Eden Sher on Growing Up on TV and Moving on from ‘The Middle’
Eden Sher has spent her entire adult life playing Sue Heck on The Middle. After stints on Weeds and the short-lived Sons & Daughters, Sher was cast in The Middle in 2009 when she was 17, and eight years later the show is nearing it’s series finale. What will she do next? It’s fair to assume that she’ll stay busy.
Sher wrote a book, The Emotionary: A Dictionary of Words That Don’t Exist for Feelings That Do, that was released in 2016, is the voice of the titular character on Disney XD’s Star vs. the Forces of Evil, and is starring in the 2018 movie Step Sisters. Sher has plenty to look forward to in the post-Middle phase of her career, but with 200 episodes of one sitcom under her belt and guest roles ranging from Party Down to The OC, also a lot of memories to look back on.
Knowing that this season is the last season of The Middle, has it felt any different?
I’m going in and out of levels of surrealness because I sort of feel like there’s absolutely nothing different and I forget. Then there will be moments, like in the Thanksgiving episode table read, where I was like, “Oh they didn’t have so-and-so in this episode, maybe they’ll do it next year.” And it’s a jolting moment of, no this is it. I feel like I’m cherishing it more. And it’s way easier to keep myself in check for when I’m tired. Normally I keep myself in check, I’m doing what I love, but this year in particular I’m saying to myself, “Live in it — if you’re tired live in it, because you’re gonna miss it so hard.”
Are there any regular traditions or rituals with the cast and crew that you’ll miss in the coming years?
Charlie (McDermott) is one of my best friends, I will miss being able to hang out with him every single day. We’re always in one of our trailers doing God knows what. The little things. When I’m not reading my lines, I am drawing in my trailer while Charlie plays music. I’m not going to ever get to be in that trailer, in that moment, having that level of comfort around people that I’ve known for … I will never know other people for as long as I’ve known these people. Who knows, I might do another show and it might go forever, but the comfort of having a job where you’ve known someone and worked with them on that specific job, shared that experience for this long with this many people is an insane thing. It rarely happens in this industry. It’s so cheesy and annoying but I truly love everyone that I get to be around.
Variety wrote a whole piece on you getting choked up at the 100th episode party, so I’d expect the final season and the upcoming series finale will be an emotional moment too. Are you usually a crier?
Am I a crier? What kind of a question is that? Am I a weeper? Am I crier at things that should not ever illicit tears? The answer is: Yes.
You’ve mentioned Amy Poehler and Tina Fey as idols of yours. Have you met either of them and if you had the opportunity to, what do you think that would be like?
Now I’m so sad that I’ve remembered that I’ve not met them. I actually had a literal dream like a year ago that I met Leslie Knope. It was very dream logic-y, it didn’t really check out, but I met Leslie Knope in my dream. Amy is such a brilliant human being and is such an inspiration to me as Eden, but Leslie specifically would be such an inspiration to Sue. She totally could have taken a trip to Pawnee and met her! No, I haven’t met her, but I think one day I will and I will gush and make her very uncomfortable.
A lot of people who end up working on sitcoms may have taken improv classes or had sketch training at a comedy school, but you were already acting in sitcoms as a teenager. Have you taken improv or comedy classes along the way?
Yeah, I did all the UCB classes, went through 401, took all those. I will say that I think a really good on-the-job training show that I did, also for ABC, was Sons & Daughters. It was 11 episodes and it was actually improv and that was a real comedy bootcamp in LA. I was 13 and I didn’t know what I was doing, didn’t know any of the improv rules, but learned a lot of little things at a young age, like saying fun things in response instead of fighting. What happens when you say “Yes” instead? My boyfriend is a comedy writer and we’ve written some stuff together. I wrote a book that came out last year, it wasn’t narrative or comedy in that way, but it was hopefully comedic. The dream is for the next project to be something that either I write with someone or at least have a bit of creative control and collaboration with.
Speaking of your book, The Emotionary, what’s your favorite bit of feedback you’ve gotten from people who have read it?
Honestly, it’s a pretty generic response, but there’s nothing better than when people turn to a page and say, “I know exactly what that is!” And if it’s paired with some kind of chuckle, my heart just swells and it feels like I’m not alone: Is this real? The book was so self-serving, it was so just that I could get validation from anyone and everyone.
You had a significant role in the pilot episode of Party Down as a teenager who makes out with Ryan Hansen’s character. What do you remember about that, and did you have a sense at the time that it would be such a hit with comedy fans, even if it wasn’t a broad hit during its initial run?
I was thrilled. I was genuinely surprised and thrilled that I could have any part of it. I thought that I didn’t understand it because it was so good. So well constructed. I thought “This can’t possibly be what I think it is. This is so surreal.” And it wasn’t even knowing who was actually in it — I knew it was funny and real and totally stupid. Totally ridiculous. And then it just did that thing of being simultaneously so broad and so smart. Plus Jane Lynch. It was exactly what I thought it would be, and I hoped that I was doing something to add to it, or at least not taking away from the goodness that is this show. In that episode at least.
And how was it to have a kissing scene with Ryan Hansen that was meant to be intentionally awkward?
He’s the nicest person. I was like 17 and he looked 27 and he had just gotten married and he was just the perfect amount of uncomfortable. I think if he were more comfortable with it I would have been a little freaked out. He was expressing how uncomfortable he was but in a lighthearted way, that “This is just work. It’s gonna be fine. It’s gonna be over so fast.” He made the environment so relaxed. He knew to lean into the discomfort of it and I was just scared shitless. He gave off a “don’t worry about it, it doesn’t mean anything” type thing and it was fine.
You had a six-episode run on Weeds when you were pretty young as well, and that’s a show about drugs, crime, sex, etc. Did you watch it at the time? Were you allowed to?
I actually watched it before I was on it, I watched the first season. I was 14, and I think 14-year-olds get it. There were definitely things that I didn’t get at the time that I get now — they went over my head, but nothing that scarred me in any way. I loved it. I remember watching the episodes that I was in and not realizing how it all connected with the other characters. I don’t think I understood the storyline and the context of everything. My mom was totally chill with it.
The Middle has a lot of “moral of the story” or “life lesson” moments, and being that you have been on that show through your formative years, do you have a lesson from the show that you remember because it made a big impression on you?
I’ve done certain speeches that I’ve been proud of. There’s an episode where Sue gets really heated about everything and it sort of ends with her breaking down, being overwhelmed by the number of causes there are in the world, and being distraught over not being able to save everyone and everything and that felt like, “Oh I like this.” That’s how I was when I was 17 and I discovered what feminism was, and I was like “Oh yeah, I’m a fucking feminist,” and I was really militant for awhile. It was the episode where she was, for all intents and purposes, “Hey, stay woke.” I like that she was being aggressive and at the end it wasn’t her realizing that she was wrong and being annoying and that she needs to chill out. I like that it was her being overwhelmed and “I don’t know what I can do right now.” It hit very close to home.