The Middleman is the best show on television right now, not just because of the constant inventiveness of its scifi gags — a duck trapped in a space/time rift! — but also because its characters, the superheroic Middleman and his sorta-sidekick Wendy, are cool yet instantly likable. Most shows manage to nail either "cool" or "likable," but achieving both is almost unheard of. Just look at this new exclusive clip from next week's episode. We talked to star Matt Keeslar to find out how he does it. With some spoilers.
So are you the straight man to Natalie Morales (Wendy Watson)'s funny woman?
I would say Natalie is the wry sensibility that allows the audience to identify with what she's going through, the conflict and the story. And the Middleman is the thing she gets to react against, the Middleman is such an extreme character you would never quite find him in real life, yet he has enough human elements to make him approachable.
So in the latest episode, we almost find out the Middleman's real name. Do you know what it is?
But you can't tell me, huh?
We've been saving it for one of the episodes, where Wendy goes on a search to find out what his real name is. She follows him and finds that he hangs out at the creamery, the church, and gives food to the poor.
So Wendy obviously has huge daddy issues, but what about the Middleman?
The Middleman has family issues. We've never explored this. I do say [in one episode] I correspond with my mother thrice yearly via formal letter. I had a rocky upbringing. I adopt [the android] Ida as my crazy mother and Wendy as my wry commenting daughter.
Daughter? Or Sister?
Sister, daughter. We've kind of gone back and forth. The Middleman becomes the closest thing she's had to having a dad. [But over time he becomes] more like an older brother.
It's definitely not your traditional sidekick-hero relationship between MM and WW, how do you work that with Natalie?
There is a part during the next episode, where Wendy's character becomes more or less a full-fledged Middleman, and she starts solving the crimes and she starts to come into her own as a character, and you start to see that more as the series progresses. Where once it was a trainee-to-boss thing, it's more a of a partnership, a duo where they're solving the crimes together.
Talking to you, you don't sound like the Middleman. How did you create the character's voice?
I wanted to make sure the Middleman is very articulate and he enunciates very well. He's a very specific person. He likes things to be orderly. I don't know how exactly I came up with the voice. There was something about the voice that evolved naturally as i was working to the show. I made some recordings while I was doing some auditions for the show, and while I was learning the lines. And I went back and listened to it, and it was completely different. It's evolved over the course of the show. Every week we have a read-through of the coming episode, and we have an opportunity to hear how all the characters sound together. [Natalie] has a very Miami kind of drawl, and Ida has the very Midwestern staunch patriarch thing, and I sort of come in with the sort of Dudley Doright with a little bit of Adam West.
That's awesome that you're paying tribute to Adam West.
He's the prototypical hero. The Middleman is an amalgam of so many different characters and heroes, just like the show has elements of [different genres.] We're gong to do an alternate Mirror Middleworld that's like Star Trek, and we've done other... crazy plots that we've more or or less done as homage to other sci fi shows.
One thing I really like about the show is all those moments where the Middleman really ought to be pissed at Wendy, but he's nice instead. Like when she nearly gets the entire world sucked into Hell, and he's very easy going about it. How do you play those moments?
I'm a father myself. Being a parent you see how you really have to restrain a lot of your initial impulses when you have a child, because you know they're in that learning phase. It's the same thing with Wendy: the Middleman has to pull himself back, because he knows she is in in a learning phase. One consistent choice I've made with the Middleman is he always skews to the positive. It really is a choice by the Middleman never to let himself go to a darker place, even when he's frustrated. It's part of what makes it funny, even when he's shaming Wendy, he's still trying to do it in a very positive way, a very gung-ho way. If anything, the Middleman goes too far in trying to be the perfect role model for Wendy.
You keep referring to Wendy as the Middleman's daughter. Do you think Natalie sees it that way?
I doubt it. Natalie and I are completely opposite people, and completely opposite actors. We look at the scenes in completely different ways, which is what makes the dynamic between the characters so interesting. Obviously we're friendly... but it helps us [create] the internal tension-admiration that goes on throughout the series and comes out within the characters.