Matt Keeslar and Natalie Morales by Eike Schroter/ABC Family
This one caught me by surprise. Purely out of consideration for a feature Q&A, I screened ABC Family's The Middleman, having no idea of what to expect. (I never sampled the graphic novels by Javier Grillo-Marxuach.) Lo and behold, I got a serious kick out of this new series, premiering tonight at 8 pm/ET. The set-up: Struggling artist Wendy ( Natalie Morales), while on a temp assignment as a receptionist is attacked by a giant, wriggly, slimy mutant-type blob. Though she holds her own for a bit, it's the mysterious Middleman who shows to save her bacon, and ultimately recruit her into his strange situation-solving world. That's when the banter starts flying. TVGuide.com invited the Middleman himself, Matt Keeslar, to preview what's ahead. - Matt Mitovich

TVGuide.com: I'm thinking that a lot of viewers are going to think you look familiar and they can't quite place you. Where do you think they'll be remembering you from?
Matt Keeslar:
That's a good question. I've been acting professionally fro 17 years but I've never been a regular on a television series. I've done independent movies and guest-star parts....

TVGuide.com: Maybe they're just mistaking you for Casper Van Dien or a young Cary Elwes?
Keeslar:
It's very possible, yes. [ Chuckles] When Casper was cast in Starship Troopers, I got a lot of calls saying, "Congratulations." I did a movie called Waiting for Guffman, and that's become a bit of a cult hit. I was Johnny Savage, the guy who drops out of the play at the last minute so that Corky (Christopher Guest) can take over. I also did Scream 3, which made a lot of money although it's not one of the more memorable films from that series. But other than that, it's the "Casper Van Dien continuum."

TVGuide.com: What is it that drew you to The Middleman? It couldn't have been the wardrobe.
Keeslar:
The wardrobe has been an ongoing debate among the executives. The guy in the comic book is drawn quite fetching in his well-fitted Eisenhower jacket. But in real life, it's a hard outfit to fight crime in. [ Laughs] So they've changed my jacket about a dozen times to get it to be more comfortable. But what drew me to the show was a few things. The dialogue is very witty and sharp; I liked the way that this character spoke. The second thing is the tongue-in-cheek nature of this sci-fi/spy worlds that Javier Grillo-Marxuach created. Javier is like a brilliant sci-fi/pop culture phenom. He knows everything there is to know about James Bond, for example....

TVGuide.com: And thus knows the best things to reference and wink at.
Keeslar:
Exactly. There are tons of references as the series progresses.

TVGuide.com: It's like Men in Black if Will Smith was a spunky young girl.
Keeslar:
Right, right. Natalie Morales is the Will Smith of the new century.

TVGuide.com: The banter between you two is so rapid-fire. Is that something that was hard to nail?
Keeslar:
It wasn't so hard to nail in the pilot because we had three weeks to do it, but it's hard to nail when you have seven days to shoot it. [ Laughs] We're finding as we go that it's a real challenge. It's one of the hardest jobs, technically, I've ever had because of that.

TVGuide.com: For that same reason, we should also give props to Mary Pat Gleason, who plays your smart-mouthed assistant, Ida.
Keeslar:
Mary Pat is awesome. I don't know that you can find a better mean, nasty schoolmarm android. In real life, she is the sweetest lady you would ever meet, but she plays the part to perfection.

TVGuide.com: Will they be playing any romantic tension between Wendy and the Middleman? Is that in the graphic novels at all?
Keeslar:
It's not, really. There is a romance that develops between the Middleman and her roommate, but the reason it never progresses further than anything that's hinted at is because you have two cute girls playing the leads, and they want to have a lot of cute guys cycled in as boyfriends and so forth.

TVGuide.com: How rapidly will they be parceling out background information on the Middleman - who he is, why he does what he does?
Keeslar:
The Middleman starts of being cloaked in mystery, but in order to make him a likeable character you have to humanize him. By Episode 7, they've already started to talk more about where he's from, why he's chosen the life he's chosen.... But the idea that his name is never revealed, for example, is one of the most closely guarded secrets. He doesn't release his name until he reaches retirement.

TVGuide.com: So if Wendy needs to hail him from across a room, what does she say?
Keeslar:
"Boss." It's a little like [ Sex and the City's] "Mr. Big."

TVGuide.com: In the series finale someday she'll get a cell phone call from him and the caller ID will say, like, "Bradley."
Keeslar:
Or something. I know what his name is, but I can't reveal that to you.