There aren’t many actors who will relate their careers to a prayer said at the Passover seder, but Eden Sher’s mind has always worked in unique ways.
It all started when she described to Co.Create what her expectations were when she was offered the part of Sue Heck on the ABC comedy The Middle seven years ago. “I was going to go to college. I had dreamed of being an actor, but oh, if it doesn’t happen, I applied to school. I really wanted to go to Barnard, and when they said no, I was like, ‘Oh, my life’s over.’ And then a week later I was like, ‘Oh, well, the pilot I did in February just got picked up for 13 episodes.’ I was prepared for it to go for 13 episodes and be over. That’d be cool. If I did 13 episodes of a TV show and it aired, like, that’d be awesome. Then it got picked up for the whole season, and I was like, ‘We got a whole season.’
“I don’t know if you’ve ever gone to seder for Passover, but there’s a song called ‘Dayenu.’ You sing over and over again, like, ‘If this happened [to the Jews in Egypt], that would have been enough.’ I’m in a perpetual state of ‘that would be enough.’ I would love to do more, but that would be enough.”
Sher has brought so much of her perpetually bubbly self to the Hecks’s eternally positive middle daughter, sometimes the only way to tell them apart is that Sue’s wardrobe often looked like My Little Pony threw up in her closet. But in the show’s current (and seventh) season, Sue is off to college, with all the realities that come with being on your own for the first time. During this season, Sue has churned through lousy roommates, gotten shunned when trying to pledge a sorority, was challenged by a professor to go deeper than cooking metaphors when talking about the Middle East, and saw her best friend, Brad, finally come out of the closet.
The 24-year-old Sher has been able to deftly balance on the tightrope that The Middle creators DeAnn Heline and Eileen Heisler have given her, letting Sue grow up and mature while keeping her core personality intact. One of the ways she’s done it is that she successfully lobbied Heline and Heisler to let her cut her hair, after years of wanting to do it.
“I begged them for two years to cut my hair. I was like, please, please, please can I cut my hair? And I totally understand. You have to have continuity on a sitcom for five years, so I never even questioned it. Then after a certain time I was like, ‘Can I cut my hair?’ And understandably they were like, ‘No.’ I had literally never got a haircut before—like, since my hair had been growing since I was two. I needed a change. It ended up being great. It was good that they embraced it. They were like, ‘You know what? Yes. You’re going through this personal change, and that’s good to reflect it in Sue.'”
Anyone who’s a fan of The Middle has seen all of the show’s young actors—Charlie McDermott plays oldest brother, Axl, and Atticus Shaffer has literally grown up on screen as the wicked smart but painfully awkward youngest kid, Brick—mature over the show’s run. Sher attributes her maturation to something pretty simple: aging and repetition.
“I was 17 when I did the pilot, and I was just like self-loathing, insecure, like a temper-tantrum-throwing little bitch with my mom. Four or five years ago I stopped with the temper tantrums. There wasn’t like an ‘aha’ moment of like, ‘Oh my God, I’m confident now.’ But there has been a handful of moments where I have sort of realized that I’m not . . . it’s like you do something that shocks yourself and you’re like, ‘Oh, right, yeah, I’m a capable person.'”
Sher realized things had changed on a movie shoot two years ago. “Doing a sitcom is just acting boot camp. It’s like, go, go, go. But you have to get it done because you don’t get the extra hour. It’s sink or swim. Another girl needed to hit her mark; it was kind of a complicated shot. She was having such a hard time. She had to multitask. She had to emote and say the lines right and hit her mark and look at someone with her right eye to have the eye line correct—and she had to do all those things and not think of them at all. And I just never thought of all those factors until she had such a hard time doing it, and I was like, ‘Oh. That’s second nature. I can do that in a second.’ I never thought of that as being any sort of asset, then I thought, ‘Oh, I have learned these things! I have tangible evidence that I have learned!'”
Being in touch with her inner self has informed some of Sher’s side projects, such as the website The Emotionary. Soon to be released in book form, Sher created the site in 2013; in it, she creates words for real emotions, often smashing two known words together. In fact, her talk about her maturation as an actress led her to coin a new word for the site.
“It’s just something that I’ve been working on for so many years, and I’m super passionate about taking over the world with my ridiculous . . . with all of my feelings! And you know what? I didn’t want to be obnoxious and be citing my own stupid words, but thinking about evolving and changing and what I’ve learned, I was like, ‘Holy shit, I can put all this in a word: unplanformation.’ Which is just unplanned transformation, like a sudden realization that you can do something that you hadn’t done before, and I kind of feel that way about The Emotionary. It’s become something larger than I ever thought. It was just a thing in my journal. So the website is up and it will take over the world!”