to put in 13 great episodes and see what happens from that. If that is something ABC Family is into and we have established an audience for, great. If not, then we have a really great back set of DVD’s.
CS: How do you feel about this thing starting in the summer as opposed to starting in the fall – is it one, less pressure or is it two, well it’s the summer or is it a misnomer – can a show find an audience despite when it debuts?
KEESLAR: I don’t know. This is my first television series so I’m not sure about that whole thing. Not sure when shows finds audiences or if they do. I think we have a bit less pressure because we are on a small cable network rather than being on a prime time television network. And, I don’t know whether or not Monday night is a good night or not. I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t know much about anything.
We’re shooting in the summer in a wool Eisenhower jacket which is what I wear throughout the series – it can be a little warm.
CS: Does the set feel like a comic book in a way or, like you said, does it feel like a Dr. Who in a modern environment?
KEESLAR: It definitely does have a comic book look and feel to it. There’s a super-villain in each episode. So, it’s everything from a mind controlled gorilla to a Peruvian flying pike that turns people into trout craving zombies. There’s an episode we are doing that a haunted tuba from the Titanic that played when people drowned in the icy waters of the Atlantic to anyone who hears it. Every plot line has some bizarre supernatural element and it’s certainly shot like a comic book. Lots of wide angles – not exactly like Batman and Robin – POW and stuff like that but definitely elements of a cartoon. For kids to enjoy as well as adults to enjoy. It has elements for both.
CS: As I was looking over your resume it is certainly filled to the brim with a lot of television work. Are people who are actors set on television work saying that this is where I want to make my stand or do you hope this translates into some film work?
KEESLAR: I don’t really care that much anymore. When I was starting off….starting off in any profession you want to shoot for the stars. I wanted to be a big movie star or movie actor in any case. That was 17 years ago and now I’m married and have a kid and all I want is a job I’m happy to do and have enough money to feed my family. It really doesn’t matter that much anymore. I am perfectly happy doing this television show and if it went on for 6 years I would be ecstatic. If I had an opportunity to do a movie, I certainly wouldn’t turn it down. I think that there are great things about both. The nice thing about his project is that it shoots in LA which is where I live and I get to come home and see my family at the end of the day.
CS: That must certainly play into your decisions as you get into projects. Do you find yourself just shrugging your shoulders and say “What will be will be”?
KEESLAR: I think so. I think, it’s kind of hard to say, that I’ve come so close so many times to just having to go back to college and take up another profession because I ran out of money or didn’t take this job because it wasn’t right for me. I couldn’t even book an audition for three years. No matter how many I tried for I couldn’t book a single one. I’ve come so close so many time to just chucking it all and go back to school and trying a different profession. But I am more than happy to do whatever I need to do. I am excited about having a job and getting the opportunity to do what I do which is acting. And it’s an added bonus having this project to work on – Middleman.
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