Ray Richmond is contributing to Deadline’s 2010 Emmy and TCA coverage.
Ty Burrell isn’t quite an overnight success. It only seems that way. He had been working steadily in Hollywood for nearly 10 years before shooting to the next level this past year with his career-defining role as the cluelessly hilarious dad Phil Dunphy on the freshman ABC comedy hit Modern Family. He found out on July 8 that he’d earned his first Primetime Emmy nomination for supporting comedy actor, one of three noms for Modern Family in the category that features Burrell’s co-stars Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson. Burrell also be competing against Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother), Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men) and Chris Coffer (Glee). Burrell, who turns 43 on Aug. 22, spoke with Ray Richmond for Deadline Hollywood about his big break on Modern Family, his Emmy nomination and the prospect of selling funny T-shirts.
Deadline Hollywood: How does it feel to be co-starring on the “It” comedy of the moment?
Ty Burrell: Well, it’s really kind of surreal. A year and a half ago, my wife and I were sitting in our living room trying to decide which chair we could burn to cook dinner. I had an actual plan to print funny T-shirts and sell them. I was down to that and bake sales. Now, I have this. It’s truly unbelievable.
DH: I hear that you so didn’t expect to get nominated so you slept through the announcement that morning.
TB: That’s true. But it wasn’t because I was apathetic or pessimistic, just superstitious. It was about exercising every bit of denial that I had in my body. Not only had I convinced myself that I wouldn’t be getting that Emmy phone call; I’d convinced myself that the Emmys themselves didn’t exist. So I was pleasantly surprised to learn otherwise. There’s nothing better than getting that kind of recognition from people you admire.
DH: Has this all just been part of a grand plan? You know, have jobs as a regular in two short-lived comedies co-created by (‘Modern Family’ co-creator) Christopher Lloyd – ‘Out of Practice’ and ‘Back to You’; remain relatively unknown into your 40’s; then suddenly hit the radar with ‘Modern Family’?
TB: Oh yeah. I sketched this whole thing out in advance. No. The truth is I’ve just never had any kind of plan at all for my career, which is probably not a very flattering thing to admit. I don’t know that I’d ever planned to be in this situation. I’m still just an idiot, really really stupid. It’s not like I’m now a genius because this has happened. I just got hugely lucky.
DH: Well you clearly don’t give yourself enough credit for your work on ‘Modern Family.’
TB: I’m actually like…what are those animals that are parasitic and live like on the backs of elephants and whales? That’s how I’ve been with Chris Lloyd and (‘Modern Family’ co-creator) Steve Levitan.
DH: Are you starting to field offers for movies now?
TB: Yeah, that’s beginning to happen a little bit. Not like an avalanche, but some. It’s fun to imagine, whether true or not, that there’s now a little more choice involved in my decisions. It’s kind of exciting. I’m now more at the beginning of the (casting) thinking for projects rather than just replacing people who have dropped out.
DH: It seems to have been a big year for you, what with your show taking off, the Emmy nomination – and adopting your first kid, a baby girl, early in the year.
TB: Yeah, becoming a father for the first time has been great.
DH: And now you can take parenting tips from your character, Phil.
TB: Oddly enough, I can. There’s something about the spirit of Phil that I really admire. He’s kind of militantly positive. And unflappable.
DH: How did you get into acting?
TB: A little bit by accident. I had no real direction at all in my 20’s and so I did what a lot of people without direction do: I took an acting class. In one of those first days of the class, I did this weird, silly improv, and it got laughs. It was such a blissful moment. I’ve never gotten over that love of hearing laughter. As a people pleaser, it’s the drug of choice for me.
DH: So you’ve carved out a nice little career, but if ‘Modern Family’ hadn’t come along, you’d still seriously be selling T-shirts?
TB: You know, quite possibly. And I’d have honestly been OK with it. I think there are pluses and minuses to being simpleminded. The minus is not having any sort of vision for the future. But on the plus side, my wife and I have really been happy through all of the ups and downs. When you don’t have crazy ambitions, you’re always happy just kind of getting by. Our expectations were always kept low. And so I feel like we appreciate it all the more to have all this good fortune come our way, which we hadn’t really been planning.
DH: But just to be clear, all things considered, you’d rather have sitcom success and an Emmy nomination than have to scrape together a living from bake sales?
TB: Well sure. But you know, the bake sales would have been OK, too. And they may have to be again.
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