“Gay Men Don’t Z Snap!”
The ginger half of Modern Family’s quirky gay couple, Jesse Tyler Ferguson discusses fame, philanthropy and his leading man. Interview by Phillip Portman.
DNA: Did you ever expect to be one of the most famous gay people in the world when you started Modern Family in 2009? Jesse Tyler Ferguson: I still don’t think I am. When you live in the bubble of it, you don’t really see that scope. Hopefully it happened for the right reasons. I think it’s the right role to bring no notoriety to me. I’m very comfortable with that. Do you think the show has made a difference to the way people perceive gay relationships? Being gay is maybe the fifth most interesting thing about them. They’re new parents, they’re learning how to raise a kid together and they’re part of this whacky family. People fall in love with these characters and start to rea lise how Cam and Mitch are just people. It changes their perspective on Bob and Joe or Linda and Claire who live down the street. Lots of kids feel comfortable talking to their parents about their sexuality because they have a point of reference and there’s someone on television who represents what they strive to be some day. At the same time, that’s not our mission statement; it’s just a nice, happy surprise. Do you ever feel pressure knowing people look at the character you play and link that to what’s gay-normal? We get criticised for not representing the whole gay community or we get people saying “that’s a misrepresentation of gay men”. I know lots of Mitches and Cams, so to say we’re misrepresenting is ridiculous. There are lots of facets to the gay community but we should be happy that there are two gay men being represented on TV. Shows like Will And Grace opened the door for us and we’re opening the door for other shows. Your co-star, Eric Stonestreet, isn’t gay but plays your partner on the show. Do you give him any tips on how to play gay? He does a great job on his own [laughs]! There are moments where he’ll say something and I’ll be like “hmm no, gay men don’t really Z snap. Don’t do that.” What would you like to see happen to Mitch and Cam? Hopefully they’ll be getting married this year. I’m excited to see what happens with them when Lily gets older, like when she starts dating or gets her first boyfriend. How do you find time for other projects being on one of the biggest shows on TV? You work so hard to get to a point like this in your career that you want to ride that wave of opportunity and not just relax. You’ve been a judge on So You Think You Can Dance. Can you dance? I can’t dance like they do on that show. I did do musical theatre and danced on Broadway. I’m mostly an actor who moves. You married your partner Justin earlier this year. What’s the difference between being in a relationship and being married? There is something that switches over when you call
someone your husband or wife. It happened for me when I was at a doctor’s office and had to check the box: single or married. As an emergency contact, I used Justin’s name and said his relationship to me was “husband”. I don’t think any kid sits at home thinking “oh, I can’t wait to have a domestic partner one day”. Any plans to have kids? Right now we’re enjoying just being married but we’ve always talked about starting a family. Tell us about your Tie The Knot foundation. Basically, we have a bowtie line and the proceeds go toward marriage equality. We’ve donated to the Human Rights Campaign and Marriage Coalition and have travelled to several states to bring attention to the marriage equality bills. It’s been a really fantastic, fun and overwhelming adventure. Do people collect the bowties? They’re limited edition, so people do snap them up when they first become available. Our first collection sold out in two weeks so we learned to make a few more. We have our first pop-up shop this winter at the Beverly Center in Los Angeles. Is it true you came out to your father three times? Yes, we still laugh about that. I think
I don’t think any kid sits at home thinking ‘oh, I can’t wait to have a domestic partner one day
he had a hard time accepting the fact I was gay and just kept asking if I had a girlfriend. My sister is also gay and coming out is also a process for your parents. My dad was really supportive of Kelly coming out and she was like, “I’m surprised you’re so supportive and so enthusiastic with Jesse being gay and everything” and he was like, “Oh, Jesse is gay?” That was the last time where I finally had to put the nail in that coffin and say, “Dad, we’ve really gotta stop playing this game.” That being said, he’s really supportive of Justin and was at our wedding. Do you have any advice for people who might be struggling to come out of the closet? I don’t think anyone should be forced to come out before they’re ready. I get upset when people try and force celebrities out of the closet. That’s not doing anyone any favours. Everyone should work on their own timeline. What inspired you and George Takei to create the spoof video, The First Gay Bachelor? If there were a Gay Bachelor, all the contestants would start hooking up with one another and no one would really be interested in the real bachelor. The video is funny because it’s so true. Do you hang out with other gay couples in Hollywood? [Laughs]. I am very good friends with Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka and Jim Parsons and his partner Todd. I’m friends with Jane Lynch, Sean Hayes and Zachary Quinto is one of my best friends. It’s sort of a gay mafia. We find each other at the same events and you get to know a lot of other people who advocate for marriage equality. It’s a different beast being an out actor in Hollywood. Do you think your sexuality will affect the roles you could get in the future? It might. Honestly, that’s why a lot of people don’t come out of the closet. For me, it was never a question. I wouldn’t trade the experience of playing Mitchell for the security of knowing I will have roles that will always open up for me. You can’t live life worried about the future. If you were in a gay romantic movie, who would be your leading man? And you can’t say Justin! [Laughs]. I can’t pick Justin? Who do I have a crush on? Let’s just play matchmaker. Golly… James Marsden. Here in Australia, there was a comedy show which called redheads “rangas” [as in Oragutans]. Have you ever experienced discrimination because of your hair colour? No, not really. That’s interesting because many people dye their hair red and it’s such an exotic colour. I don’t understand what people would have against redheads.
Jesse in Shakespeare In The Park
Jesse in Modern Family