LOS ANGELES | Fans of “The Middle,” don’t worry. Axl Heck isn’t going anywhere.
Earlier this year, there was a real fear actor Charlie McDermott would be leaving the ABC show to star in another comedy, “Super Clyde.”
But the comedy wasn’t picked up, ABC re-signed McDermott and now, he says, “I’ll be here for all 24 episodes.”
While the new series -- about a “nobody who inherits millions of dollars” -- would have been a great opportunity for the 25-year-old Pennsylvania native, “I honestly was pretty stressed out about leaving ‘The Middle.’ I’d been there so long it felt like leaving home a little bit.”
Cast in “The Middle” when he was 18, McDermott says he grew up on the show “and I really got to know these people so well, it’s like they’re my family.”
The family friendly show, though, has always been one of those series that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention, largely because other comedies have eclipsed it.
“I felt like I was doing a TV show in secret for a long time,” McDermott says. “Now it’s kind of out there and that’s great.”
Cable exposure has helped introduce viewers to the middle class Hecks from Indiana. Son Axl, though, is one of its real drawing card. An avowed slacker, he ambled his way through high school and, more recently, has found a series of bumps in the road at East Indiana State University where he’s a business major.
Brash, loud and rarely serious, he’s actually the polar opposite of McDermott. “I was always very quiet and withdrawn,” the actor says. “Axl is as far from my own personality as I can get.”
Although he befriended plenty of jocks in school, McDermott says he didn’t get involved in extra-curricular activities because he was too busy going on auditions.
Walking around shirtless, clad only in boxers and short was alien, too. “I was always in button-down shirts and jeans.”
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When producers suggested Axl’s preferred at-home attire, McDermott was taken aback. “I’ve gotten used to it,” he says of the boxers look, “but it was very uncomfortable in the beginning.”
Now, the character is becoming a bit more serious and focused on his education.
Producers say he’s going to be turning a new leaf. “He’s trying to find some maturity,” McDermott says.
Joining his dad at the quarry after graduation is a possibility for Axl, “but I would actually like to find out that he’s some kind of savant and he’s been hiding his intelligence for years.”
Having a girlfriend on the show has “forced Axl to face some of his bad behavior. He became insecure, which I liked. My own theory is he’s really an insecure individual.”
McDermott says he was “always terrified” in high school. “I started my first professional job in eighth grade. The first year of high school I was only there half a year because I was doing an independent film. My second year, I left early every day for auditions.”
Roles in films like “The Village” and “Frozen River” brought him acclaim; “The Middle” allowed him to nurture his own writing and directing career. This fall, “ImagiGARY,” a film he wrote and directed, will be released. It’s about a 19-year-old college freshman who re-imagines his childhood imaginary friend to help survive his first week at school.
“I want to continue doing that,” McDermott says of the behind-the-scenes work.
Meanwhile, he’s happy returning to “The Middle.”
Had the series been a bigger success its first year, “I don’t think it would have been good for me,” he says. “I struggled with the small amount of attention I got. If it had been like ‘Modern Family,’ I don’t know what I would have done.”