In Conversation with Brock Ciarlelli

Image via Chris Damon

As the first-ever romantic comedy from a major studio to feature a predominately all-LGBTQ cast, Bros is chock full of familiar queer faces. If you were a fan of the popular sitcom The Middle, then you are bound to instantly recognize Brock Ciarlelli, well-known for playing Sue Heck’s flamboyantly gay best friend, Brad Bottig.

Since The Middle wrapped up its nine-season run, Ciarlelli is excited to take on roles that seem to be a nice step forward from the beloved series and have more of an edge to them. In Bros, Ciarlelli plays Steve, an awkward and overzealous man who inserts himself in a delicate situation. Cringy, but comical, we are excited to see a different side of the multi-hyphenate actor.

He took some time to talk more about Bros and The Middle with Instinct, as well as his passion for entertainment and his hope of creating LGBTQ stories that appeal to the masses.

Thank you for taking some time to chat with me, Brock! Let me begin by asking, how excited are you to be involved with Bros?

So excited! I like to say, I got a little bit of blue balls for the project because I auditioned for it in early 2020, and my tape was making its way through the ranks of getting approval for the role. Then COVID hit, and then it just died. Like, fuck! I was getting so close, and then it kind of fizzled out. So, I thought, out of sight out of mind, but the audition came back. Now that we’re finally here, it’s great. I had so much fun.

Do you feel like this is a nice step forward from The Middle?

I absolutely do. The Middle is very much a show that you can sit down and watch with your young kids, and that’s how it’s designed. With Bros, it’s still something that everyone can enjoy and laugh at, but it does deal with a little bit more adult content. I mean, I’m half naked in one of the scenes, and that wouldn’t happen with Brad Bottig on The Middle (laughs). It is kind of nice to explore these different paths as an actor, so it’s a lot of fun. It was definitely a nice, new step in a different direction.

When you found out there was going to be a major motion picture with an all-LGBTQ cast, what were your thoughts? Do you think this film is overdue?

Absolutely. I think the conversation has been centered so much around for years and years about all these straight actors winning Academy Awards for playing LGBTQ characters instead of having LGBTQ people playing LGBTQ characters. I love that. This is something that I think is historic in a way, and it’s proving a point saying, LGBTQ actors should be playing LGBTQ roles. And guess what? We can also play straight roles. Across the board, I think it’s a wonderful step forward and not only do I hope that it opens audiences’ eyes, but Hollywood’s eyes as well.

You play Steve. What can you tell us about your character, and in what ways do you relate to him?

Steve is a little bit of a troublemaker. He gets a little sloppy in his stuff, and I’ve been known to get a little sloppy sometimes. A little extra cocktail here or there! But Steve is really a fun pop of something. Luke and Billy’s characters have some stuff going on between them, and Steve is there to kind of help throw a bit of a wrench in things, which is fun. 

Bros is also your feature film debut. What have you taken away from this experience, and how is filming a movie different from filming a TV series?

From an experience standpoint, it’s definitely a different pace. TV is so quick. Filming for a comedy, you’re probably filming 30-33 pages over the course of five days. With a movie, you’re not shooting that much over the course of a day, so there’s a lot more time, and there’s a lot more collaboration that can happen. Stuff that was written, it seemed almost like bullet points of things that needed to happen. It was a fully realized scene, but as we were there and rehearsing, it was nice to kind of spitball back and forth of what’s funny or what can we do to help crescendo this moment and build it up. You have the ability to play with the scene, beef things up, or strip things that aren’t necessary.

Obviously, Bros is making history in several ways, and you kind of touched on this. Can you talk a little bit more about the significant impact you believe this film will make?

Image via K.C. Bailey/Universal Pictures

For me, I always go back to the thing that affected me the most, which was Will & Grace. That was a TV show that really kind of helped me come to fruition with who I am before I even realized or had any sort of question in my mind. I was able to see a version of a life on TV that I was fully submersed in and loved. I’m hoping that with all LGBTQ content, especially something as big as Bros, I can’t drive a block without seeing a poster for it, which is so fucking crazy, but hopefully, that can affect someone the way Will & Grace affected me. That’s the goal, right? I hope that visibility can give someone from St. Louis, Denver, or even LA a visual representation of who they are.

Have you always had a passion for acting and storytelling?

Yes, absolutely. I’ve always loved entertaining. My mom loved Elvis, and as a three-year-old, she would have me do this Elvis impersonation. Of course, I don’t remember, but my mom has a wonderful memory and loves to remind me about it (laughs). But I think entertaining has always been in my core. It’s something that I enjoy, and what I found, especially playing a LGBTQ person, a gay guy playing gay guys, the thing that was unexpected was the added layer of being able to have an impact while doing something that I really enjoy.

Like, I can have my cake and eat it too. It makes that experience three dimensional. It’s not just an entertaining standpoint. I hope to continue being a part of projects that are positively impacting anyone who’s watching. Whether it’s someone from St. Louis or Topeka, who was watching The Middle and sees Brad Bottig floating down the hallway and can find some solace in that, or some 45-year-old mom who had the shittiest day at work and just needs a laugh. Having all these different impacts on people has been very humbling.

