On the "Modern Family" set with Eric Stonestreet
By Jenelle Riley
LOS ANGELES (Back Stage) - One of the biggest success stories of the TV season is "Modern Family," ABC's rejuvenation of the family sitcom, albeit a slightly twisted take.
Most actors in the show's ensemble are veterans of other series, which run the gamut from iconic to swiftly canceled. For example, "Modern Family" patriarch Ed O'Neill will forever be beloved as "Married ... With Children" dad Al Bundy, while his onscreen son Jesse Tyler Ferguson previously starred on the short-lived sitcom "The Class," and TV daughter Julie Bowen has a trio of solid series ("Lost," "Boston Legal," and "Ed") under her belt. Ty Burrell, playing Bowen's clueless husband, was a regular on two previous series, as was Sofia Vergara, who plays O'Neill's trophy wife.
Rounding out this picture-perfect family is Eric Stonestreet as Cameron, the gregarious longtime partner of Ferguson's uptight lawyer Mitchell. Though Stonestreet has been working regularly since his TV debut on a 1999 episode of "Dharma & Greg," he had never been a series regular before "Modern Family." Now he finds himself stealing scenes from some of the best comic talents in the business. His flamboyant Cameron is a man who chooses to introduce adopted daughter Lily to the family by entering the room in an African robe while playing "Circle of Life" and holding her above his head a la "The Lion King." (When Mitchell orders him to "Turn it off," he replies, "I can't turn it off; it's who I am!")
Recently, Back Stage visited Stonestreet on set, where he was filming an episode, and spoke with him about landing the job of a lifetime.
Stonestreet's call time was 10:45 a.m., a vast improvement over his usual 6 or 7 a.m. He says the show typically shoots two to seven scenes in a day; today they'll shoot five. He's also relieved to be taping on the Fox lot in Century City in Los Angeles, the show's home base. "Locations are the worst," he says. "Last week we shot at LAX for three days."
Though the morning began with a scene involving several cast members, all have been dismissed except for Stonestreet and Ferguson, when the show breaks for lunch. Stonestreet shows off his trailer -- a typical setup, with "Cameron" written on the door. After showing off pictures of his dog, who sometimes joins him on set, Stonestreet reveals that he originally read the pilot for "Modern Family" when a friend asked for help running lines.
"He had an audition for Cameron, and as I read with him, I was really bummed I wasn't getting to go in for it," Stonestreet recalls. "It just hadn't come my direction as far as the physical type yet." Although he hadn't seen a description of the character's appearance, he knew that Ferguson was already cast as Mitchell and the network was looking for someone who matched him. "You just never know," Stonestreet says. "I've been a character actor and a big guy my whole career, and my goal has always been to change people's mind and do justice to the part so that they look past what I look like and see just an actor, rather than a 'big' or a 'heavyset' actor." Continued...