Matt Keeslar is the star of the new ABC Family series The Middleman. It’s strange, it’s quirky, and it’s loaded with more pop culture references than a full season of Gilmore Girls. A cross between The X-Files and Get Smart, The Middleman is fighting evil, so you don’t have to.
Ah, finally, an actor who thinks my absurd questions, aren’t absurd at all. Take it away, Matt!
Middleman is best described as a parody, but I’m not sure that really quantifies it properly.
MATT: I’ve been saying that it’s somewhere between the X-Files and Get Smart. It’s into the bizarre realm of drama and tongue-in-cheek parody.
On first watching, I noticed a ton of pop culture references but I came away feeling like there was another, secret layer that I had missed.
MATT: That’s true actually. Javier [Grillo-Marxuach], the writer and executive producer, even though he’s 38, he’s like a 14-year-old genius. He knows every pop culture reference and has encyclopedic knowledge of Sci Fi. So every episode has its own theme. They’re all based on either a movie or some pop culture reference and it’s up to the fans to figure out what all the references are.
But what if you’re not a pop culture junkie?
Matt: That’s the great thing about the show, it works on many different levels which is really fascinating and fun to play. You have the younger demographic that is interested in the Jim Henson gorilla doing Tai Chi or the Peruvian venomous flying Pike. But then it also works on [a more adult] level, with the relationships between the characters and for the Sci Fi Fan [who loves to] comb through the dialogue to figure out the references.
One of things that Javier is very specific about is that the characters never comment on what’s happening in the script as if it’s bizarre. We play it all as, yeah, this is just what happens, another day in the life of blah, blah, blah. Wendy is really the one who is the audience view into what’s going on. She carries that burden. My burden is more just to play it as straight as possible. As if, you know, this is just a normal, everyday occurrence having to deal with mind-controlled gorillas.
With all of the silliness going on, do you have trouble keeping a straight face?
MATT: It’s a strange thing, because there have a couple of times where I had a hard time keeping a straight face. Although generally, I have to say that the character is written is such a way that it would be hard, if you’re in character and doing the scene, to even crack a smile. In fact, its hard sometimes to be very chummy because The Middleman is such a tightly-laced guy.
When I heard about the show, I was surprised to learn that it was being shown on ABC Family.
MATT: I think ABC Family is really trying to broaden its scope. This past summer, I did a TV movie with them called “Snow Globe.” It was for their 25 Days of Christmas and I was surprised at the quality of writing. Funny and very quick, and really just interesting plots and characters.
In [The Middleman], we have a very strong leading lady, Natalie Morales, who plays Wendy. That’s a very specific demographic and then on top of that it has the Sci Fi element that would bring in the young men of that same demographic. It’s like ABCFamily is becoming a bit more of what the WB was a few years ago.
This is your first regular series, isn’t it?
MATT: This is my first television series, period. I’ve never even had a recurring role. I’ve done some guest stars, but this is my first time, really being thrown into the fire of learning this much dialogue in this short a period of time.
Are you ready to deal with the schedule, fourteen-hour days and then some?
MATT: I don’t have a problem that much with the schedule. The only thing that I’m learning is how to balance my time so that I’m spending the appropriate amount learning lines, with my family, and on set actually filming the stuff that I need to do.
Speaking of balancing your time, I won’t take up anymore of your Saturday. Hopefully, you’ll have some time for yourself.
MATT: Well, it’s gonna be [spent] mainly learning lines. You know, I was horrible at doing homework in school, and here I chose a profession where I do nothing but homework!
So, if you hadn’t become an actor what would have ended up doing?
MATT: [When I was a kid, I filled out one of those] question/answer type things, ‘what could you see yourself doing in the future, and I said that I wanted to be either a construction worker or a cowboy. And I think that those are still the main genres that I would gravitate toward. I’ve always had kind of an interest in building things and I have a professional degree in carpentry. In fact, I’m sitting in my office that I built in my backyard. So I think that I’d probably be doing something like that if I weren’t the cowboy that I actually ended up becoming which is The Middleman. I mean cowboy is sort of an all-encompassing idea of the imaginary hero.
TIME TO GET ABSURD
What’s something that you have hung onto since you were a kid?
MATT: Mostly books. I have a book called, “Super Pickle” that actually now I’m reading to my son. I don’t even know who it’s by, but it was about a flying pickle that saved other vegetables from danger.
MATT: It’s very Middleman-ish actually, yeah, in a way it has the same kind of weird tongue-in-cheek humor in it. I have my diary or journal that I’ve been keeping ever since I was elementary school. So really the written word, I guess, is what I’ve been keeping since I was child.
Do you think of yourself as a writer?
MATT: I actually feel like writing, for me, since I’ve been doing since I was a kid, it is always been more therapeutic, a way of getting my thoughts out and less about the idea of publication. In fact, when I go back and re-read my diaries, they’re so repetitive and sort of mundane that I don’t think that anyone would be interested in reading them.
And now my most famous question: Captain Kirk versus Captain Jack Sparrow?
MATT: I think, Captain Kirk and Captain Jack Sparrow are two sides of the same coin; you have the ultimate sort of man in control in Captain Kirk, the captain of the Enterprise and the person who is able to make decisions quickly and forcefully and to steer the ship in the right direction. And then you know, Captain Jack Sparrow who is the complete intuitive, instinctive captain who just does things by feel, does things by the way that his emotion, or his heart and the compass guide him. So I think that, they’re remarkably different, but also very similar and two sides of a leader that need to be incorporated in order to steer a ship on its right course.