Mod­ern Fam­ily ac­tor de­fy­ing ex­pec­ta­tions

Q&A: ERIC STON­ESTREET

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - MERED­ITH BLAKE Los An­ge­les Times

Eric Ston­estreet has won two Em­mys for his por­trayal of Cameron Tucker, half of TV’s most fa­mous gay cou­ple, on the ABC sit­com “Mod­ern Fam­ily.”

But the Kansas na­tive, 44, seems de­ter­mined to defy ex­pec­ta­tions. He starred in HBO’s Con­fir­ma­tion as former Rea­gan chief of staff, and he can be seen — make that heard — in the an­i­mated film “The Secret Life of Pets” as the voice of Duke, a slob­bery mon­grel whose adop­tion up­ends the life of Max, a spoiled ter­rier (Louis C.K.).

The con­ven­tional wis­dom is that an­i­mated movies are a rel­a­tively easy gig for an ac­tor. But do they come with any par­tic­u­lar chal­lenges?

I prob­a­bly be­came an ac­tor be­cause of my vivid imag­i­na­tion, and do­ing voice-over re­ally sort of takes me back to that. When it says, “Duke is fall­ing out of a tube” or “Duke is run­ning be­hind this,” it’s just words on a pa­per, so I have to hear the noises and try to put a per­for­mance in there that matches the vis­ual. That as­pect of it is chal­leng­ing. Not hard, but chal­leng­ing and free­ing. Are you a pet owner? I grew up with pigs, cows, dogs, cats and goats. We had a menagerie grow­ing up in Kansas City, (Kan.), and then I had a dog for 15 years who just passed away in April. He was a bea­gle-Jack Rus­sell ter­rier mix named Cole­man — Cole­man the pa­trol­man. He was with me through ev­ery­thing. My goal was just to get him a big yard that he could pa­trol.

Is it true that you wanted to work in a prison when you were younger?

Right out­side of Kansas City is Leav­en­worth, and there are, like, five pris­ons there. It was kind of the ta­pes­try of my child­hood. I was al­ways fas­ci­nated. I wanted to know what was be­hind those walls. (In col­lege) I took a so­ci­ol­ogy class, and I got an A in it. Then I found out you could get an em­pha­sis in crim­i­nal jus­tice. I wanted to be an ad­min­is­tra­tor. Then my high school girl­friend and I had split up, and I was rolling in my sad­ness. I got dared to au­di­tion for a play by my best friend, Paul. He got cast in “Ham­let,” and I got cast in “Pre­lude to a Kiss,” and that changed ev­ery­thing.

The show has been so suc­cess­ful. Are there any mo­ments that stand out in your mem­ory?

I al­ways get emo­tional when I think about the show get­ting picked up for the back nine (episodes). Af­ter 12 years of not hav­ing a job for any­thing longer than eight days, it was that mo­ment that I re­al­ized I have sus­tained em­ploy­ment on a great freak­ing TV show. (Tears up.) Sorry, when I start think­ing about that stuff it re­ally gets to me, be­cause I know what that strug­gle’s like for so many ac­tors. You’re just dis­counted. I freak­ing hated it when I would tell some­body I was an ac­tor and they would say, “Oh, what restau­rant do you work at?”

The show is head­ing into its eighth sea­son. How long do you plan to stick around?

I don’t think any­one has any in­ten­tions of do­ing any­thing else. Jesse (Tyler Fer­gu­son) wouldn’t be on a one-man show (Fully Com­mit­ted) on Broad­way nec­es­sar­ily with­out “Mod­ern Fam­ily.” Sofia (Ver­gara) wouldn’t be the face of 3,000 prod­ucts with­out “Mod­ern Fam­ily.” I wouldn’t be sit­ting here talk­ing to you with­out “Mod­ern Fam­ily,” so we’re all so ap­pre­cia­tive of that.

What kind of in­flu­ence do you think the show has had, par­tic­u­larly in its por­trayal of a gay cou­ple?

It’s not like we in­vented gay char­ac­ters on TV. No­body has ever claimed that. But (it’s been) seven years, and I still get tweets and fan let­ters and In­sta­gram mes­sages from peo­ple say­ing thank you for por­tray­ing the clos­est char­ac­ter that I’ve ever seen to my­self on television.

GETTY IM­AGES

Eric Ston­estreet says, like his char­ac­ter Cameron Tucker, he grew up with pigs, cows, dogs, cats and goats.

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