Can you tell us more about the projects you are creating that explore characters as 3D people with trials and tribulations that go beyond acceptance or coming out?

With creation, I look at a lot of LGBTQ content, and I think about what we have. The stories that are being told and the projects we have are extremely necessary and lifesaving, but a lot of them deal with coming out, overcoming adversity because of them being in the LGBTQ community, community acceptance, and self-acceptance. Those are important; however, I do want to start creating different stories.  

I always like to frame it this way. The Trevor Project’s motto is ‘It gets better.’ I want to show projects about what it looks like after it’s gotten better. I want to put a spotlight on someone who came out, was accepted, they’re living their life, they’re in their power, they’re in their own, so what’s next? We’re trying to bring these masses to watch LGBTQ stories, so let’s show someone who’s LGBTQ having issues at work that’s not necessarily related to LGBTQ stuff.

Image via Chris Damon

I think that shows them in a different light, and they’re still human beings. It can still have a unique perspective as an LGBTQ person, and that’s what I’m trying to create. That next evolution we can take in storytelling

I would like to circle back and ask a few questions about The Middle. What did you enjoy the most about playing Brad?

For one, his energy. It’s with him and Sue, but it seems like they have an endless well of positivity. This positive outlook on things and a glass is half full demeanor. I love that because The Middle came at a time when the country started to become politically divided. We started during the Obama era, and we found our way to the Trump era, and the show brought a lot of life no matter what side of the political spectrum you fell on.

The Middle was something that everyone could watch and laugh, and I think that positivity that Brad and Sue brought, it affected everyone, regardless of where we stood as a country. Then also, it was just a lot of fun. Being with this cast and crew and being able to do it for nine years was one of the greatest experiences of my life.

Was there an episode that was your absolute favorite to do?

I have two, and they’re both very different (laughs). One is Brad’s coming out episode. Not necessarily just that fact that he was able to come out to Sue, but I think my favorite thing was that Sue had always known. She says, ‘I know,’ but she lets Brad come to her when he was ready. I just got chills thinking about that. I loved it. I think it was a delicious piece of writing, and I loved being able to be a part of something like that.

Then the second one, completely different, we got to do a full ass La La Land musical episode. Oh my God, that was so fun! I never had an experience like that. It was a blast, and we got to record our song in the same recording booth that Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling recorded their songs in. I loved it.

I’m glad you mentioned Brad’s coming out episode because that was my next question. He never actually said the words ‘I’m gay.’ Do you think the impact of the scene would have been different if he did say it?

That is something that we actually toyed with a lot. We taped a couple versions of doing it as written, and then kind of as a little button on the scene where she’s like, ‘Brad, I know,’ and then he has a sigh of relief, they hug, they pull back from the hug, and he’s like, ‘that I’m gay, right?’ We did a couple versions like that, but ultimately, I think what I liked the most is that not everything necessarily needs to be said. There’s a lot that can be told without any wording.

If you look at Eden Sher, who plays Sue, when you see Brad struggling to say something, you see this smile come to her face, and she’s like, there it is. She knows exactly what’s going on, he’s struggling with it, and she’s like, it’s okay. I know that it’s hard, and I’m here. She says that all with two simple words, ‘I know,’ and I think there’s a lot that can be said with a minimal amount of words, and I love that.

So, that is something we talked about a lot. Do we say it? Do we not say it? Ultimately, I was kind of split back and forth on where I fell on that line, but I’m glad where it ended up. To me, the lack of saying it showed where they are in their friendship. It showed maturity, it showed growth, and it showed that they can finish each other’s sentences.

It’s a shame that the spin-off series centered on Sue was passed up.

Oh my God, it was so good! I loved it. We finished The Middle that spring, and we taped the pilot for the spin-off that fall, and it was delicious. Sue gets married to Shawn 10 years in the future in the finale of The Middle, so this spin-off takes place in between the time of the finale and when she marries Shawn. That flash forward phase.

So, she goes to Chicago to work at a hotel, and very Middle adjacent, nothing ever goes right for Sue. Then towards the end, Brad ditches his life in Orson to come join her in Chicago, and it was very nice. It was funny, sweet, and poignant, but ultimately, it got passed on, and that’s okay. That’s the way of the business.

Are you still open to reprising Brad at some point?

I don’t know. This was when we were still on a high from The Middle, and all the creators, cast, and crew have talked about maybe doing a holiday or reunion special, but I don’t know if that’s happening. If something like that were to come up, I’ll revive Brad. I’ll give some CPR and bring him back to life!

What are some future goals you hope to accomplish with your career?

It’s funny you ask that. Had you asked me a couple years ago, I would have said, I want to be on a show like this, I want to win an Emmy, I want to do this and that, and that still kind of resides in the back of my mind. However, as I’ve gotten older and matured, and we were talking about the impact that certain things can have, that is way more profound and meaningful to me.

Ultimately, it’s about what makes me sleep better at night. Whether it’s getting to join a project that already exists or create something myself and be a part of something from the ground up, anything that has something to say and is going to help the viewer escape or come to terms with themselves. Anything that goes beyond my own selfish wants and desires. I’ll find happiness in a lot of different things.

Stay up-to-date and connect with Ciarlelli by following him on Instagram. Bros is now playing in theaters.


 

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