Patricia Heaton: The Beloved TV Mom on Raising her own Brady Bunch!

By Paulette Cohn

The success of "Everybody Loves Raymond" put Patricia Heaton's Debra Barone character on the list of iconic TV moms, along with Donna Reed from "The Donna Reed Show," Florence Henderson from "The Brady Bunch," Phylicia Rashad from "The Cosby Show" and Lauren Graham from "The Gilmore Girls." This fall, Heaton returns to the tube, again playing a mom, but this time out, instead of being the straight woman to Raymond's funny guy, she gets to be the comedienne.

In the new series, "The Middle," Heaton plays Frankie, a middle-class, Midwestern, married mother of three, who works as a used car salesperson, and who will go to any lengths for her kids. She says this character is more like her than any other she has played on TV.
The 51-year-old actress and mother of four with husband David Hunt has always been funnily outspoken about the craziness of trying to raise a family and have a career. Now, she talks to justmommies.com about her new show -- and how she is coping with her pre-teen and teenage bunch.
Justmommies: You have four kids in real life. What are their ages and do you have help?
Patricia Heaton: Ten, 12, 14, and 16. I do not have any help right now. I haven't had help for a while. You can see me at Ralphs or Pavilions three times a week over on Vine and Melrose -- not looking [glammed up] like this.
Justmommies: You said you don't really have help with your kids at home. How do you manage?
Patricia Heaton: I am going to have to get some help, but for the last year or so, I haven't had any help at all, so I get up at 5:30 and try to workout and get the groceries done and make breakfast.
Justmommies: You go grocery shopping at 5:30 in the morning?
Patricia Heaton: No. That is when I work out. Sometimes I do try to get groceries done by 7, before everybody gets up, and then take the guys to camp or activities. My husband and I are also producing, so we have that kind of work to do, so it is quite a bit.
Justmommies: Being a busy working mom yourself, what parts do you relate to your character and what parts don't you relate to her?
Patricia Heaton: I really relate to every single thing. I grew up in Ohio, and since I didn't really get a regular start in this industry until much later in life, I feel that the Ohio roots, that the Midwestern roots, are still really within me, and I feel that's where I'm most comfortable. So this is a very comfortable character for me to be in.
We have a scene where Frankie throws some frozen pancakes in the microwave and then calls everybody down for breakfast. I don't do it so much anymore but, when the kids were little and I was working a lot, that was totally me, although we did toaster waffles more. I get moms feeling harassed in having to do everything and do everything really quickly and always feeling inadequate because everything you see on TV or in the magazines is how you are supposed to prepare everything, and it's supposed to be fresh and organic, and eco-friendly and all of that kind of stuff. You just don't have time for it, and you are exhausted. I think there's nothing on TV right now that really deals with people -- Midwestern people -- and the struggle, the economy, but in a funny way and in a celebratory way. So I'm so excited to be a part of it.
And something else I have in common with Frankie. I buy my sweat clothes in the boys' section of Target, and that's what I wear, and I often wear it three days in a row. So if you see somebody really short with green polyester sweatpants on and a hoodie, that's me. It's cheaper in the boys' department at Target. Target is cheap anyway, and then if you shop in the boys' department, it's half the price.
Also, calling after people: If the kids are going out, asking, "Where is your homework?" Pulling homework out of a backpack. Having a kid come up the night before and say, "You have got to be here. I need this." It happens constantly. That is why I think people are going to relate to this show.

Justmommies: Did you have any second thoughts about jumping back into a TV series?
Patricia Heaton: Mostly because it is single camera and the hours are very long. I am concerned about that, but because the kids are older and they are very involved in the school stuff, it maybe won't be so difficult. I don't know what it is going to be like, so I am a little anxious about it. Warner Bros. people are great and they are going to do everything they can to facilitate my schedule.
Justmommies: What do your kids think of your working?
Patricia Heaton: I think they are excited. They are now at the point now where I think they would like to make some money, so they say, "Mom, can we be extras on the show? I want to get this new bike." So now, they are seeing the advantage of me being on the show.
Justmommies: How is your husband coping?
Patricia Heaton: We are all good. We are producing some stuff, so he is busy with that. But that stuff hasn't taken off yet, so it is good to have this income coming in to support our producing ventures.
Justmommies: The experience of raising kids is so complex. Can a TV show ever get it right?
Patricia Heaton: This show really gets it for Brick (played by Atticus Shaffer), a kid with odd behavior. Almost everybody I know who has more than one kid has a kid who has these quirks. It is very real to me. Also, Axl (played by Charlie McDermott) is kind of a sulky, silent 15-year-old. It is classic. I relate to that. Also, the Sue character (played by Eden Sher), who doesn't seem to be good at anything but keeps trying, is very realistic. And the way Frankie throws things in the microwave, and the house is a mess. I have that whole thing going on.
Justmommies: Do you have tips for multi-tasking?
Patricia Heaton: The problem with multi-tasking is nothing sinks in. You get things done but it floats by on the surface of your brain. It is very hard to retain, so I forget a lot once something is done. If you ask me what I did yesterday, it would be very hard to tell you because I move from one thing to another. But you just have to give yourself a break. I am controlling, and I have had to learn to let that go. Things mostly work out without me having to control everything or be perfect. I like to read stories about people coming up who had really abusive childhoods if they are still okay, because my kids have a pretty good childhood, so I figure they are 100 percent ahead.
Justmommies: What is your best advice for real-life moms?
Patricia Heaton: Let go. I think the thing is to have a good attitude. Try to find the fun in every day and not sweat the small stuff.
Justmommies: Do you ever want to say, enough with the kids, let me play something else other than a mom?
Patricia Heaton: It is not the kids so much, it is the wardrobe. When I went back for my wardrobe fitting for this show, I just started sobbing. [The ill-fitting Superwoman] costume [that I wear in the pilot] was the height of my sartorial experience on this pilot. It was really fun. I wanted to try to make it look as bad as possible. I tried to get a girdle underneath it that would cut in, so you could see lumps and bumps. Hopefully, in high def it will show up, because everything shows up. You need to be true to the character and she is not a fashion plate -- that is not first on her agenda. Unfortunately, I don't know why I couldn't be on "Desperate Housewives" [she jokes].
Justmommies: How do you prioritize?
Patricia Heaton: I have a real problem with that and it paralyzes me. I have been thinking about this recently. I get up in the morning and I already have anxiety. Because it would not be a good thing to crack a beer open at 7 a.m., I started to analyze this anxiety. I have all these things to get, such as school supplies and school uniforms, a script to read to turn into another network that we are trying to produce, and we have also got this Broadway musical we are working on, so which thing should I do first? Oh, I should just read the Huffington Post for an hour. That is what I end up doing -- going on the computer for an hour, because I don't want to face reality!
"The Middle" premieres Wednesday, Sept. 30 at 8:30 p.m. on ABC.