Brock Ciarlelli is in his seventh season of playing Brad Bottig on the popular sitcom The Middle. While Brad has had plenty of important storylines over the years, after he came out to his friend (and former girlfriend) Sue Heck (Eden Sher) earlier this fall, it seems everything has changed.
But for Ciarlelli, the future multi-hyphenate actor is just getting started. “I find it fascinating when people can be conniving, smart, strategic, and athletic,” he says. Granted, he's describing the contestants on Big Brother, favorite reality TV series, but he could just as easily be talking about himself. Indeed, his ability to juggle an array of pursuits would even impress a cynic. We caught up with Ciarlelli to learn about this math major’s dream role, why he didn’t get into USC, and why movie and TV stars are just like us.
Out: You’ve been on The Middle for seven years, and in a sense, grown up alongside your character. Do you see any similarities in the life trajectories you and your character have taken?
Brock Ciarlelli: Yeah totally. When Brad graduated high school the graduation episode aired a few days before I graduated from college in real life. Last season he was applying to colleges and I can relate because I went through that whole thing. It’s cool to see Brad grow up. When you’ve done the same thing you can tap into your own experiences and bring that into the character.
On your Facebook page, you wrote that you were glad that it took seven seasons for Brad to come out. Were you surprised when you were told that he would be coming out, or is it something you had anticipated?
I wasn’t expecting it but it wasn’t a huge shock. I’m glad it took seven years because they spent six seasons defining him in terms that matter way more than what sexuality can define a person as. The cool thing was that the whole next couple of weeks after the episode aired, I received all these messages from people saying, ‘I can’t believe it, I related to that so much.’ One guy wrote me saying it was literally almost verbatim what he went through, how it happened in the parking lot of a grocery store in his friend’s car, he was literally in the passenger seat. It was spooky how it paralleled his life so much.
Hard conversations between friends as they grow up is something that can happen regardless of the topic.
Sometimes the easiest people to tell are also the most important people to tell. The importance of that person in someone’s life is where the weight, the heaviness and the nervousness comes in. That’s what I tried to portray in the scene. It wasn’t that he was worried ‘was she going to accept me or not.’ It was that ‘this is one of the most important people in my entire life and I want to reveal this to her now.’
You have a character is really defined by his relationship with his best friend, played by Eden Sher. Do you get nervous about shooting with other cast members, since you shoot with them less often?
In my first episode, I shot my first scene with Patricia Heaton. Even before I booked The Middle, I was a huge fan of Everybody Loves Raymond. I owned every season of Raymond on DVD, and I could quote every episode. Getting to work with someone I grew up watching, and was such a fan of, was a little nerve-wracking. I didn’t know how to deal with it at first but as you keep working you move past that and notice that she’s a normal person. She talked about a shoe sale at DSW. She’s just like me! Then it becomes easier, and the work becomes better when you do that.
You recently graduated from college with a B.S. in math. Congratulations! How did you do it?
Thanks! Going to college, I wanted to make sure that if I did it while working that I would have the flexibility within my work schedule to take college by the horns and make sure I was getting that full college experience. I was a tour guide for the university. I was an orientation leader. I did the whole fraternity thing. I was able to do a couple of internships and see a completely different side of the industry. From an acting standpoint all you see is the script, you film it, and the next month you see the final product. You don’t see all the work that goes into it and the behind-the-scenes. It was fascinating to get to be able to experience all of that stuff.
After The Middle, what do you want to do next?
I’m starting to take voice lessons pretty soon. I’m not a good singer! I auditioned for Glee five times and I didn’t get a single callback. That’s going to be my next step after the holidays.
If you could be the lead on a TV show that is no longer airing, what show would it be?
Full House. I own every single episode on DVD. When I found out they were doing Fuller House on Netflix, literally the first thing I did was Google to see if they released the ages of the kids. The oldest one is 13, and there’s no way I can pull off 13 anymore. My favorite show of all time is Will & Grace. When I applied to college at USC, the application asked: "Who’s your favorite fictional character?" A couple of my friends wrote Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird or Lenny from Of Mice and Men. My response was the pill-popping alcoholic socialite Karen Walker from television’s Will & Grace. Needless to say I didn’t get into the university.
On your Instagram, you say you’re an advocate for a handful of things, including children on leashes. I’m dying to hear about that.
I don’t know what it is but I find it so hysterical. For Halloween, I made my friend Lyle dress up like a dad then I dressed up as a kid and I bought one of those kid leashes, so we were father and son and he had me on a leash like a child. At the store I asked ‘Where are your children’s leashes?’ They were very quick to correct me and say, ‘Nonononono, you mean child safety harness.’ I said, right, ‘Where are your leashes?’ I think they’re so funny.
If we were to play Fuck, Marry, or Kill, who would you choose between Adele, Beyoncé and Lady Gaga?
Oh no! I can’t kill one of those. I can’t kill one of those! Are you joking? I don’t know. Who can not fuck Beyoncé, right? She just reeks of that kind of energy that’s so attractive, and that sexiness she always has. I don’t know if I could marry Adele because if you divorce her, you’d become her next album. Probably marry Lady Gaga. I don’t know, that’s a tough one.
Do you want to know what I would do?
What would you do?
I would definite fuck Beyoncé for the reasons that you listed. I would marry Adele because Adeles are awesome and you really can’t go wrong with anyone named Adele. I would kill Lady Gaga because she would just come right back to life. She would regenerate.
I’m going to steal your response. When I was in high school, I went to a Lady Gaga concert and she just goes! There’s no stopping. Her energy is always up. I don’t think there’s any killing of Lady Gaga, to be sure.
One more question. What’s your spirit animal?
I am not even joking, I shit you not, two or three years ago I tweeted a photo of Karen Walker from Will and Grace chugging a bottle of vodka and the caption read, ‘You say potato, I say vodka.’ My caption was ‘My Spirit Animal Karen Walker.’ I’m not even kidding! Karen Walker through and through. I came to that realization a few years ago and I’m not ashamed in the least bit to admit that.
The Middle airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/ 7 p.m. CT on ABC.