Youth Impact Report 2011: Channeling Talent

Impact: The three young actors hold their own against onscreen parents Patricia Heaton and Neil Flynn on ABC’s “The Middle.”
Next: Shaffer continues his role as Albert on Disney’s toon “Fish Hooks,” also contributing his voice to Tim Burton’s stop-motion “Frankenweenie” feature.
Causes: Shaffer is involved in cancer awareness org Sean’s Fund, Wildlife Learning Center and anti-bullying campaigns. Sher supports Cross Cultural Solutions (for which she recently visited India), Run for Her and AIDS Project Los Angeles.

Last season, 8.2 million people tuned in to ABC’s “The Middle,” making Atticus Shaffer, Eden Sher and Charlie McDermott three of the most-watched young actors in primetime. They aren’t just window-dressing either; showrunners Eileen Heisler and DeAnn Heline going out of their way to create significant plots for each of the Heck kids in every episode.

“Atticus is a brilliant kid who has crazy comedic timing — that was a difficult role, based on my son, who is kind of that way,” Heisler says.

“Eden plays things very real, and we constantly tell her that (her character) will be a great adult, but she’ll have to suffer through some pain along the way. Charlie does unexpected things. He’s also very physical, so we write things for him that way.”

Of the three, Shaffer has become something of an audience favorite, landing solo latenight appearances on Conan and Leno in the last year. The actor, who was born with ostiogensis imperfecta (or “brittle bone disease”), is surprised when people recognize him in person.

“I don’t always expect it,” he says. “When I’m hanging out at Target and people are staring at me, I’m thinking, ‘Am I doing something wrong? Did you see me pick my nose or something?’ ”

According to Shaffer, he’s a lot like his character Brick from the show, except, “I’m not as into fonts,” says the young thesp, who counts videogames, WWII history and stop-motion animation among his interests. “I do talk to myself, but not in a whisper.”

The other two kids are no slouches at standing out either.

Of her character, Sher observes, “She keeps trying no matter how many times she fails — and in that way, she’s a real inspiration.”

In casting the show, the producers felt it was important to find “real kids,” which wasn’t easy among Hollywood’s young acting pool.

“We didn’t want smart-assy kids,” Heisler says. “We wanted a soul about them, funny kids. We fully believe they were the only ones for the part.”

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