Modern Family actor defying expectations
Q&A: ERIC STONESTREET
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.
Eric Stonestreet says, like his character Cameron Tucker, he grew up with pigs, cows, dogs, cats and goats.